How can you keep healthy when exercise is at an absolute minimum, food is high in fat and stodgy and you eat your meals in the toilet. Somehow you must try.
The Prison guide says "The Officers will ensure that you have the opportunity to shower several times a week". For 10 days I had no shower. For 5 days I had no change of socks or underpants. For 3 weeks the toilet was not cleaned by me or anyone else. The cell was filthy and so was I.
But showers and washing are an entitlement. In general the showers were hot and water plentiful. Many of the cubicles were broken in some way, out of 8 showers 4 worked. The fears of the dangers of bending down for the soap did not happen. There were no communal showers. However, the shower area was generally used for talking, fighting or trading. Once whilst getting dressed a fight broke out. Two white lads were kicking hell out of a black lad. I saw nothing and the three of them got banged up in the block for several days.
Exercise is important. I got none for more than 7 days. After that it came every two days and in one hour slots. The weather was freezing cold and we were just wearing T shirts and track suit tops. It really was cold. I used socks to cover my hands to try to stop them going blue. When it rains you do not get exercise because the POs do not want to get wet. Even if you are lucky enough to be in a prison which issues coats you will not get exercise if it is raining.
The gym is not full of super fit young men working out but welcomes anyone from the overweight to the elderly to those with heart problems. However, you must make sure that at Gym reception the Instructor is aware of your health problems. Gentle exercise is good to keep you moving.
Mental Health is just as important as physical. Prison is mind destroying and it took me more than 2 weeks to adjust to life when I came out. Inside I met prisoners who were mentally ill but no-one cared. I have no answer to this other than to say that suicide is NOT the answer but then for some that is clearly the answer. Don't be one of them.
Long Term illnesses
It is important that the Prison knows about any long term illnesses and treats you accordingly. Stories of getting the best the Health Service can offer whilst in Prison seemed to me to be a myth. The Prison medical service has a budget and should not overspend so the amount of treatment you are likely to get is dependent upon the budget. But also you budget is small, very small so you cannot afford to pay for treatment or medicines. The Doctor or Nurse should provide such things as insulin and inhalers. More controversial is whether it should provide artificial sweeteners. I successfully argued with a nurse that a Prisoner could not afford to buy his own out of his £5.55 earnings each week and needing artificial sweeteners was advised by the Doctor. Unlike vegetarianism which is a matter of personal preference, sweeteners were being advised by the Doctor. We won this debate and the man got his artificial sweeteners free of charge. However, it did not affect the sugars used in custards and puddings etc.
Tobacco, Drugs and alcohol
Far from Prisoners being encouraged to give up smoking tobacco all the encouragement is to start. No help whatsoever is given to anyone wanting to give up. You have no rights to a cell free of smoke - this can be annoying to downright dangerous. If, however, you are addicted to nicotine then roll ups are the most popular because you get more for your money. This means quite high nicotine content and to save money most prisoners do not use filters. If you are short of money for whatever reason, coming down off tobacco can be unpleasant and stressful, to say the least, for you cell mate. I was with a man who had to do without tobacco because he had no money and the effect was several sleepless nights and loss of temper. At times it was frightening. In the end I bought him some tobacco.
No prison is free from drugs. Cannabis is in plentiful supply in most prisons and you can smell it as you walk around. Heroin is also freely available as it is easy to get into the prison. If you are found with drugs you will go to the Block, you might get extra days or lose privileges such as being demoted on your regime. Random tests are undertaken.
In closed prisons alcohol is made in the cells. There is a plentiful supply of fruit and you can buy fruit juices and sugar at the canteen. A small sachet of yeast can be obtained and in a few weeks you have a brew carefully hidden in a pop bottle. Again if the alcohol is found you will be punished, if positive in a breath test you will also be punished.
In open prisons the opportunity to get drugs and alcohol into the prison are greater, but so also are the privileges to lose. For anyone at an open prison the thought of going back to a closed prison produces sheer dread. At the prison I attended alcohol had clearly been brought in for Christmas and New Year. I think the Prison Officers turned a blind eye to it but the following weekend when I arrived they took a hard line when excess alcohol ended up with a fight. Out of 18 Prisoners on my wing tested I think more than 10 were positive. I had resisted the temptation having only two or three more days inside but if I was facing several more years I cannot say what my reaction would have been. Anything to brighten an otherwise dull existence.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
HIV exists in most prisons. It is brought in mainly by drug users. It can be spread by exchanging body fluids and by sharing needles. Other sexually transmitted diseases also exist in prison. As all prisons are gender segregated with no opportunity for sexual activity with the opposite sex except in open prisons and some very exceptional circumstances the only opportunity to relieve the sexual urge is by self masturbation or with someone of the same sex.
Any sexual activity other than hand masturbation puts you at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. I would advise you to refrain from oral or anal sex. If you are so inclined, the Prison Service will not supply you with condoms to make life safer.
Only one thing could be worse than a Prison Sentence and that is contracting HIV or giving it to someone else.
There was no dental health check on reception in my prison. I was told it took up to three months to get a dental appointment. One man I met had been waiting 8 weeks with tooth ache. You will get the basic minimum of treatment so don't expect gold crowns or even any attempt to save a tooth. Easier to pull it.
Similar to Dental Health there was no eye-sight health check on reception in my prison. I was told it took up to three months to get an eye-sight test. No eye-sight test is given before using computers in the Education wing. Good eyes did not seem a priority and why should they be - it all costs the medical service money!
Seeing the Doctor
Most Prisons seem to operate a system of seeing the Doctor early in the morning - usually around 8 or 9 am. The Doctor in my prison got the reputation of only having aspirins. Little sympathy seemed to given and as for weight a strict diet and exercise regime would have done the GP a power of good. Whatever POs might say, you do have the right to proper medical treatment.
Sadly suicide is an option taken by several inmates each year. Attempted suicides are more frequent. In just three weeks in a reception prison there were said to have been two suicides and three attempts. Little wonder when the only hope some prisoners had was of death.