Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Prison Letters: a Spark in the Darkness

As I’ve written before on this blog there is a ‘long littleness’ to life inside prison. Almost anything that breaks up the mind-numbing monotony can be a welcome break and receiving a positive letter filled with news or kindly words from your family or friends can make an enormous difference. A good letter can be a little glimmer of light in an otherwise dark world.

A light in the darkness
Officially, prisoners are encouraged to keep in contact with their families and friends in order to maintain morale and as part of the reducing reoffending agenda. It has been long recognised that cons who have strong family support on the outside are less likely to reoffend than those inmates who are released through the gate to nothing and no-one. However, the rising costs of keeping in touch do present a potential barrier to inmates who don’t have prison jobs or financial support from home.

All prisoners in UK establishments are supposed to be able to send at least one ‘weekly letter’ free of charge. These A5 folded sheets of lined writing paper come complete with an envelope and will be sent out by 2nd class post, subject to the usual checks by the prison censors’ department. In some nicks the weekly letter is pushed under each cell door, while in others it can be collected from a wing office as required. Being a wing letter orderly can be a nice, easy little job for a retired prisoner who wants to keep active by walking round the landings delivering the blank paper and envelopes to his fellow cons.

Official free weekly letter
I’ve been in prisons where the number of free letters an inmate can write and send each week is determined by their status within the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system. At one Cat-B nick a con on Basic level (effectively in solitary confinement) was permitted to send one free weekly letter, while a prisoner on Standard could post out two. Those on the highest level, Enhanced, received three weekly letters. It was a small privilege, but for some cons with no source of income, it could make all the difference.

According to the rules, trying to post out more than your permitted weekly allocation of free mail could get you into trouble. However, to be honest, I never came across anyone who actually did get caught and weekly letters could be traded as low-value items by those who didn’t write (or who couldn’t) to other cons who did like to do so.

No more stamps from families
Prior to the introduction of the revised – and hated – IEP system on 1 November 2013, many prisons allowed families and friends to send in writing materials to prisoners, including either books of stamps or stamped addressed envelopes. This was effectively banned by the same rules that block inmates from receiving books and clean clothes from their family and friends. 

Now, if you want to post a letter in addition to the free weekly one, everything needs to be purchased from the canteen sheet: writing paper, envelopes and, of course, a stamp. For people who are having to survive on as little as £2.50 a week as unemployed prisoners or £3.50 a week as retired or disabled inmates, the proportion of their tiny income that a single letter represents can be a massive sacrifice. Perhaps the more humane wing screws recognise this and turn a blind eye to cons who are penniless sending out a couple of extra free weekly letters.

Nevertheless, in a prison system that purports to value the maintaining of close family ties by prisoners as part of the strategy for reducing reoffending and encouraging resettlement, these mean IEP restrictions appear to run counter to supporting these objectives. Ironically, it also probably means that more prisoners will turn to the free 2nd class service rather than using their own stamps and writing materials. It would be interesting to know whether the overall costs of prison-funded postage have risen since prisoners’ families were blocked from sending in stamps and envelopes.

Half of all prisoners lack literacy skills
Being able to write letters yourself is another major bonus inside the nick. A fair number of prisoners do have serious problems with literacy and they can face serious disadvantages in trying to keep in touch with their families, especially if they lack money to buy telephone credits for the wing payphones. 

In fact, recent estimates suggest that around 48 percent of inmates have literacy skills at or below Level 1 (what would normally be expected of an 11-year old child), with as many of 75 percent having some problems with writing ranging from poor spelling right through to functional illiteracy. Perhaps it’s not entirely surprising when you realise that around half of all adult prisoners have been excluded from school when they were kids.

Before I ended up in prison I rarely wrote letters by hand anymore, although my generation still learned proper handwriting at school and all my exams throughout my education (including at university) involved writing the entire papers by hand in ink. I have been personally shocked at how limited the writing skills of some undergraduates can be these days. I suppose that computers and the electronic submission of essays and coursework have played a part in this.

