Monday 14 March 2016

Preparing for Prison

I’ve written previously about various aspects of imprisonment, including practical preparations such as packing your personal possessions (read here) and some elements of prison psychology, but recently I’ve been asked several questions about whether anyone can really prepare mentally for a custodial sentence. I think this is a very important issue, so I thought I should share some of my own reflections with readers.

Be aware of how courts work
A major factor in preparing for the possibility of a sentence of imprisonment is whether you intend to plead guilty or not guilty. If a guilty plea is almost certain to result in a custodial penalty at court, then a degree of mental preparation is essential. If you haven’t been in court for a trial, it might help to attend someone else’s case and just sit in the public gallery to see how things work before you take your own place in the dock. I did that myself and found it an interesting and helpful experience.

While awaiting the hearing and sentencing, there is also time to make other necessary preparations, depending on the anticipated length of the sentence. This can include settling financial and business affairs, storage of possessions if you might lose your accommodation, dealing with childcare (if required), finding homes – temporary or permanent – for pets and asking trusted family members or close friends to deal with personal issues in your absence.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, so it’s difficult to offer an exhaustive list. What is certain is that if all these matters have been sorted out before your sentencing hearing, it can relieve a great deal of stress once you are behind bars.

Except when in prison, of course!
As a prisoner, it can be much more problematic to do everyday tasks, such as simply contacting your own bank. The prison PIN phone system will not permit you to register or call most bank telephone numbers unless you happen to have a specific branch contact, which seems to be rarely issued these days. Forget about telephone banking, because it’s basically impossible to use. Nor is there any chance of accessing online banking services.

The best you can hope for is that you’ll be able to send written instructions to deal with banking issues by post. Of course, this also means that any confidential financial matters are likely to become known to the prison censors if your correspondence is being read.

It is worth being aware that there are also some specific financial activities that prisoners are not permitted to engage in whilst in custody following conviction. These restrictions include:

any transaction to run a business
any stock or share purchase or unauthorised sale
entering into any loan or credit agreements
gambling or the making of payments for other games of chance

So if you have any business activities that are ongoing or other financial commitments, alternative means of managing them will have to be found. In such cases, advice from professionals is likely to be essential. Remember that all your existing insurance policies, including home and car cover, are also likely to be voided by a criminal conviction unless declared.

Don't ignore dental health before prison
Another hot tip is to ensure that you have had any dental treatment before you are sent down. Prison dental care can be truly shocking, so a good check-up before you go to jail is vital. Sort out any dodgy fillings or other problems, because toothache when you are banged-up in your cell can be utter misery and you can easily wait weeks or even months for an appointment. Some people can also find the sheer humiliation of being taken out of prison for treatment while dressed in prison clothing and handcuffed to an officer a very traumatic experience.

However, preparing for imprisonment if you are pleading not guilty and will be facing a trial can be much more complicated. In reality, no matter how strong you believe your defence to be things can go wrong under the glare of the bright lights in court.

Your fate in the their hands
Witnesses might not say what you expected them to; you might not fare well under cross-examination and there is always the risk that some unexpected piece of prosecution evidence might be served on the day in court (I’ve seen this happen more than once). Your barrister might screw up your case too. Finally, the jury – 12 random men and women – may simply not believe your defence and vote to convict you, even if you are genuinely innocent. Even if two jurors have doubts, the votes of the remaining ten are sufficient for a conviction.

Military training is supposed to prepare troops for the ‘shock and awe’ of capture by the enemy. Nothing can really prepare a first-timer for the shock of imprisonment. From that moment the judge has pronounced sentence and spoken the fateful words: “You can take him (or her) down,” your life has changed forever. Even if it is a short sentence or your legal team launches an immediate appeal, you are still a prisoner.

In the dock in court
If the dock officer has a bit of decency, then you may not actually be handcuffed in the dock before you are led to the door at the rear that leads to the cells beneath the courtroom. Some have stairs, others have lifts, but passing through that door is like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia. It is another world where everything has suddenly changed.

Having got to know literally hundreds of people who have had exactly the same experience, I think the overwhelming sense is one of absolute fear of the unknown. Perhaps it gets less traumatic the second time (fortunately that’s not something I can comment on personally) – or third or fourth time, but that first time produces a range of emotions that cannot be erased from the mind.

