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10 Ways To Survive In British Prison

Tips from ex-inmate Carl Cattermole, author of 'HMP: A Survival Guide', on how to endure a stay At Her Majesty's pleasure. Illustrations by Banx.

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1. Be prepared

prisonism.co.uk

"Once you're inside you have to buy items for an extortionate price through a mini Argos catalogue available from the wing office. Take as much as you can, because there is a chance they'll let you have it."

2. Keep a low profile

prisonism.co.uk

"Keep yourself to yourself until you've assessed who you can be yourself with. Don’t dress to impress, keep it low-key, don’t be too approachable and amiable until you know them.

"It’s not nice but it’s an important survival technique: some people in prison will try and take liberties with you but if you stay off the radar then you’ll always be alright."

3. Find a friend

prisonism.co.uk

"Quite often the most affable inmates will be pulling this same routine so you may never talk to them even though they live just down the landing from you.

"One of the best ways to track down like-minded people on the wing is a technique my friend calls 'Guardian Cell Mates'... find the 'newspaper orderly' (the inmate who deals with all the newspaper and magazine orders) and ask who orders a paper of the same type you would. Go and say hello, ask for their second hand newspapers... this is a good technique to meet someone and have a decent conversation."

4. Get a job

prisonism.co.uk

"Wages range from £2.50 a week to a bit more than a tenner... so you’re not in it for the money. Working is useful if you want to be unlocked. Having a job means you can travel between wings and go to places you can’t otherwise."

5. Behave yourself

prisonism.co.uk

“If you’re serving a sentence where you need to pass parole hearings or your release is subject to ‘progressive moves’ a single IEP warning can prevent you from being released.”

6. Read Papillion by Henri Charriere

prisonism.co.uk

"Television is the escapism of choice for most prisoners, but I felt like books offered so much more escapist potential. I had hardly read since I left school but by the time I got released I’d got through almost every classic on the bookshelf. I came out feeling sharper than ever."

He specifically recommends Papillion by Henri Charriere; "It’s an autobiographical story by a guy who got sent to a South American penal colony at the start of last century... he gets parasites, gets shot, spends years in solitary confinement in a cell that fills up to his neck with water for 5 hours a day... trust me, it makes Parkhurst feel like Center Parcs!"

8. Get educated

prisonism.co.uk

"If you've got more than six months left to serve you can get funding through the Prison Reform Trust to take a course with the Open University. If you know you are going to prison for a while it would be a good idea to research the OU website for what courses you want to do before you go in."

9. Write

prisonism.co.uk

"Letters are a serious lifeline. Unlike rushed phone calls and visits they afford you time to think. It’s the nearest you’ll get to genuine interaction with the people you’re closest to.

"People will feel pressure to write you deep/interesting/long letters which are great, but also encourage them to just keep you in the social loop... get them to scribble down everyday gossip or the meaningless kind of stuff you’d send them in a text message, ask them to print the stupid LOLCAT memes, Facebook statuses, jokes you take for granted on the internet, or maybe an article they would forward to you if you were free.

"When you begin to understand that the prison environment often isn't the problem, it’s the feeling of the outside world keeping moving while you feel like you’re stuck in a cryogenic ice cube, it’s easy to see how these frivolous pieces of contact can make a critical difference."

10. Get friendly with someone in the kitchen

prisonism.co.uk

"They’ll bring you onions, herbs, pepper and spices that'll liven it up a bit. The last two are disallowed in most jails though because people used to blow it in screws eyes. I used to laugh to myself when I was stashing black pepper like it's some kind of class-a drug but these are the kind of stupid situations prison puts you in."

You can order a copy of the guide or download the PDF for free at prisonism.co.uk. You can follow Carl @HMPSurvival.

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