Writing by hand: can it can be read?
When I was a prisoner I was determined to write extensively to family and friends. At times, I wrote at least one letter a day, at other times more. I found that many of my friends were genuinely fascinated by my prison experiences, given that none of them had any personal experience of being banged-up. I found that I really had to relearn how to write everything by hand again following years of typing. I rediscovered the familiar ache of writer’s cramp that I’d been so aware of as a student and I found that I really needed to learn afresh how to write long letters legibly, even though my normal handwriting isn’t usually too bad.

Writing – letters, my daily diary, short stories, chapters of a future book on the anthropology of prison – occupied much of my free time, particularly when I was in closed prisons. It helped me pass the time during long hours of bang-up, particularly when my various cell-mates wanted to watch the football or other programmes that I wasn’t really interested in watching myself.

Receiving letters from true friends
Of course, this wasn’t just about writing letters. It was also about receiving them and I was lucky that I received at least several a week throughout the years of my sentence, sometimes a lot more. Being in prison is when you do discover who your true and loyal friends and relatives really are. Sadly, for quite a high number of prisoners a week or a month or even a year without a letter is the norm, particularly when their family has broken up or moved on, or else their loved ones have died – an increasingly common situation for many of our elderly inmates.

As I moved between prisons, I continued to stay in touch with friends I’d made by writing to them. They responded with bits of news, gossip and information about changes to the regime at their nick. Sometimes they updated me on their appeals (if they had one), on their progress towards parole or their plans after release.

There seems to be little or no restriction on sending letters between prisoners in different jails unless they are co-defendants or subject to special controls on their communications. Some prisons do have a formal approval system for inter-prison letters, but I never experienced any problems in writing to mates in other nicks. 

As an Insider (peer mentor) I was also often asked by fellow prisoners to read letters that they’d received to them or to help them write a letter themselves. In some prisons cons who are literate can make a little unofficial business out of charging a small fee in kind – maybe a thin roll-up cigarette or a bar of cheap chocolate – for their ‘services’. Fortunately, since I had a decent prison job and some cash coming in from home, I never needed to ask. Sometimes I actually felt it was a privilege to be trusted enough by my fellow cons to help them deal with very personal and difficult family problems in their letters.

Looking beyond the prison walls
The process of writing and receiving letters offers many prisoners the chance to look beyond the walls that confine them, especially if they don’t have money to make calls from the wing payphones or their families live so far from the prison that they can’t have regular visits. Communications from family and friends, especially around Christmas and family anniversaries, can make them feel connected to the real world, as can the occasional family photograph. Prison cells across the estate have hand-drawn pictures stuck on the walls that cons have received in the post from their young kids.

On the other hand, receiving a bad letter – full of hatred, condemnation or severing ties – can be absolutely traumatic, as can letters containing tragic news: a death in the family or information about a serious illness. At times you can see broken men sobbing on their bunks as they read a letter that tells them that their world is collapsing around them, along with all their plans and hopes for the future. Some prisons do ask families to let them know of such news in advance of the letter arriving so that anti-suicide measures can be taken, but sadly many nicks just don’t have sufficient staff to monitor these situations effectively.

Writing can free the mind in prison
When I left prison earlier this year I took with me a large bag of letters and cards that I’d received when I was inside. They cover the whole period of my sentence and document all the highs and lows that pretty much every con will be only too familiar with. In fact, I’d say that these letters, as well as my daily diaries, are the most important items I still have from my time in prison. Every one means something to me.

Prison can be a hard and demoralising experience for many prisoners. That’s why a loving, kind or funny letter being slid under your locked and bolted cell door or handed out by a wing screw can make all the difference. Pity those who have no-one to write to them and no spark of light in their darkness.


  1. Hi Alex

    1) According to your knowledge, are their any legal challenges to the new IEP scheme introduced on 1 Nov 2013 which prevents books, stamps, clothes etc. being sent in? As you say, it seems like madness, I'd be interested to know if there was any judicial review ongoing.

    2) Were there any reading and writing courses offered by the prisons?

    3) What percentage of prisoners do you think have problems reading and writing? Sadly it seems these basic skills and the loss of further education opportunities may have contributed to the offending in the first place

    4) What did you think of service such as Storybook Dads which provided a free CD or DVD of people reading for their kids? Was it a service regularly used by the prisoners? And how often were people using it?