There’s rarely a week when I haven’t reflected on that day from different perspectives. Watching or reading the news can trigger memories when the story is about someone being sent to prison, a conversation can have a similar effect. There is an indelible trauma of losing your liberty as you walk through that back door on your way to the cells beneath.

Double cuffing a prisoner
Never underestimate that cold click of steel as your wrist is cuffed, chaining you to another human being who now has control over you. Most newly convicted prisoners are so shocked at the experience that they become compliant. I know I did.

Some dock officers will be as humane as they can be within the rules. Once you have been body searched (not a full strip-search at that stage, just a thorough pat down) and have had all your valuables confiscated and inventoried on a property form, you will be locked into a holding cell – a very bleak room indeed – but also offered a cup of tea. Then your solicitor and/or barrister may arrive in the cell block to discuss the situation, particularly whether you are intending to appeal either conviction, sentence or both.

Finally, after what can be a long wait of some hours in the holding cell, you will be handcuffed again – two pairs this time, one set chaining your wrists together and the other linking you to the escort officer – before being led down the corridor to the waiting transport van (‘sweatbox’) where you will be locked into a tiny cubicle with a rock hard seat and a tinted window for your journey of shame to the nearest Cat-B local prison where pretty much everyone will start their sentence, unless already a provisional Cat-A inmate (usually murder, terrorism or serious organised crime).

Sweatbox on the way to a prison
If you are lucky (or not remotely famous/infamous) then the press won’t be waiting in the hope of getting a tabloid ‘snatch pic’ of you shambling in your chains to the van or else through the window of the sweatbox. Some courts have a closed area at the rear of the building where prisoners are shielded from the worst of the public exposure and ridicule, but others don’t.

I was lucky and no press had even bothered to show up on the day, so unimportant am I, but others have not been so lucky and the trauma of the ritualised public shaming can diminish them as human beings. Can you prepare mentally for that? I very much doubt it.

In all probability, you won’t even know which prison you’ll be taken to on that first day. For loved ones who have been in court or waiting back at home, this can be a period of silence and anxiety. You ‘disappear’ into the criminal justice system, only to emerge as a number. It can be a good idea to ask your legal team to let your family know what has happened under the court, but often even they have no idea where you are heading either.

It can be a strange and very melancholy journey in the tiny cubicle. As you leave from the rear of the court you may see streets that earlier that day you were walking as a free citizen, unless you were already held on remand. In my case I looked at the small coffee shop that my solicitor and I had had our coffee each morning before the session in court. We drove past landmarks that I recognised from my past life – in fact just a matter of hours before. W.B. Yeats was spot on when he wrote in his poem Easter 1916 of how people and commonplace things have “all changed, changed utterly.”

You will see people on the streets passing by, perhaps glancing at the prison van with curiosity or hostility as they imagine what kind of monsters and wrong ‘uns are confined within. They are free, but you are not. This is really where the true ‘otherness’ of being a prisoner starts.

Waiting outside the prison gate
When you arrive at your destination prison you may still have time – occasionally hours – to wait before you are re-handcuffed and escorted into Reception to be ‘processed’. This involves being formally identified, photographed, strip-searched, re-clothed in prison kit, interviewed and assessed by staff. You’ll be asked a lot of questions, but told very little about your fate.

I’ve dealt in an earlier post with the subjects of prison strip-searches in Reception (read here) and having your personal possessions sorted into two heaps: those permitted and those forbidden. The former – often a very small number – will be placed into a large transparent bag with HMPS on the side and you will be allowed to take them with you to your cell. The remainder will go into sealed black property boxes until either they can be handed out to visitors or stored. You probably won’t see these items again until the day you are released or if you eventually make it to an open jail.

Different prisons operate differently. Some have ‘first night’ centres where new arrivals are accommodated and watched closely lest they succumb to despair and attempt suicide. Others have ‘induction wings’ where you might spend anything from a few days to weeks, depending on the availability of cells on normal wings or house-blocks.

The moment before the door slams
Forget the holding cell under the court and the journey locked in the tiny sweatbox cubicle. It will be the moment that you are in your first cell when the heavy metal door is slammed shut for the first time and you realise that there is no handle on the inside that you really come to understand that you are now a prisoner.

Everyone is supposed to go through induction, which can last a week or so. This is where staff or other inmates – often peer mentors called Insiders or Buddies – will try to explain as much of the complex and arcane processes and procedures of prison life as they can. They should advise you of your privileges (not many on the new Entry Level) and how you can progress to Standard and then Enhanced within the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system. If you’d like to read more it’s all here in Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 30/2013.

