I was a student studying for Professional Sound and Video production at University when I committed my (very stupid) crime. Check out my article on my past if your interested : The Student Armed Robber - by Jack Hill
I also have a youtube channel in which I share my experiences and observations in person in the form of vlogs, check it out here : DrunkerJack1 (most recent vlog on Prison Showers!)
If not, here is a picture of me in a ridiculous sketch in Manchester TV studios next to the massive orad green screen. I'm the one on the right :)
So here are my Top 10 Practical tips for surviving Prisons
(from the perspective of male UK prisons)
The quicker you adjust to your surroundings and situation, the better the chance you will have of surviving the situation. Every prison is different, different high danger areas : dangerous/ difficult people to avoid, different rules and regulations : stay within the rules of the prison if you don't want to be shipped out etc. There can also be different kinds of slang in each prison that need to be learned. The more clued up your are on the Prison workings, the safer you are from manipulation.
The sounds, smells, tastes (food) and sights of some prisons can be disgusting, but if you just remind yourself to adjust for now and that it's only temporary, this may help you to progress with your sentence a little better.
Learn what rights you have and what facilities you have access to (library, gym, farms, pool rooms etc), aim to use them all when you can to add variety to your sentence / life as well. Trying to avoid repetition was a big thing for me inside and I did that partly by trying to do as many different things as I could.
2. Try to make friends
Do you consider yourself a sociable person? Can you adjust to a different and very tense macho environment? If you are nice in general and can have a joke occasionally, this will help you make a few friends. I'm not talking long life besties, just friendly acquaintances that you say hello to when you pass and will happily speak to when you can on social time, if they need a reasonable favour, you can help. These friends will protect you in a way, because you are seen amongst a group and not as an individual, your chance of being targeted as a weak loner, will be reduced. (This seemed somewhat prevalent, in part because the victims didn't yet know how some of the prison worked... Including rules put in place by prisoners sometimes)
3. Stand your ground
I'm not saying be overly stubborn with every matter. But on simple principals like "pad" mates ( cell mates) using your belongings (toiletries, food etc), be sure to stand your ground otherwise you could be manipulated and exploited.
This happened a few times when cell mates where using my stuff and we had to argue (sometimes slightly heatedly) until the situation was resolved.
4. Set goals and benchmarks in your diary
If your looking at any length of time inside, it can seem daunting to someone who has never been to prison. Try to break up your sentence into different productivity sections in your diary, setting as many goals in each section as possible, with the end of your sentence as your end point for productivity - like reading books, training goals, academic goals, language learning, musical goals, writing targets, developing a skill, nutritional targets (any personal development goals will help you feel as though your at least using your time as productively as possible). I always thought of the health & fitness activities fondly because I speculated that if I was loosing 14 months of my life inside, I could potentially extend my total expected life by 14 months or more by being as healthy as possible! And in a way, gain time in life by making rational choices in how I choose to live my life.
It may have been a little too optimistic, but it provided a good distraction and productive past time at least. I read as much as I could about diets and started eating a lot healthier (as healthy as prison food will allow, the portions were not that big, part of the contributing factor to weight loss), I read about fitness and started training a lot more and setting training targets to work on. Both of these massively contributed to stabilising my energy levels throughout the day. I also slept much better at night when I had exerted myself in the gym and then eaten as healthy a meal as I could.
I equated the mental battle of prison and mental fight whilst doing a lengthy and taxing run to be similar in structure - To start off with you go into alarm and feel slightly scared that you won't be able to make it, then you adjust slightly and get your rhythm, some struggles along the way to gain your composure and forever clock watching, as it draws closer to the end time also slows somewhat and then the last few moments can be very hard to endure.
5. Think of 3 things that you appreciated through the day every time you go to sleep
Anything at all, even if it's just a meal that wasn't terrible - e.g. at least it wasn't awful, I got 1 extra biscuit at tea tonight, that book I read was good etc.
This was a method that I used throughout prison and it really helped me to stay optimistic and mentally survive prison. It's simple I know, but it was effective for me. I did it just before I went to sleep every night and then used a meditation method to help me sleep. It was based on some self development methods I had read about and in particular the "Power of the Inner Monologue", this can be a very powerful survival tool.