    Thanks again for an insightful article


    1. Thanks for your questions, Tommy. I'm glad you're finding the blog helpful.

      As far as I'm aware there hasn't been a formal legal challenge to the new IEP scheme, as yet. Probably the high cost of launching legal action is deterring this. However, campaigners are trying to change public and political opinion - for example Billy Bragg has managed to get the blanket ban on steel-string guitars lifted, while the Howard League for Penal Reform is leading the battle against the ban on posting in books. Sadly, no joy so far on that issue, although Labour has agreed to reverse the policy if they are in government next year.

      Yes, there are formal education courses for basic literacy and numeracy run by the Education Department in each prison. Also, all prisoners are assessed during Induction on their skills to see whether they need help. Sadly, prison education is really under pressure as it often gets cancelled if there are staff shortages or emergencies. Some prisons also employ appropriately qualified prisoners as classroom assistants and peer mentors. This is definitely an interesting and rewarding type of work if you can get it. I can also pay a bit better than the average job - maybe up to £16 or £18, although that depends on the individual nick.

      On the wings in most prisons they also run the Toe by Toe adult literacy course which is delivered by other cons who have done some training in peer mentoring. There is a course book provided by the Shannon Trust and volunteers meet their mentees five times a week for 20 minutes per session, usually during association time in the afternoons or evenings, or at weekends. You can find the Shannon Trust website here:

      According to the official stats, around 48 percent of prisoners have literacy skills at or below Level 1 (what would be expected of an 11-year old kid). Around 75 percent have some problems writing. Since about half of all prisoners were excluded from school as children, this is perhaps not so surprising. Prison education - when it's done well - can be a real second chance for some blokes and they do get paid for participating in classes - usually £8 or £9 per week.

      I didn't use Storybook Dads myself as I didn't have young kids when I was inside, but I know lots of men do use the service if it is up and running in their prison (not all do it, but around 100 do). I believe that it is popular. According to their website, they had 200,000 beneficiaries in 2012, which I assume means multiple kids benefiting from getting a CD or DVD of their dad reading for them. Some prisons do charge for the postage, but all other costs are covered.

      I hope that information is useful for you.

    2. I will leave the country if Labour are in government next year!

    3. That Storybook Dads sounds like a great idea for someone like me. I have a 5 year old and have already made a few DVDs of me for him but it would be nice to be able to do more when I am inside.

      My gf is expecting our second child in 2 months so it is tough on her that I won't be around for that and with her. I don't suppose that there is any chance of being allowed out for the birth or anything like that? I know I'm probably dreaming..


    4. Hi Paul, I would definitely recommend getting involved with the Storybook Dads project, especially when your son is that age. It is a great initiative.

      It is always difficult when a partner is expecting or a family member is in hospital. Unfortunately, our prison system isn't very flexible when it comes to this sort of situation.

      The bizarre thing is that one moment you walk into the dock having been on bail, representing no threat to anyone, and within a short space of time you go out of the back of the dock and become a Cat-B convict wearing handcuffs, being treated as if you are going to try to escape at any opportunity, even when you've never been an escape risk!

      Once the judge utters the magic words "take him down", it doesn't matter what someone is being sent down for - driving offences, fraud or armed robbery - one size seems to fit all. Only very high riskers, such as terrorists and most murderers, get treated with greater security as they will be off to Cat-A jails.

      I'll be very honest and say that I really don't think you've any chance of getting Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) unless it is a genuine matter of life and death, and even then you'd be handcuffed to an escort officer throughout. I'll give you an example to show what I mean.

      I supported a lad in a Cat-D (open prison) who had transferred from another open nick where he had been having regular ROTL, including home leave without any incidents. However, he transferred to the same Cat-D as I was in to be closer to his wife who was pregnant and having a really difficult time. Even though he'd been a D-cat for nearly a year, he still had to have the compulsory three month 'lie down' until he was eligible for ROTL. He was a just a few days short on this three months when his wife went into early labour.

      He pleaded his case for ROTL to be with her in the hospital on compassionate grounds and even though he was not in for anything violent, the governor rejected his application. He was absolutely devastated. Thankfully his wife gave birth safely and all was OK, but I can only imagine how he would have taken it had there been any problems.