You’ll be assessed for mental health (often no more than a few quick questions, such as “Are you feeling suicidal?”) and tested for education skills. Don’t expect a degree – or even a PhD – to prevent you being assigned to a very basic level of literacy class if they need to get classroom numbers up, especially just before an inspection or visit from Ofsted. Still, my advice is take whatever education or work is offered.

Got a cleaning certificate already?
Often ‘free-world’ qualifications will be ignored in favour of dog-eared prison certificates. This can be how repeat offenders manage to get all the best jail jobs. “I’ve got my Industrial Cleaner’s Level 2 from Wandsworth.” Go to the top of the list for a cushy wing cleaner’s post. Ask anyone who has been inside. They’ll tell you the same. It’s just one of the many ways that recidivism is routinely rewarded in our nicks.

You’ll also have to learn a seemingly enormous list of prison rules and petty regulations. Even a relatively minor slip-up can cost you dearly and there’s often very little leeway given. In my first week at a Cat-C prison I once took a wrong turn along an internal walkway and ended up on a wing that appeared identical to my own, but which wasn’t mine. I politely asked a passing wing officer for directions and was shouted at, made to feel about 7-years old and told I was “bloody lucky not to be down the Block on a charge for attempting to escape.” Thank you too, Guv. Have a nice day.

"Want a brew in your pot?"
Then there is the prison slang that gets used everyday. A typical conversation between two seasoned old cons would probably be pretty unintelligible to most outsiders. Many everyday objects, from china tea mugs to rolling tobacco, have different names in convict jargon. This can also vary from prison to prison. I’ve blogged about this here. It’s worth learning the slang just to be able to understand what others are talking about.

I’ve also written about sharing a prison cell with a complete stranger (read here). In fact, unless you are a lifer or starting out in a Cat-A prison (high security estate), the chances are you will have to ‘two-up’ – share – with some random fellow con. Officially it is policy to segregate smokers from non-smokers but this doesn’t always happen, especially in this era of chronic overcrowding.

Two'd up: sharing a cell
If you are lucky, you’ll eventually get the chance to move in with someone you get on with tolerably well. If you are very fortunate, you might share with a pad-mate you actually like. That happened to me five times during my sentence – I consider myself very lucky – and I’m still friends with several of these lads. We have shared history, so to speak.

So is there any way to really prepare for all of this? It’s a bit like trying to plan for an expedition to an unknown and very strange land. You can try to imagine it and the people or dangers you might encounter, but to be honest there isn’t much you can do to prepare mentally to cope with the fear, anxiety, sense of daily humiliation and loneliness you are likely to experience as a prisoner. Prisons are also very noisy establishments, so if you are a particularly light sleeper or can’t nod off when someone else is snoring loudly above or below your bunk, then I’d recommend investing in a pair of foam earplugs.

There are some aspects of prison life I don’t believe anyone can prepare for. Watching a fellow con being beaten until they bleed or having boiling water and sugar thrown in their face (‘jugging’) or discovering a cell-mate hanging lifeless from the end of your shared bunks, those events – which are mercifully rare – can’t be anticipated. They are traumatic and you just have to deal with them as best you can. Perhaps it’s not surprising that many inmates – and a fair few prison staff - suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even if it hasn’t always been diagnosed.

A real prison WC in a cell
On the other hand, if a custodial sentence really is on the cards, then I suppose you could rehearse by sleeping on a rock hard mattress in your bathroom, next to the toilet for a few nights. That’s probably the nearest you’ll get to an authentic preparation for life in an English prison cell.

For me, one of the most important aspects of getting ready for imprisonment is to ensure that you have a strong support network on the outside. If you have close family and friends talk to them about your forthcoming sentence. Don’t let them find out from the local paper (or even the evening news on TV). Ask a loved one to let the people you want to hear from know your prison number and address as soon as you can send it out or give it over the phone. Make sure that you have a small address book with all the names, addresses and phone numbers of anyone and everyone you are likely to want to write to, including your bank.

It never hurts to do some reading up about prison in advance and there are various books available, as well as informative websites and a few blogs. However, there can be no real substitute for living the reality of prison on a day-to-day basis. Avoid most TV prison dramas and films. They almost always show a sensationalised version that will bear little or no relation to reality, which is mainly about surviving the grinding boredom.

