Sage Advice Before Entering Prison

TheLastMileBy Michael Nelson

San Quentin State Prison


The most important steps to beginning your incarceration are:

1. Observe: Don’t jump at the first opportunity to gain the acceptance of your peers. Watch how everyone around you interacts with one another. Listen to their language, how they speak about people when they’re not around, what values they hold in life.

2. Find yourself: You may find at times that it’s difficult to focus on anything but sheer survival, and you may feel lost in the mix of things. But, take it from me, don’t lose the connection that you have with yourself and what you value, your culture and traditions passed down from family, your memories and dreams, your goals, and so on. At the end of the day, you are the one that lies in bed with your own thoughts; it is you that you have to answer to in the mirror when you get up the next day. It may feel like it’s sometimes easier to compromise who you are for the sake of avoiding conflict or facing your fears, but everything is temporary, including your experiences of incarceration and the people you will come across in here. When you’re true to who you are, and you’re first connected to your core self, you will put out the kind of energy to your surroundings that others won’t be able to help but respect your space.

3. The most important: Think Ahead/Imagine – Where you are now is not permanent; your current place in life is but a stepping stone to your next stage. Over time, and staying away from trouble and write-ups, you will end up in a place with more programs, opportunities, and freedoms. You’ll find yourself in a prison where you see men paroling and volunteers on a daily basis who treat you like a human being with value. You’ll choose to treat yourself in the same way and consequently find your true talents and potential. Over time, you will find your freedom in the form of your “self,”  and you will be introduced to hope and redemption.

I would welcome all men and women to find their inner freedom. I would invite them to face their fears. And I would encourage them to find their strength in whatever it is that keeps them grounded, connected, and safe… without compromising who they are and who they want to become.


All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

  • mimi

    Thanks Michael

    • The Daily Love

      Thanks so much for reading, Mimi! -TDL Team

  • Avya Ishaya

    I am sending your advice to my brother who has another four years in prison…thankd much!!!

    • The Daily Love

      Thanks for passing this on, Avya! We wish you the best. -TDL Team

  • Cher

    Michael, great advice to someone coming into the prison system. However, do you see that you have also given advice to all of us as we struggle with everyday living on the outside. There was a time in my life where all of my energy and wisdom had to be focused on survival. I have had hardships throughout the years and have had to remind myself, even today, that the situation I was/am in is not permanent but rather a stepping stone to something wonderful on its way. I try to be as observant as possible to everything playing out around me. I learned a lot of this the hard way, especially as a child. I see your sage advice can help anyone! You are awesome!

    • The Daily Love

      Thanks for reading, Cher! -TDL Team