500 tips for convicts

A short guide for people sent to a UK prison for the first time

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1. In the beginning.

500 tips for convicts.

1. In the beginning. It all starts in court. The trial might be going badly or you suspect that you might get a custodial sentence, or sometimes you may be warned by the judge that you are going to jail, then be prepared. Bring with you to the court a bag containing the following items: Soap, Flannels, Toothpaste and a few Tooth brushes. You can get toothbrushes and tooth powder issued but they are hopeless! Going to prison for the first time can be a culture shock for many people. The best way to settle in is to keep an open mind and to try and be as adaptable as possible. Try not to be alarmed by all the strange smells and noises that you will encounter, this is all part and parcel of prison life. The most important thing of all is to accept the fact that you are there. If you have been sentenced to a fixed period you will know your earliest date of release and can look forward to that day. Even if you do not have a release date, it is very unlikely that you will be in prison for ever unless you have been found guilty of an offence that warrants such a sentence.

Try not to feel too bad about it, there are a lot of people in the same boat and self pity can be very destructive. At the earliest opportunity, try and turn the experience around and see what you can get out of the system. The primary aim of prison is rehabilitation, and there are many superb facilities available which you can make use of such as training courses, or education.

Learn the jargon used by convicts and prison officers alike. Here are a few examples. Banged up = Locked in your cell. Block = Punishment block. Usually a cell containing the minimum amount of furniture, often made from cardboard. Sometimes used when a convict is on a charge and waiting to be seen by the governor. Blow = Cannabis. Also known as puff, draw, wacky baccy etc. Illegal of course but widely available. Boss = Respectful way to address a Prison Officer, Guv is also a useful term. If the officer's surname is known they may prefer to be addressed as Mr. Smith/Jones whatever. Burglars = Officers involved in searching a cell, usually at random. Closed visit = Visit where physical contact is banned, usually by a glass partition. Con = Convict. Grass = Informer. Hooch = Homebrew, but be careful because it is illegal. Knockback = Refusal of parole. Lag, old lag =  long term prisoner, habitual offender, recidivist. Munchies = Feeling hungry as a result of smoking cannabis. Nonce = Sex offender. Applied to anyone on “Rule 43”. Peter = Cell. Rubdown = Personal search eg. after a visit.   Screw = Prison Officer. This one should be avoided within the hearing of an Officer as some of them dislike the expression. Snout = Tobacco, also informer in Northern Ireland. Spin = Cell search. Speed = Amphetamines, highly illegal. Turned over = Searched (Person or cell) V.O. =Visiting order.

Try to be respectful toward Prison Officers and other staff but not to the point of being obsequious or smarmy. Other cons will soon notice if you are, and so will the Officer concerned.

Be especially respectful towards the staff in reception. It is they who are responsible for everything that enters the prison ie. prisoners clothing and property. If you make an enemy of a Reception Officer he can, if he wishes, make life very difficult for you.

Find out what you are allowed to have in your cell and what is banned. Ask the Reception Officer if there is a list of banned items you can see.

As soon as you arrive, other prisoners will be asking for lights, matches, tobacco etc. Do not give in to these demands or you will quickly become known as a soft touch.

Other prisoners may offer you telephone cards, cannabis, alcohol etc, all at a price. It is best to avoid these sorts of deals and politely decline.

Find out from the other prisoners who the more approachable Officers are and which Officers are not so sympathetic.

As a new arrival, you will be allowed a visiting order straight away. Find out from the Officers what the allowance is at that particular prison as it varies slightly from prison to prison. If you are a remand prisoner, you may be allowed a visit every day. You are also allowed at least one visit in order to put you financial affairs into some sort of order. This can be anyone ie. Bank manager, solicitor, business partner etc. At any time you can request a visit from the welfare services such as the probation officers or the pastor. Many people find solace in their predicament in the form of religion. The pastor can also help to arrange help for your family and sometimes allow you to make phone calls. Even if you are not particularly religious, it can be advantageous to use their help.

If you are a remand prisoner, find out from the staff what privileges you are entitled to that are denied to convicted prisoners.

Remand prisoners are often allowed to wear their own clothing. It is best to avoid this if possible because you will have to send your clothes out to be washed. Not only that, you will stick out like a sore thumb as a new boy.

Try to make friends with fellow prisoners who have jobs in the bath house and laundry. An extra bar of soap or a few extra pairs of clean underpants can make all the difference to your comfort.

Try to be as clean and tidy as you can - staff may find it difficult to give you the respect you deserve if you are dirty, untidy or smelly.

Avoid getting in to arguments with other prisoners. There are two sets of rules in prison - one for the Officers and another that the prisoners go by. Try to obey both.

If a conflict does arise, try to resolve it peaceably without involving the staff. They will appreciate not being involved and so will the other prisoners.

If there is some sort of conflict and the staff does get involved, you may be offered to go on to "rule 43". This is the rule which allows the prisoner to be considered at risk from the other prisoners, and treated accordingly. Think very carefully before accepting this because the majority of prisoners on rule 43 are sex offenders. Nobody will know that you may not be.

Avoid borrowing anything from other prisoners such as tobacco, phone cards, batteries etc. If you do enter any deals, find out from the beginning what is expected in return. Never borrow anything at all unless you are absolutely certain you can give it back on time.

If you are a smoker, you may not always be allowed to carry matches or a lighter. Home made lighters using mop string as a wick are usually permitted however. Get one of the other prisoners to show you how to make one.

If you feel that you have been wrongly convicted, avoid protesting your innocence to all and sundry. The other prisoners and staff have heard it all before. The other prisoners all have enough problems of their own without yours.

If you are truly innocent, avoid any admission of guilt under peer pressure. If you feel you have to divulge anything it would be best to tell them what you have been charged with or convicted of but leave it at that. Many people have been convicted or lost an appeal as a result of a "confession" to a fellow prisoner.

Do not ask other prisoners why they are there. If they want to tell you, they will without any prompting. Many prisoners however will not want to talk about their convictions and may well take offence if asked.

During association times or exercise periods, keep yourself to yourself for the first few times until you know who to become associated with. If you become friendly with one prisoner, you may find yourself alienated by others.

Stand up for yourself but do not bully. Sometimes the weakest characters may have the strongest  protectors.

Some prisoners may be bullied by others. Do not jump on the bandwagon but do not get involved either.

Learn what the insignia on the Officer's uniforms stand for. Senior officers like to be known as S.O.s etc.

Avoid becoming too friendly with the staff. Other prisoners may suspect you are trying to gain some privilege or even worse may suspect you of being an informer.

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