Finally, my advice is to try to stay as calm as possible. Prison can be a real test of character and you will have to rely on your own mental and emotional resources. However, if you are sensible, keep your head low and steer clear of drugs, debt, stealing from other cons and ‘grassing’ (informing on fellow prisoners), you are unlikely to be the target of any violence. Above all, stay in contact with family and friends if at all possible. Their support can prove vital in helping to maintain your sanity and emotional well-being while you are behind bars. Never take that for granted.


  1. As usual, excellent writing and story telling skills in display.

  2. Have to say I don't remember much about the first night as I was so angry about the behaviour of my barrister nothing really registered. I was also lucky that a couple of folks took me under their wing from the next morning without any ulterior motive in play and introduced me into prison life and how things worked. The only issues were healthcare stopped all my meds which led to me passing out and a bit of an incident which led to my solicitor threatening the prison with a lawsuit unless they were immediately reinstated which they were and the fact that if you're quiet and polite you will basically get ignored by the officers while they deal with those who shout loudest. I learnt to be politely aggressive pretty quickly.

  3. "I'd recommend investing in a pair of foam ear plugs"
    They banned them where I was - not sure why - even though they had been available on the canteen previously.

  4. An excellent piece of writing and mostly accurate from my experiences. The sound of the pad (cell) door banging shut has a sickening finality, and it leaves you in no doubt as to your immediate future.
    I was lucky because I was big, noisy and well versed in self defence, so people tended to befriend me rather than attack me. I also had some acquaintances inside the first prison and they were well-known and respected cons, so it added a degree of respect by association.
    You are also correct about trying to combat the abject boredom - I had read every book in the meagre library within 2 months and daytime tv, particularly in the 90's, was appalling.
    It's too much to say that I'm glad to have had the experience of prison, but it definitely had a profound effect on my life and helped me to make the positive changes that put me on the path to being a better dad/partner/member of society.

  5. Thank you Alex for this true and informative essay. I dont have to tell you what a clever boy you are at being able to write such an excellently grammatical piece of work under the unfortunate circumstances you found yourself in. Good luck for the future Alex. Bless you mate.

    1. I know you don't mean it but this could be taken as a patronising comment - you might be someone with experience enough to know prison isn't full of psychiatric cases with low IQ, an array of learning difficulties and marked by educational failure (just added my first in at ten comment so I obviously fit much of that description)... apart, like may prisoners, from the low IQ. As for grammatical errors - I've done worse.

  6. It is hard to remember being a naive first timer, impossible in fact. My experience of custody began as a ten year old sent on a three week remand. You can laugh at that not being the same as prison but I was the youngest in the place, the staff seemed to get some pleasure from terrifying me. That was followed by a couple more remand sessions, approved school, Borstal and another stint in Borstal before my first prison sentence (27 months) - I was starred up on that one. So by the time I reached prison reception I had mastered the art of switching off. A key factor to take from this progression through the system is that it is a socialisation process that normalises each aspect of the experience. Most of the time when I was arrested it was after a period on the run or after accumulating a series of offences - I didn't just know I was going down I almost willed it to happen. Difficult to express that sense of fate in a sentence, it is more nuanced and at times contradictory than I make it sound. The simple understand is enough, however, to convey the sense that the preparation had gone on a lot longer than sorting out a toothbrush (not literally).
    There was one sentence that I was totally unprepared for. Ironically it was a short one, a six month session that came so far out of the blue that I'd driven the 60 odd miles to the court appearance and made arrangements for the weekend. Even the copper stood next to me in the Magistrates said he was waiting for them to add the words 'suspended' to the six month. The remote couldn't cut through the anger at the injustice - I seethed my way through every minute of that sentence. Could I have prepared? Yes, I should have gone on the run.

  7. Hi Alex
    Don't forget about the people on the outside (relatives) who are also unprepared when someone is sent to prison on a personnel note my wife and i were totaly devestated when our son was sent to prison it took us 6 months to come to terms with it and longer for our son it is his first time in prison he is now into his last 14 months of a 44 month sentence he wll serve another 44 months on licience.

  8. What an excellent article!

  9. "The prison PIN phone system will not permit you to register or call most bank telephone numbers unless you happen to have a specific branch contact, which seems to be rarely issued these days." - I think TSB give you a named contact as standard, so if you're expecting a custodial sentence it could be worth opening an account beforehand

  10. Try to quit smoking beforehand, running around for burn and skins will otherwise turn into a regular event whenever out of the cell.