      That's why I think an application for ROTL just eight weeks into any sentence is highly unlikely. Sorry to have to say it like it is, but better to know the situation beforehand so as not to raise unrealistic expectations.

    5. Congratulations on your new baby-to-be, Paul! I hope you are able to see your children regularly while inside, and that you can get yourself back on track afterwards and spend a long and fruitful life with your family. You sound like a lovely and loving Dad. Keep your spirits up and look after yourself, and remember how important you are to your kids.

    6. Thanks. I think that having kids makes going to prison worrse. I really feel like I've let my 5 year old son down amd feel bad that I will be missing out on him growing up for a while. Sitting down with him and explaining what was happening was one of the hardest things I've had to do. Just seemed so strange that I was trying to explain to him about me doing something wrong instead of it being the other way around. Seeing him crying over something I had done was hard.

      I never expected to be able to get out for the birth - just thought I'd ask. I have spoken to my solicitor about it and he had said the same so I'm not surprised. But it would be really good if it was possible to be at the birth or just after even with a guard and being handcuffed or whatever they do.

      Funny thing is that I was a young lad in the Army when my 5 year old was born and was in Afghanistan when he was born so it's like history repeating itself and it was 2 months before I saw him - hopefully it won't be as long this time. I suppose it is worse if you are in the Army and serving overseas and you miss a birth as you haven't done anything wrong to miss out on a birth.


  2. I guess you are fluent in Finnish, Swedish & English.

    1. Actually, it's French, Russian and Albanian. My Finnish is very rusty these days, as is my Italian!

  3. An interesting article but you fail to mention the fact that some prisoners used stamps as a form of currency which is, many believe, the reason for their ban from external sources.

    1. I believe Alex has either covered this before, or I have read it in another blog/book but my understanding is stamps are rarely being used as currency because as Alex has said, there literacy levels and corresponding number of inmates who will send letters is low.

      I believe telephone cards had once been used as currency also but this too has died away as the credit is applied directly against a prisoner's private PIN number to be dialed before any outgoing call is made.

      As far as I understand it, tobacco is the main form of currency followed by tins of tuna. I've no idea why tuna is so popular, maybe because of the high protein content it is valued by the prisoners who are weight-training

    2. Thanks for your comment. You are right about the perception that stamps could be used as currency, although in reality I've never really come across prisoners who were that keen on trading stamps! I think Tommy is correct in his comment below that this issue has been mentioned before in an earlier blog post. I can't recall off hand which one (we're now up to around 200,000 words, including comments!) Most prisons in any case required that only stamped addressed envelopes could be sent in. It was possible to peel off the new kind of self-adhesive stamps, but it was a lot of hassle. The main forms of internal currency are rolling tobacco ('burn'), tinned tuna and 50p chocolate bars from the canteen sheet.

    3. Burn (tobacco) is absolutely the most valuable currency inside. Stamps however do have a weird attraction as currency. My pad mate, after an adjudication, was not allowed to order from the canteen. All he was allowed was phone credit and stamps. Given that he had nobody to call or write to (and was illiterate) this was pretty much useless to him. Myself and a number of fellow cons agreed to buy burn for him if he ordered stamps. Those of us who wrote got our stamps and he got his tobacco.

    4. I guess there will be a major kickoff next year when the tobacco ban is implemented - uh oh!

    5. Thanks for your comments. The comment about trading stamps for tobacco when a prisoner is on 'losses' as a punishment is absolutely true. I remember similar cases myself.

      As to the issue of a complete smoking ban in prisons in England and Wales (including staff while on the premises), I've previously posted on this blog about what may happen if such a ban is implemented: Burn: Going Up in Smoke?

  4. So far this year there have been 61 suicides, last year 74, the previous 5 years 60 on average, 2007 had 91, 2006 had 66, 2005 had 78, 2004 had 95, 2003 had 93, 2002 had 96, and let's not forget that the prison population has been increasing over the years.

    Looking at these figures combined with the increased population isn't it disingenuous of you (and the liberal media) to keep saying that suicides are rising and blaming the revised IEP or Grayling?

