I’m writing this blog post to give some practical advice to a couple of readers who anticipate that they might be going to prison in the near future. Hopefully they – and anyone else in the same position – will find this information useful, while people who are just interested to learn about life in the nick might like to know what you are – and aren’t – allowed in your cell.
|In the dock and going down?|
I was very lucky when I went to jail for two reasons. The first was that back then there were many fewer restrictions on what property you could take in with you. The second was that the young dock officer with whom I’d become friendly during what had been a long trial was a great source of useful information. Throughout my sentence I was still grateful for his help and advice.
Exactly what personal property a prisoner can be permitted to retain in his or her possession inside the nick is regulated by what is now called the National Facilities List. It appears as an annex to the revised Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system contained in Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 30/2013 which came into operation on 1 November 2013.
Although there were previous Facilities Lists, these tended to be local affairs and there was little uniformity over specifics. One nick would allow cons to wear shorts in the summer, another wouldn’t.
|Banned: all hoodies|
Some lower security establishments were very lax over whether inmates could own items of clothing that were wholly or mainly black, others were absolutely inflexible. A couple of Cat-Ds (open prisons) even permitted prisoners to wear hoodies, which as a rule were banned across the whole prison estate because they make it easier for cons to hide their faces from staff and CCTV. Now the ban is absolute.
The new Facilities List (Annex F of PSI 30/2013) is supposed to be national – well in England and Wales, at least, since Scotland has its own system. I can see that this makes a lot more sense. Having moved between six prisons during my stretch inside, I grew used to arriving in a ‘sweat box’ (prison transport vehicle) at Reception and then being told I couldn’t keep half the personal property I’d been allowed to have at the previous nick. This caused a fair few cons to kick off, as well as all sorts of negotiations with Reception screws.
|Grey prison trackie bottoms|
One of the biggest single changes that impacts on all convicted male prisoners is that they have to wear prison-issue clothing for at least the first two weeks while they are on so-called ‘Entry level’ within the revised IEP system. This highly vindictive policy was introduced deliberately by Chris Grayling and his sidekicks in the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) for the sole purpose of making going into a prison an even more miserable experience than it already was. It reversed the trend of the previous decade which had been to ‘re-humanise’ cons by allowing those who conformed to the system and behaved well to retain and wear their own clothes when not at work.
The new policy has already cost the British taxpayer an undisclosed amount in additional clothing expenditure as the Stores at many nicks had long ago run down their stocks of prison gear, mainly because so few prisoners (mainly those being punished on the Basic regime) tended to wear it. In effect, the old IEP system allowed families and friends to either buy or post in clothing for prisoners, or for cons to buy it for themselves. Only those with absolutely no money would end up wearing prison greys (or maroons).
Now every male coming into the adult prison system ends up being stripped naked and issued kit that is often old, grubby and sometimes stained with unmentionable substances. It serves to add to the whole sense of humiliation and that, of course, was Mr Grayling’s ideological objective.
|Essential for prison showers|
At some Cat-B local prisons, even cons on Standard level don’t get to wear any personal clothing, so you can find yourself forced to wear greys for at least three and a half months (two weeks on Entry level, three months on Standard) before you can reach the dizzy heights of Enhanced level and get your own clothing back. It’s not a great sensation being compelled to wear boxers, socks and other clothing that dozens – maybe hundreds – of other blokes have worn before you, especially when prisons are notorious for outbreaks of scabies and other nasty infections or skin conditions.
|A well-packed 'bang-up bag'|
In fact, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, I wore prison kit myself for the best part of six months because the area in which I was then working was close to the perimeter wall and any cons permitted in that zone had to wear prison kit at all times. I didn’t find it a hardship, but then I and my co-workers were lucky in that we had the pick of all the best prison clothing, including new t-shirts and jogging bottoms, and could have clean items every day if we really wanted to. It was just one of the perks of the job.
So what would I take with me now, based on the new National Facilities List? Well, I would pack my ‘bang-up bag’ and ensure that I had it in the dock with me at the time of conviction (or sentencing if I’d been on bail). By the way, if you are having a jury trial, make sure you keep your holdall out of sight of the jurors – it does undermine the whole judicial process if, before they have even retired to consider their verdict, it looks like you are already convinced that you’ll be going down in the end. At least try to play the game.
