How a simple item of clothing can help you survive the first 24 hours behind bars and show other inmates how 'important' you are

Believe it or not, a simple pair of trousers could be the key to surviving the anxious first few days or weeks behind bars.

Not only are they crucial to gauging the importance of other prisoners, if you can get your hands on a coveted pair of cargo trousers with a printed serial number “people won’t mess with you.”

According to ex-inmate and former soldier Mark Lloyd, who was jailed for 20 weeks last August after fraudulently claiming thousands of pounds in disability benefits, how you conduct yourself during the first 24 hours in one of Her Majesty’s prisons is crucial.

And if you can get your mitts on the cargo trousers, which are no longer issued, you could make life a bit easier for yourself.

“They are worth a lot,” the 33-year-old told Wales Online following his eight-week stint in Swansea Prison.

Mark Lloyd from Pontypridd spent eight weeks in prison in Swansea
(Image: Andrew James)

“Prisoners that have been there 10 or 15 years have these cargo pants available,” he added. “Those are worth a lot – you would pay a few [nicotine] patches for them.

“It basically says you’re a senior prisoner, have served a bit of time, know what you are doing, and people will not mess with you. They are quite sought-after.”

Just like the trousers, nicotine patches are an “A grade” item inside – smoking is no longer allowed inside.

Given to every smoker when they enter prison, “luxury” patches are traded like currency.

“They’re like gold,” says Mark. “People need them and can get three or four uses out of one patch.

“If you think about it one of those patches should last 24 hours so the amount of nicotine is quite large. If you roll that up and smoke it is like four days cigarettes for the price of one.

“They are quite resourceful. It is quite fascinating and some of the blokes are really clever.

“It is true currency in the sense that the patches, tea and coffee are actually useful – unlike the pound, which is based on nothing.

“There is a value accepted amongst the prisoners. If you went there with a million pounds there’s nothing you could do with it.”

(Image: Getty Images)

What to do before you arrive

Make friends, and make them quick. Prison can be a boring, lonely, and unforgiving place. A key way a new inmate can survive is to make allies.

“The first night is crucial,” said Mark. “When you join everyone knows you are a new person.

“We have a free period where you can go the rec room and play pool. Just introduce yourself to people and let them know you are not a threat or a thief.

“You need to show you are decent bloke and will keep your head down.”

What to do when you get there

Know your rights. According to Mark one of the best things you can do is learn what you are entitled to before you go in.

“I did a lot of research before I went,” he said. “You can take toiletries, notepads, and books in.

“Unfortunately all that wasn’t allowed when I got to reception – it is up to their discretion and I was only allowed to take some items.

“If they take your list of rights off you in reception make sure your family send you it by letters.

“If you don’t they will not tell you what you are entitled to. If you don’t know what you are entitled to you will never be treated fairly.

“But once you are able to quote things then suddenly they have to cater for you.”

Mark Lloyd from Pontypridd who did time for fraud at HMP Swansea
(Image: Andrew James)

According to Mark, people do tend to spend time with people from similar cultures or backgrounds. For him, it was other ex-servicemen.

“I was lucky. I went straight to the lowest category wing and only because I happened to speak to an officer who was in the marine corps.

“Prison officers have always been sound. There is nothing wrong with 95% of them. He managed to get me into that wing, which is normally the last stop before you are discharged.

“The officers knew I was ex-military and introduced me to all the ex-military blokes on the wing. They like to keep them all together.

“It means they support each other and no-one will mess with the ex-servicemen so we all get left alone.”

Relationships with the guards are crucial.

“It is not just socialising with the prisoners – speak to the guards and staff,” Mark advised.

“This way they will you know you and they are more likely to help you.

“They are more likely to help you if you are not an idiot as there are so many idiots there.

Your relationship with the guards is crucial
(Image: EyeEm)

“If you have a good relationship, humans are humans and they will be more likely to help if you are pleasant.”

The best thing you can be in prison is valuable to other inmates. This will help you survive and build allies.

For Mark, he was the person who people went to for help in negotiating things with the prison authorities.

The Afghanistan veteran is still using this skill now where he volunteers to work with veterans who have mental and physical disabilities.

“Everyone has a way they can help other people,” he said. “Not just in prison but in life. It may be if you have certain skills.

“Mine was getting what they need from staff and then people would come to me. Being that guy will help protect you.

“As long as you have something the other prisoners will stick up for you.”

Some prisoners already knew who Mark was when he arrived, after watching his case on TV
(Image: Andrew James)

What might surprise you

According to Mark, your initial search when you arrive is not as thorough as you may imagine.

“You walk in the door and you get strip-searched,” he said

“It is not a proper search – there are no fingers inserted. I would almost welcome having my person invaded if it eradicated drugs from prison.

“You hand over all your possessions. Then you fill in several documents that you don’t necessarily understand or have time to read. You sign all your kit away to them and get issued with your bedding.”

Many people think the should try and change their appearance before they go inside to look tough. But what does Mark say to the baby-faced lads who try and grow a beard?