    By your own admission many offenders are depressed, mentally ill, suffering from separation from loved ones and may not have much to look forward to; is it not surprising the suicide rate inside is roughly triple what it is outside?

    1. Thanks for your comments. One of the reasons that the overall suicide rate in prisons was falling was mainly to do with having experienced wing staff and managers who could implement the Assessment and Care in Custody Teamwork (ACCT) system. This was developed based on years of practice and is designed to identify prisoners who are potential suicide risks and then put in place a care and monitoring plan, which will include regular reviews, liaison with mental healthcare and other support services.

      What is disturbing is the 69 percent rise so far this year in comparison with the same period last year. While I do believe that the revised IEP system is playing a part in this, this is not the only reason. A very substantial reduction in frontline prison staff - often 30-40 percent across the board, but in some cases over 50 percent - must inevitably be a factor in this.

      Maintaining suicide watch on severely disturbed inmates is costly in terms of personnel. For a daily shift of 'constant' watch, your require 3-4 officers who will not be available for any other duties. I doubt most prison governors will be able to commit that level of staffing, so almost inevitably, more prisoners will be able to kill themselves - or at least try. Suicide attempts are also up, as are cases of self-harm.

      With regard to the IEP system, all penal experience shows that if people are held in solitary confinement for long periods of time - as they can be on Basic level - then the risk of self-harm and suicide is higher. As the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman pointed out earlier this year in his report, prisoners held on Basic level are disproportionally represented in the suicide figures. Chris Grayling is responsible for the revision of IEP system which was implemented against the advice of the Prison Governors Association for purely short-term political advantage. In practice, all this has done is to stoke tensions inside prisons at a time when there are insufficient staff to manage these problems.

      While of course many prisoners are depressed or living with mental health conditions, these are usually manageable conditions given appropriate support and healthcare provision. However, when those are severely reduced or absent, then - as in society in general - more people are likely to self-harm or attempt suicide. Although not all prison suicides are preventable, some probably are and what is needed are resources to make the ACCT system work as well as it possibly can. Added to that, the most severely mentally ill prisoners probably shouldn't even be in prison at all, but in secure hospitals receiving appropriate treatment.

    2. If you care to look at the link below you'll see that prisoner suicides were actually steadily climbing between 1990-2007 after which they dropped and the last few years appear to have remained fairly static.

    3. A 69% increase in suicides over a year is very worrying. More worrying, maybe, is Chris Grayling's acknowledgement of the figures but at the same time stating he has no idea why there's such an increase.

      Maybe it's time for himt o get his fingers out of his ears and listen to what the experts are telling him. There are people knowledgeable of the prison system (not just a minister given a job for the boys) The Howard League for Penal Reform, the Prison Officers Association, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Prison Governors Association have ALL highlighted the deepening crisis within the prison system.

      Chris Grayling - it's all ok, my 'reforms' are fine, I don't know what's going wrong. Not good.

    4. Thanks for your comments. I think that, like many complete amateurs, Mr Grayling has a fear and a distrust of professionals who know their subject matter far better than he does. The fact that he has absolutely no expertise or practical experience of the criminal justice system - including prisons and probation - doesn't actually concern me in itself. That is fairly commonplace among politicians.

      What I do find unforgivable is his arrogance in simply ignoring what real experts, such as very experienced prison governors and people who have frontline roles in these public services, have been telling him, as if their long years of work count for nothing. Because he believes that his approach is right, they must be wrong. It seems that in Grayling World, evidence and experience must be ignored in favour of ideological flights of fantasy in which white is confidently asserted to be black and vice versa. I think Mr Grayling is one of those people who, in the words of Benjamin Disraeli "was distinguished for ignorance, for he had only one idea, and that was wrong."

  5. I reckon tins of tuna should be banned in prison for 2 reasons:

    1. Tins of tuna are used as currency (maybe bars of chocolate should be banned too for that matter)

    2. I've heard about "lock in a sock", a tin of tuna can be used as a weapon can't it?

    1. Thanks for your comments. Tins of tuna are widely used as a source of protein, especially for prisoners who use the gym, but they are also used as internal prison currency. However, so can almost every other commodity in prison, from toothpaste to shower gel and even food from the servery. You could argue that everything has its price!