My packing list would include the following:
- A decent sized holdall (to bring your possessions in and out of jail). It will usually be kept in storage while you are inside unless you get to a Cat-D (open prison).
- Two pairs of comfortable trainers (absolutely essential, keep one pair for the gym)
- At least one pair of comfortable jeans (not black) with a belt (small buckle)
- A couple of pairs of trackie bottoms (not black)
- A couple of polo shirts (not black)
- A couple of warm jumpers or sweatshirts (not black, no hoods)
- A fleece (not black, unlined, no padding or quilting, no hood)
- A beanie-style hat (not black, unlined) – especially if you’ll be in the nick for the winter
- A pair of gloves (not black, unlined)
- Two pairs of gym shorts (also good for in-cell wear, even if you don’t go to the gym)
- A couple of gym vests or t-shirts (not black)
- 10 pairs of boxers or pants
- 10 pairs of new socks
- A dressing gown (optional, but absolutely useful - makes you feel human. No hood)
- A couple of pairs of pyjama bottoms (no-one under 70 wears pyjama tops in the nick)
- A couple of medium size shower towels (not black and white ones will soon be grey)
- A face flannel
- A tea towel or two (you’ll be doing your own washing up in your cell)
- A pair of good quality shower flip-flops (essential - prison showers can be very grubby)
- A see-through plastic wash-kit bag with your own toothbrush, razor and spare blades, nail-clippers (no metal files – for obvious reasons)
- A couple of pairs of foam earplugs (not silicon ones - get a good sleep even if your pad-mate snores like a freight train)
- A mains or battery razor (if you don’t wet shave), not rechargeable or with the 2-pin travel adapter type plug
- A set of mains or battery (not rechargeable) hair clippers – no scissors
- A small battery or mains (not rechargeable) radio/CD player with headphones (in-the-ear type) – no Short Wave allowed, nor any item that has a USB port (because of recharging illicit mobile phones)
- A small battery alarm clock (not digital)
- A diary and a clear plastic pen
- An address/telephone number book
- A few family photos
- Copies of any relevant vocational qualifications (can help to get a decent job in some nicks)
- Wear any jewellery you want to keep in the nick: watch, wedding ring, neck chain etc)
Don’t take in anything that is branded to any sports team or has national flags or logos. For example, national team tops or team colours are likely to be confiscated. This is a national prison policy to prevent team rivalry or fights between supporters inside the nick.
|National flags or logos: banned|
Because of the new National Facilities List, the outer clothing (and maybe the underwear) will be logged on your ‘prop’ (property) card and put into storage when you arrive at Reception. However, most of the other stuff you should be allowed to keep. The rest should be issued to you once you get to Standard level (or Enhanced in a few Cat-B locals). Believe me, it will make any stay as a guest of Her Majesty a bit more bearable.
All electric items will also need to go through the PAT (portable appliance testing) process to ensure it is safe and meets Health and Safety standards. This can take anything from a few days to a few weeks, so be patient. By the way, if you are already qualified to do PAT testing, it might be worth taking your certificate with you when you go to prison – there’s usually work in Receptions for people with those skills and it is a cushy job.
If you are on bail, try to find out the most likely prisons you’ll be sent to from court. These will usually be Cat-B locals where you’ll be kept until you’ve been categorised (unless you are a provisional A-cat, in which case it’s unlikely you’ll be on bail to start with). Give them a call and check what the local rules are on property coming in with you straight from court.
|M and M catalogues: in most prisons|
Another option is to prepare what is called a ‘Reception parcel’ of clothing ready before you go into prison. It can contain clothes, towels, dressing gown etc but you will need to put in a Governor’s app (application) and get written approval before it can be sent in to you. Most prisons set down that a Reception parcel has to be sent in within a few weeks of arrival or of getting onto Standard level in the IEP system. Again, you can check this in advance or ask a family member to do so before posting. Under the new IEP rules these parcels cannot include any electrical or battery-operated items, only clothing.
Getting in as much personal clothing and possessions (up to the set limits) on your initial reception is always a good idea as buying new stuff through the prison catalogues (usually Very or M and M for clothing, Argos for most other stuff, Amazon for books, DVDs and CDs and Gemma Records for games) can be very expensive and take weeks or even months to arrive. So if you want to save yourself (and your family) money and avoid delays and frustration, plan ahead and make sure you pack wisely for your involuntary visit to the slammer.