    1. Very sound advice! Being a non-smoker has all kinds of benefits in prison, not least having to spend every penny on tobacco from the canteen!

  11. Dear Alex,
    I almost hesitate to ask you this, since you probably have PTSD from the things you've seen behind bars. Also, there may be a slight hint of prying into your personal life, which I hate to do. So, I apologise in advance.
    It's just that you never mentioned it here (I only just discovered this site today, so maybe I haven't read it enough), so I'm just curious. Unless it's [CLASSIFIED] for some reason or else still sensitive to you.
    So here it is: HOW did you end up in jail in the first place?
    Please reply back as soon as you can.
    Yours faithfully,

    1. Thanks for your comment. As I'm still involved in an appeal against conviction, I'm following the advice of my legal team to steer clear of any public comment on my own legal case. All will - hopefully - be revealed when my conviction has been quashed!

  12. Hi Alex,

    I saw this article in Inside Times in the prison library... now I'm out and starting to get my life back in shape. One of the biggest and most important things I did to prepare was to read every one of your blog entries. I went in the dock with a fully packed bag and fully prepared and that's thanks to you.

    The mental preparations are more important than the practical ones. I went in expecting everything to be a complete farce and for nothing to work as it should. Prison life certainly lived up to these expectations, but it meant my frustration levels were kept to a minimum and kept me smiling. As I think you've also said, in the end I probably had more laughs in my months inside than I had in years. Not an experience I would have chosen (or ever expected!), but I have to try to view it as hopefully an opportunity for a brighter future.

    Even in the short time I was inside I saw a noticeable deterioration in the regime and staffing levels. Keep up the excellent work with the blog, anything to help push reform.

    A personal thanks again from me, articles such as this one are definitely being read and helping others.

    1. Thanks for sharing your comment. I'm glad reading my posts helped you personally as you prepared for a period in prison. Good preparation - both practical and psychological - can make a massive difference to how an individual copes with the stresses and pressures of incarceration.

      It's good to read that you still managed to find some humour in what can be a difficult and testing experience. That was definitely part of my own response to being inside.

      Great to hear that you are now out and looking forward positively. My prison experience taught me a lot and feedback like yours does make writing on the blog all the more worthwhile. Best of luck for the future.

  13. Great writing and what a lot of talent you have! This must be quit an experience to live through as i don't think anyone is really prepared for prison. It is a difficult thing to go through and really sucks if you are not there because of wrong you did but rather when you are wrongly accused. Thanks again, bless.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds

  14. Hi Alex

    I'm finding your posts really useful having just seen a friend found guilty and sentenced. I knew that could be the outcome but In hindsight probably wasn't fully prepared. To my knowledge they have a good support network, which I hope will stick with them for the full time they are due to serve. years, not months.

    Could i ask a practical question, sorry if it's been covered and i've not got to it. Post - did it take you long to get stuff from outside? Were there delays with getting stuff out, other than having the stationary? Did they let people people send stuff to you, like paper envelopes or stamps. Did they ever turn things away based on what was written, not stupid stuff but just general chat?

    If there is a post on this just point me in the direction


  15. Hey dude, I'm off to prison fairly soon and it's fair to say I'm crapping myself. You're blog has been really helpful but I have a few questions though and was hoping you could help me out.

    1. Are you allowed to bring like shaving foam, soap, shower gel, etc into prison? I know you can buy it at the canteen but was wondering if you could bring in it. Also, are you allowed your property you bring into prison like razors straight away? As in when you enter your cell, the reason I ask is because I shave everyday and going a few days without if I don't have my razor I will look like a grizzly bear.

    2. Another thing is, would you suggest I keep my sexuality on the down low? Being a young (I'm 21) skinny weak guy will probably already make me a target and adding gay to that has got me worried. Thing is, I have a boyfriend on the outside so I will call him, get letters and visits from him etc. So in your personal opinion and from your experience do you think I should keep it quiet?

    3. Also, have your prisons always been local? It doesn't bother me being further away, actually I would embrace that since I live in one of the roughest areas in the UK with one of the supposedly worst prisons in the country. Fun times ahead eh aha.

    4. Lastly, are 23 hour lock ups common now? Even for prisoners that's just cruel and unnecessary. How they suppose to rehabilitate prisoners if they're stuck in their cells all day doing nothing.