      Bashing other cons or screws with something heavy in a sock (pool or snooker balls are a favourite, as are bigger batteries) does happen, but then almost any item can be weaponised, including the whitener powder that is issued for use in hot drinks! Even scalding hot water can be used to devastating effect when combined with sugar and bleach, so any item or substance in the hands of a dangerous person can be dangerous.

  6. Apparently Chris Grayling reads the Daily Telegraph, use your letter writing skills to provoke a tea spitting reaction from him in the morning!

    1. Given his ignorance of what experts have told him about his failing system being in crisis I suspect a punch in his face wouldn't register with him.

    2. Thanks for your comments. Strangely enough even the Daily Telegraph seems to be turning against Mr Grayling. In the past few days there have been several very critical articles calling for radical prison reform, which to be honest has surprised me, and probably distressed the blue rinse brigade of Tunbridge Wells. I suspect that Mr G may soon switch his breakfast reading to the Daily Mail!

      Personally, I think everyone, particularly taxpayers, should take an interest in the current crisis in our prisons. Within any real pretence of achieving rehabilitation, custodial sentences are merely very costly human warehousing. As I've pointed out several times on blog posts, it would actually be cheaper to send cons to university paying full fees than to keep them in prison.

      As someone who has paid taxes since I had my first paid job at the age of 16 (during the school holidays) and who has never been unemployed - other than the period I spent as a guest of Her Majesty, of course - I really don't appreciate this wasteful misuse of public money, not to mention the lost opportunities to actually tackle the challenge of rehabilitation.

  7. Getting back to the subject of letters - a friend of mine is expecting a custodial sentence soon, so I've started to put together a collection of jokes, cartoons and quotes, which I plan to include a few at a time in each of my letters to him.

    As it's unlikely I'll be unable to visit him inside (due to distance, costs and logistics), do you have any suggestions for anything else I could do to help keep his spirits up?

    1. A Good Friend! Yes 2 things would probably help.

      If you can afford it, even a small postal order £5 or £10 will be enormously uplifting and would make a prisoner feel like he is still being thought of outside. From my reading, although postal orders are more expensive than cheques, they seem to clear faster. Apparently you must make the postal order payable to "The Governor" and make sure you keep your receipt in case of loss or theft. But check with the prison first, they should be able to advise you how to do it.

      Secondly, although there is a ban on sending in books and magazines, perhaps you can make a quick summary of the main week's news stories or sports results (whatever his interests are) as he may not have regular access to a newspaper. You might even be able to get away with sending photocopies of articles attached to your letter.

      Am glad you have not forgotten your friend.

    2. Thanks to both of you for your comments. I think the idea of sending some amusing or entertaining material into prisoners in letters is great. Photocopied crosswords from the papers are another idea. I even know one mum who sends her lad print-outs of posts from this blog that she thinks he'd find interesting!

      Postcards with interesting or attractive scenes are another idea. When I was inside I had friends who sent me picture postcards from the US, Czech Republic, Australia etc. I used to stick these on my noticeboard above my bed and it gave me something to look at. Prison cells can be very dreary, so a bit of colour from a nice postcard or photograph really helps to break up the institutional monotony.

      I'd agree with Tommy that even a small 'sub' in the form of an occasional postal order is a massive boost for morale, particularly for prisoners who struggle on a couple of pounds a week if they can't get a job or education course. Postal orders are the safest way to send money. Of course, if he has a job or his own cash from home, then this might not be needed, but even so a small cash gift at Christmas or birthdays is always much appreciated by most cons.

      To be honest, just knowing that someone outside cares enough to stay in touch and take the time to write can be priceless.

  8. Will a Cat A/B con receive my letter if I don't have his prison number?

    1. If you want to be safe, you can always try to contact via the prison location service who can then inform the prisoner you are trying to contact them.

    2. Thanks for your question. If you know the prison and he has a distinctive name (ie not 'John Smith') then the answer is probably yes, although it might take a bit longer to get to them. If he writes back, then his letter will have his number on it as this is required.