6. Maintain contact with family and friends on the outside. Letters & Phone calls
Write as many letters as you can, this will remind you of who you are on the outside and the positive qualities that people see in you. Try and build on these and be honest with those you care about, apologies are never wasted as people on the outside will be emotionally hurting just as much as you are. Try to build on relationships with honesty and sincerity.
This was a great way for me to spend my time when I was inside, writing and reading letters. I loved hearing my friends and families stories and writing to them all. Every letter was like a little reminder that you hadn't been forgotten about (which felt like a constant and real threat with the unfortunate souls surrounding you and the Ground Hog day repetition that comes with an incarceration institute).
The more letters you write, the more letters you will likely receive! A constant incentive for me to write letters as it game me two things to do.
Phone calls are also very important, as writing letters doesn't actually involve any real human interaction it cannot suffice with the need for this connection. A few phone calls a week was enough to get me through the initial / hard part of my sentence.
These phone calls should be to a good friend or relative who is very sensible and who cares about you enough to listen to you moan / cry / talk for a short time.
Make note that other cons can still here you talk whilst your on the phone, so don't start bad mouthing everyone or your pad mate because it will probably get back to them!
Visits are one of the most important things to a prisoners psyche. They are the thing that prisoners look forward to most (besides they're release).
Through letters Prisoners can invite people for visits, sometimes having to send out visit request slips or forms for the visitor to fill in and send back in the mail. The Prisoner can arrange visits for himself, sometimes, but not all the time. An unexpected visit from a loved one is one of the nicest things that can happen in my experience of prison. Because you know people are trying to get to you to make sure your alright and that is a strong positive gesture of care / love.
So, both sides can contribute in arranging these visits, but willingness and pro-activity is always good.
8. Deal with any problems on the outside with finances / debt / housing
Try to contact anyone your in debt with and let them know your in prison and unable to pay anything at all, let them know your exact means of contact ( mailing procedures / cell number, wing, etc ) and that available for communication. This can at least FREEZE your debt whilst your inside, providing that the debtors agree to it.
You can also arrange to pay them off if you can actually afford it of course. I think Prison is a place to say, "ok I should tidy up this mess now". So any outlying issues, you may as well address them and attempt to resolve them inside, if it's possible.
My family helped me to resolve all of my debt problems inside by simply contacting and talking with the companies to clarify details, circumstances etc. This can clear your mind of any past issues and help you look to the future.
Try to arrange as soon as you can for some accommodation outside, the sooner you get this in place, the sooner you can stop worrying about it and look forward to leaving prison.
9. Be Respectful
When talking with anyone inside, a con (prisoner) or a screw (prison officer), try to maintain some base level of civility because you never know when you could be talking to a nutter or power mad / sensitive screw. I only saw one of the latter, but still something to be avoided as screws can make a cons life very hard.
Don't use dodgy jokes, NO Paedophile jokes, NO "Your Mum" (or any family) jokes. I almost got in a fight over a "your mum" joke that i said ( I found it hilarious, but the con didn't).
10. Start planning your future
I would only do this once you've done at least 75% of your sentence. Too early can be a negative thing (because you can just end up desperately missing home and waiting for freedom to come) but used at the right time it can potentially give you a second wind.
I realised that when I went to Prison, I didn't like certain things about myself, about my character and me as a man. So I asked myself the question "What kind of man do I want to be?"
I did a lot of personal development, resolved a lot of internal issues and then wanted to start planning my future. A better future.
I started to plan my future with what I wanted to do and "who" I wanted to become. A better man.
Healthy activities, social events, simple meals with different people, ideas to expand upon, potential places to visit, people to see and things to say. There may be some hindering factors involved here, but if you practice your skills at problem solving and working your way around any problems that come up, with a calm and calculated mentality, you will at least give all of your goals in life your best shot.
Asking yourself the question "What matters to me in life?", is also a good question to ask yourself inside as this is good personal development to try and figure out your priorities in life. Family, friends and people who supported you is a good place to start.
So that's my top 10 practical tips to surviving prison, I hope you enjoyed it :-) And who knows, by following these and using a good level of critical thinking, empathy and as much willpower as you can muster, you might just survive prison and become a better person. I hope this has helped you and feel free to check out my youtube channel : DrunkerJack1 and add me on twitter for a chat and updates on my next blogs, vlogs, music and an open dialogue if you like : avpstudios09
Big love to you all :-)
"DON'T LET THE BASTARDS GRIND YOU DOWN" - Brian Blessed