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How to survive as a participant on '60 Days In'

An inmate wearing an orange jumpsuit
Image: An inmate at Pinal County Jail | 60 Days In Season 5

Fancy being locked up with hardened criminals so you can spy on them for the authorities, even though being a snitch is just about the worst thing you could possibly be in the prison hierarchy?

For a surprisingly high number of people in the US, the answer to that question has been a resounding ‘Yes please’. Now, several seasons into the jaw-dropping experiment that is 60 Days In, here’s what we’ve learnt about what you should do if you decide to go undercover at a jail.

1. Don’t show weakness

Now, we’re not saying you should strut into the pod and start high-fiving people like you’re in your own personal music video, but it is extremely important not to look visibly terrified about the highly dangerous predicament you have willingly placed yourself in.

A cursory watch of 60 Days In reveals that the most successful participants are the ones who manage to adopt a breezy, devil-may-care attitude, while the ones who seem meek and intimidated get picked on. See Jeff, who tried to curry favour by buying other inmates stuff, and only succeeded in being labelled a child molester and getting smacked right in the face.

2. Stay in your designated social circle

Jail is not a place to go making friends with anyone who seems receptive. You are not at a networking event and the biggest risk of small talk with the wrong person isn’t momentary boredom – it’s getting a swift fist to the ribs.

The fact is, social circles and hierarchies matter a lot, with prisoners often segregating themselves along racial lines. Indeed, it can be a major faux pas to so much as say hello to someone in a different social group.

3. Don’t break jailhouse rules

It’s not exactly surprising that participants on 60 Days In get imposter syndrome, given that they are the definition of an imposter. But should you start feeling self-conscious about the fact that you’re actually a rather nice, law-abiding citizen and not a hardened gang-banger, the one thing you should not do is overcompensate by acting the rebel and breaking the rules.

When participant Robert Holcomb got worried that fellow inmates had sussed him, he decided to egregiously misbehave by covering up a security camera with a towel. Far from being impressed, the other prisoners just thought he was a bit of a spanner and he was carted off to solitary confinement for his try-hard antics.

4. Don’t scam other inmates

This one may seem obvious, but you really shouldn’t try to scam, cheat or otherwise take advantage of your fellow prisoners.

As 60 Days In has revealed, jailbirds dole out swift justice when they need to – and justice is sometimes the operative word because they have been known to convene their own makeshift ‘courts’ inside jail cells.

While this cosplaying may seem amusing from the safety of our sofas – especially when you hear one of the cocky young lads say ‘All rise’ – it can have very serious consequences. If you don’t want to be thrashed with bars of soap wrapped up in towels, it’s best not to get too clever with the convicts.

5. Don’t fall in love

Jail can be a paradoxical mix of extremely terrifying and extremely boring. So you might be tempted to pass the time by, say, falling madly in love with another inmate. After all, there’s nothing like some furtive canoodling to make the time go by.

While this might be fine and dandy for actual, legitimate prisoners, getting into a passionate relationship can cause serious problems if you happen to be a lying reality show contestant who is all set to be out of the jail in a matter of weeks.

60 Days In participant Angele found this out the hard way when she started a heated romance with Gabrielle and got so swept up in her feelings that she decided to go ahead and blurt out the truth about who she was. And that leads us to the next rule…

6. Don’t let on that you’re undercover

You’d think this rule would go without saying, but given what happened with Angele, it bears repeating. Do not, under any circumstances, tell anyone that you’re an imposter. Convicts really don’t take kindly to undercover operatives in the employ of prison authorities, and they’re liable to make their opinions felt in a rather aggressive way.

Not only did spilling her guts lead to Angele being unceremoniously ejected from 60 Days In, but it also forced the producers to end the entire programme for the safety of all the participants.

7. Don’t forget who you are

And here’s the ultimate no-no: losing your sense of self and merging with your cover story. After several days in the weird parallel universe of the jail pod, you’d be forgiven for letting the culture seep right into you. Perhaps finding your hands clenching into fists when you hear someone chew their food too loudly or starting to think that having a few glugs of prison hooch isn’t that bad an idea.

So always remember who you really are, try not to get into any fights and definitely don’t drink that hooch.