      Tommy is also right about the prisoner locator system, although in practice I found that this was a very slow process and can fail if the prisoner is moved prison while the request is being processed. Essentially, the inmate receives a written request from the prison to consent to you being given their number and location. He then ticks the box and signs it if he agrees to contact. It then gets returned to the system and processed before you receive the response with the relevant information. Very bureaucratic!

  9. I read Cat A/B cons moved between different prisons to reduce their risk of escape, is that correct?

    1. Thanks for your question. I've not been an A-cat myself, although I was a B-cat and I did get moved between prisons - mainly, I believe, because I was giving 'too much' support to fellow cons during governor's adjudications.

      Having shared cells with former A-cats, my understanding is that everything depends on specific risk assessment. Obviously, someone who has 'previous' for trying to escape raises their own risk substantially (and under the recently rule changes may not even be eligible for open conditions in a Cat-D jail).

      Terrorists and notorious murderers usually come in the very high risk categories (AA and AAA), but I think whether they are moved around between prisons depends on a number of issues, including behaviour, availability of courses they may be required to take etc. Most lifers serve their sentences in 'stages' as part of a longer-term sentence plan, so they do seem to have more stability these days. Some lifers seem to spend years at one specific prison where they get settled, have a single cell and often don't move for a long time.

      I have heard of the so-called 'ghost-train' where difficult or violent cons get 'ghosted' (shipped out with no notice to other establishments) on a regular basis. This is regarded by cons as a punishment since it means they can't make friends among fellow inmates, hold down prison jobs, do education courses etc and they have to endure the constant disruption of their lives, as well as making it very difficult to maintain family ties through visits etc. However, in practice, I've rarely come across examples. I can, maybe, think of two specific cases of prisoners known to me, but maybe it does still go on for some cons.

  10. You were "ghosted", right?

  11. Yep. I was kicked out of a Cat-B jail after I had been threatened by a wing officer for acting as a MacKenzie Friend to another con in an adjudication and, possibly, also for writing to HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman about a suicide when I realised that the true circumstances of the death were being covered up to protect specific staff. There was no notice and it was actually done expressly against the orders of a new governor whom I'd had a face to face meeting with about 24 hours before I was ghosted. I tried to contact the governor concerned but this was blocked by the wing staff who wanted rid of me.

    Funnily enough, I did subsequently meet the Senior Officer responsible for arranging to have me shipped when she visited the Cat-D nick I was then at. I just bumped into her walking around the grounds. She was horrified, but then I went up to her, smiled, said hello, shook her hand and we started chatting. In fact, I told her that the unexpected move was one of the best things that happened to me in prison, as without it I don't believe I'd ever have got my D-cat status. We parted on good terms, with no animosity. Life's just too short to bear grudges!

  12. I know I'm really late on this...but if I said something wrong, would the prison immediately stop communications or would it take time? My boyfriend said he didn't receive my letter and it's cause I mentioned seeing a girl with her pants round her ankles and I said it was really strange cause no one said anything. Now I know it was a dumb thing to write but I'm worried they might have sent it to someone higher up to have me blocked from contacting him.

  13. I know I'm really late on this...but if I said something wrong, would the prison immediately stop communications or would it take time? My boyfriend said he didn't receive my letter and it's cause I mentioned seeing a girl with her pants round her ankles and I said it was really strange cause no one said anything. Now I know it was a dumb thing to write but I'm worried they might have sent it to someone higher up to have me blocked from contacting him.

  14. Hi Alex, I'd just like to say, thank you for writing this blog. I have a strong academic interest in the relationship between adult literacy and criminal recidivism in particular, so this is all of interest to me.

    For what it's worth, I recently took the time to write to a political prisoner in Saudi Arabia, who is currently doing 15 years for trumped up charges mostly related to being an atheist. I'm hoping it will be a small comfort.

  15. I'm am thinking of writing to an A class prisoner, who is well known in the pubic eye as s drug dealer . I just wanted to write as a pen friend,as I read a lot about him and he didn't sound as bad as the paper make out. nothing else. I'm worried incase I will be investigated as to why I'm writing to him.