    1. Hi Nathan, thanks for your questions. I'm glad that the blog has been helpful.

      1. Basically, the answer re: toiletries is no. Reception is likely to confiscate anything like foams, soaps, gels etc. No pressurised sprays are allowed in prisons. Most prisons will supply prison-issue soap and a roll-on deodorant, plus toothpaste and maybe sachets of shampoo. However, each prison is different.

      In theory you should be allowed to take in either an electric razor (battery or mains only, no rechargeables) or a wet razor and some new blades still in their packets. However, depending on how long you think you might get, you need to consider the issue of replacement blades once your initial supply has finished. Unless the canteen sheet has changed since 2014, then the only decent blades on sale are Gillette Mach 3.

      2. There are a surprising number of out gay and bi men in prisons. However, who you tell is entirely up to you. Most gay men I've known inside seem to be fine - in fact, a few have confided that they had a pretty good time! One lad actually had a civil partnership ceremony when he was on our wing in 2012, so some prisons can have quite a supportive community.

      I suppose it might be wise to wait until you see what the atmosphere on the wing is, are there any other gay or bi blokes there, how are they getting on etc. Most prisons now seem to have diversity and equality reps, LGBT+ support groups etc and there is a (bureaucratic) system for reporting discrimination, abuse etc.

      One thing I would advise, however, is that if you are out you might find that ostensibly 'straight' blokes pester you for sex. There is such a thing as 'prison gay' and it can be unlikely guys who make a move. I'm afraid that some prisoners do have the view that any out gay man would obviously fancy them, so do be prepared to firmly make it clear that you have a partner and won't put up with any harassment.

      3. Generally speaking your first Cat-B local will be the one nearest the court where you have been sentenced, although it will depend on spaces being available. How long you will be there may also depend on the length of sentence etc. Once you have been categorised, you may be moved to a prison appropriate to your personal categorisation. If that's a Cat-C or Cat-D, then things can move fairly quickly.

      4. Sadly, 23-hour bang-up is becoming the norm in many prisons owing to overcrowding and understaffing. It has definitely got much worse over the past couple of years. My advice is take any work on offer or sign up for education courses, even if it's just to get out of your cell for a few hours each weekday.

      Don't expect any rehabilitation at all. It is very unlikely you will get any practical support unless you are a lifer (which I suspect from your message you won't be!) If you do get banged-up a lot, take the opportunity to read books etc. otherwise the boredom will be dire.

      Hope the above helps. Let me know if you have any other questions or if you just want a private chat on the phone to help you get ready for the coming 'adventure'!


    2. Thanks for the reply dude, very helpful. Feel much better about 'coming out' now, as you said it'll probably be best for me to wait and see what the general attitude is like first. Guess it varies from prison to prison. My biggest fear is having to share a cell with a homophobe.

      I've been told I'm looking at around 4 years and will hopefully be eligible for release on licence half way through. It's could've been much more so I'm not complaining. I'm guessing I'll start at Cat-B and go to Cat-C, maybe I'll get to Cat-D at some point. I definitely think the boredom and loneliness will be the worst thing. The only person I really have on the outside is my boyfriend so if that fails then I'll be on my own. I'm going to buy some books as I think I might lose the plot if I'm banged up 23 hours a day, especially if by chance I were in a single cell. Have a few more questions if you don't mind

      1. If by chance I was sharing a cell with someone who was 'demoted' to basics, would they be moved to a different cell or would they stay meaning that I would be basically be punished too because of the removal of TV etc? On the subject, how long are prisoners typically on basic before being 'promoted' back to standard? I'm going to keep my head down as much as possible but haven't got the best temper (which I'm sure they'll throw me in some course for) I wouldn't be surprised to end up on basic at some point.

      2. Also would I be able to take online learning A-Levels during my time at prison? I failed mine and never had the time to retake, in prison I'll have nothing but time. Though obviously there's the issue of revision books and material being sent in, I wouldn't bet on me passing but if it keeps me busy.

      3. What is the current situation with guitars? I remember being so angry when I read they were being taken away from prisoners but heard the ban was overturned. Are you allowed to bring them into prison? I'm assuming it's restricted to enhanced level but would it be possible to have it stored until (if) I reach that level. Same goes for playstation, dvds etc. Instruments are shown to be very therapeutic and rewarding so it baffles me they even attempted to ban them, same with cut visits to the gym. It lacks logic and common sense.