“Don’t do it because you will just look like a 12-year-old with a beard and people will take the p*** out of you,” he said.

“It won’t change anything. Don’t change the way you look at all. I don’t think anybody does really.”

“No fingers are inserted” during the strip search, Mark said
(Image: PA)

Not all crimes are treated equally. Mark says that many of the inmates knew his face when he arrived because they had seen him on the news. This was fine for him but for certain criminals this could be devastating.

He said: “Some sex offenders, in my opinion, get what they deserve but say you had just appeared on the news everyone will have seen your face on there. If you are a sex offender you going to get killed in your first night.

“Any crime is fine in there but any sort of sex offence against women or children and that person would be given a hiding or life made hell for them.

“From what I have heard they just would not trust that person. They are the lowest of the low in their eyes.”

What not to do

Swansea Prison as it is today
(Image: Western Mail)

According to Mark you do not need to start a fight with the biggest man in the place, but it does help to stand up for yourself sometimes.

“There is myth that you need to go up to the biggest bloke or the hardest prisoner and start on them to assert your dominance. That is the wrong way to go about it.

“A lot of prisoners don’t want to fight each other – they have had enough of that.

“It is hard enough in there – they want an easy life. They don’t want to get into scraps because they get punished for it and have privileges taken away.

“They just want to go to work in the day, do their job, get the small amount of luxuries with that money they earn, and just go to the gym at the end of the day when they can.”

Despite this it is still very important for prisoners to show early on they are not a pushover.

Sometimes, you have to make a scene, he said
(Image: Andrew James)

“Sometimes you do have to stand up and make a bit of scene,” admitted Mark. “Just so people won’t take the p*** – because they will.

“The ones that do it are the manipulators. That is usually the ones with drug addictions. They are used to manipulating people outside of prison so they can get what they want, like conning people for money. They always try it on with the staff to get extra pills or patches.

“You should make it not worth their while and show that you are not a pushover.

“There were a couple of lads who thought they would just fit in by saying yes to everything and handing things out. As soon as you do that you will have everyone asking you for things and you will have nothing.

“Instead of giving them away offer a trade.”

How do drugs get in prison?

Mark said he would welcome a proper search on arrival, as he believed almost all the drugs in prison were entering inside the bodies of inmates.

He said: “It was reported in the media that drugs were been thrown over the fence. There is a fence in between the outside perimeter and the inside. If the drugs are landing in that part then prisoners have no access to it.

“They are coming in because people are putting them up their a****.

“They have a condom or a couple of condoms so they don’t break, fill them with drugs, insert them. Then when they get to a cell in a couple of days time, when they know it will be their cell and they are not going to be moved, they remove them and sell them to the other prisoners.

“They can then create wealth in prison within the space of a couple of days. Obviously there is no money but they can have their cell kitted out with tea bags and coffee within a short space of time.”

HMP Swansea prison in Swansea, South Wales
(Image: ROWAN GRIFFITHS)

Inside the cell

Some prisoners in Swansea will spend as much as 23 hours a day inside their two-person cell.

With a bunk bed and toilet wedged into a 4m by 3m metre cell the relationship with your cellmate can turn a tough experience into a nightmare.

Within prison cells there is a strict hierarchy with longest resident getting priority.

“When your cellmate leaves you are now the senior of that cell. It is now your cell and your rules apply. When you want the TV switched off it is up to you. You also get the best bed.

“When you are new you can’t just pick the TV remote up and change the channel. That will not go very well for you. I had a bloke who was only 18 come in with me and he was sound.”

Some prisoners spend up to 23 hours a day in their cell, according to Mark
(Image: Getty Images Europe)

Meal time

You may have an image of a crowded cafeteria with new inmates nervously working out where to sit. This is not a very accurate reflection. In Swansea most inmates eat in their cell.

“On the high-security wings they will get let out one cell at a time for food so they can’t fight or slip drugs to each other,” said Mark.

“There are three meals a day and the menu is alternated between two days.

“The best day you get two hard boiled eggs for breakfast, a scoop of porridge, and a bread roll.

“On the second day you get two small sausages and a scoop of beans – they are not real meat.

“I know they have to save money on food but the standard of food is ridiculous in terms of nutrition.

“You get an apple at lunch but not five fruit and veg a day. I didn’t see a green vegetable in the eight weeks I was there – it is all white potatoes.

“You have people in there for 10 years and they develop health problems regarding their diet. If you have this diet for 10 years you are not going to be a healthy person.”

(Image: ROWAN GRIFFITHS)

According to Mark the cell is not the most pleasant dining experience.

“You are only one metre from the toilet. You have a curtain – it is all right and it works visually but you can’t get away from the sounds of a turd falling into toilet,” he said.

“It takes a bit of getting used to. You are just finishing your food and having dessert and suddenly there is bloke having a s***.

“Especially if it is stinking one because there is no air circulating as it is just a few slats for the windows. You are just sat there with the smell all night.”

The Ministry of Justice did not wish to comment.

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