The way you buy stuff in prison is through a system called “canteen”. This is a form you get on the same day each week which tells you how much you are allowed to spend, and has a list of items you can buy.

Things you can buy on canteen include phone credit, stamps, writing paper, chocolate bars, biscuits, cereal, some tinned stuff, some fruit, toiletries. It’s not a bad selection initially but becomes very monotonous. The prices are similar to that of a supermarket economy brand generally so they’re quite cheap.

You are allowed to spend initially about £15 per week (if you have it, see below) plus your “wages” (you get paid about £1 a day for being in prison).

You are initially allowed to spend about £15 per week (if you have it, see below) plus your “wages” (you get paid about £1 a day for being in prison). For some reason nobody really knows this never seems to be exactly the same each week, even allowing for what you haven’t spent the week before, though is generally very close.

The system works as follows: Any money you have when you get to prison, plus any money sent in on your behalf will be put in your “private cash” account, and the £15 (or less if you do not have £15 in it) will come off “private cash” and go on to your “spends” to spend each week. You do not have to request that it is transferred – it happens automatically – you just need to keep that “private cash” account topped up sufficiently (the £100 you take in (see What you should take in) will get you through the first month or so, then a postal order from someone on the outside is the most efficient way of topping up).

What you order will arrive on a set day each week (usually about four or five days after the day you hand in the form).

The money you take in will probably not be processed for a few days, therefore if you’re unlucky with timing you could wait over two weeks before you get anything you try to buy. For example, say you receive that week’s canteen form in your cell the day before your money is processed (in which case there’ll be about £2 on it) and you have to wait another week so that you will have more money on your canteen, once you add a couple of days to hand in the form and four or five days to get your stuff over two weeks has soon gone by. There is nothing you can do about this – you can try amending the “allowed spend” number to what you know will go on it when cash is processed, but it rarely works.

Canteen is run by DHL – it is not infallible and sometimes they can forget your whole order. Do not pin your entire week’s happiness on the receipt of that week’s canteen (you’ll be surprised, it’s very tempting to).

Next topic:
What You Should Take