      4. I don't have the clearest record of mental health. Used to self harm as a teenager and have bad anxiety with 2 past suicide attempts under my belt. I've heard from many people, the articles I've read and your blog that mental health care in prison for lack of better word, sucks and thats backed up by the statistics. So I'm just wondering, how'd you keep a positive mind in such a depressing environment?

    3. Part 2 aha

      Reading your blog posts have been very informative and also really disheartened by the way our own government treats prisoners. No wonder suicide and violence in prison is on the rise. The underwear situation is just simply disgusting, maybe if the government spent more time trying to rehabilitate prisoners with useful activities and educational opportunities instead of dehumanising and humiliating them then reoffending would be significantly lower which is positive for the community, prisoners and the government itself as just rehabilitating one prisoner will save taxpayers over £40,000. Though, as you said in a previous post, they seem to care more about the comments on the Daily Mail website than common sense and that will be the death of the current prison system.

      I would say hopefully Liz Truss will put in significant reforms but she seems to be as incapable as Gove and he who should not be named. Time will tell, just hope the reforms won't be too late as it was for the 105 prisoners who committed suicide from June 2015-2016 and the hundreds before them who were failed by the system. Hopefully I don't become another statistic.

      Thanks dude, sorry I rambled (a lot) just trying to get facts together so I can prepare as much as I can. Would love to have a private chat with you on the phone, you got an e-mail that I can send my number to?

    4. Hi Nathan, no problem. Happy to advise.

      1. When a prisoner is demoted to Basic level in the IEP system then the usual practice is to move him to a cell on his own (or if there are two on Basic, then they share). The rented TV does usually get taken away etc, so it would otherwise punish the 'innocent' cell mate.

      Prisoners on Basic are supposed to be reviewed weekly and given a clear plan to get them back to Standard level. In practice it doesn't always work like that and can take weeks or longer. I've known people on Basic for six months or more, often because they can't (or won't) change their behaviour.

      It is possible to study for A-levels in prison, but you'd now have to pay for the course yourself or take out a student loan... amazing but true. Some charities may be willing to pay for courses, but you'd need to apply once you know how long you'll be serving.

      Obviously there are other barriers to study - availability of course books, no internet or email access etc, but a fair number of prisoners do overcome these obstacles and gain A-levels or degrees. It might be worth working out exactly what you'd like to study now and doing as much online research yourself while you still have internet access. You should be allowed to take this material inside with you and start studying immediately. You might also be able to register and pay in advance if you are self-funding the course, but you'd need to find that out.

      3. Prisoners on Enhanced level are permitted to purchase guitars from Argos (or whichever catalogue the prison uses), subject to a security risk assessment and using funds that are in their prison spending account. For a while there was a ban on steel-stringed guitars, but this has largely been lifted, although I'm not sure if prisons allow these guitars to be kept in cell or only used in organised classes. Nylon stringed instruments are quite common on the wings. Unfortunately, prisons don't have vast property storage space, so taking items in with you from court and then waiting the minimum 3.5 months to get your Enhanced so they will issue the stuff isn't going to work.

      4. It is sadly true that mental healthcare in most prisons is generally awful or just non-existent. An estimated 90% of prisoners live with a mental health condition of some kind (diagnosed or undiagnosed), so prison wings can be stressful places. I'm very lucky that I've never had such issues myself, so it's difficult for me to suggest coping mechanisms. Others I know cope by writing to family and friends, phoning home on the pay phones, reading, studying and generally trying to keep busy. Other prisoners can be very supportive, so try to make a couple of good friends during the induction process or in the early days and that may help. I'm still in regular touch with several friends I made in prison.

      I would also recommend taking any job that's offered or any education course going just to get you out of your cell for a few hours. That can make a massive difference too.

      If you are currently on any prescribed medication make sure you take your latest prescription with you to court and hand it in during the reception process when you are interviewed by healthcare staff. Any meds will need to be reissued by the prison healthcare, so anything you take in with you will have to be handed in on arrival.

      Happy to have a chat. You can e-mail me directly on: and send me your contact details.

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  17. Phillip (About to be sentenced myself)1 November 2016 at 01:13

    Have to say how truly gripped I was reading the pure brilliance of these personal - yet powerful accounts and experiences.
    I was truly moved reading all these posts. Listening to Vincent by Don McLean didn't help ��
    Thank you everyone and I wish I could wave a magic wand for you all.

  18. Thank you Alex,
    A very brave, honest and educative article on things common layman never hear about. Thank you for your time to write this.