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Life Inside

How I Survived a Year in ‘the Hole’ Without Losing My Mind

In prison, going to “the hole” can mean spending 23 hours a day alone in a tiny cell. Here, incarcerated author Michael J. Nichols shares his top 10 tips for enduring long stretches of “administrative segregation.”

A prisoner sits inside a dark cell, reading a book. Light from a small window shines through the room.

When I went to prison at age 19, my greatest fear was being hurt by other people serving time. So when I passed through the prison gates, I took on the persona of a deadly gangster. I did things that landed me in “the hole” — slang for administrative segregation — over and over.

At Potosi Correctional Center, the Level 5 maximum security prison in Missouri where I’m currently serving life without parole for murder, the hole is typically a 7-by-9 foot cement room. This room has a steel door with a slot for receiving meals and a small window to see outside. Inside there is just a cot, a thin mattress, a toilet and a sink. You can only shower once a week and spend one hour outside each day. Sometimes you can’t receive mail. And while you can yell out to other prisoners, you can’t see them. If you aren’t prepared for these conditions, they can make you crazy.

In early 2022, when I turned 50, I had just spent a year in the hole in another Missouri prison following a riot. Rev. Mary Mitchell, a minister and longtime friend, asked me how I made it. She wanted to share any advice I had with the other prisoners she corresponds with. Now, to reach an even larger audience, I present my top 10 tips on surviving the hole:

The Public Information Office of the Missouri Department of Corrections did not respond to all questions by publication time. The deputy warden at Southeast Correctional Center, where Nichols spent a year in administrative segregation, said the prison could not respond to questions, including those about his filed grievances.

Michael J. Nichols, was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. At age 19 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. Now 50, Nichols is the co-author of “My Search for Ancient Wisdom: A Prisoner’s Journey of Transformation.” He is also the founder of Kiwa Thinking Network, a spiritual organization, and he is working on a new book, “Penitentiary Science.” He is currently being held at Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri.