Your prison number is essential info for anyone on the outside. (It is a six-digit code – AA1234 – which you get on arriving.) See if your lawyer can get hold of it just after you have arrived at prison as they are sometimes funny about handing out this “personal property” to others. Or consider leaving a letter authorising your lawyer or whoever to get hold of it, which they can fax to prison if necessary.

Don’t get sentenced on a Friday if you can avoid it. You will find out nothing till Monday and the weekends are a tough intro to bang-up (for example, none of the phone number clearing works on weekends). If there are shambolic tendencies in the prison you end up in, these will be magnified at the weekend. This may sound like a stupid thing to recommend because you have little control over your sentencing date, but the arrangement process between barrister and court clerk can seem a bit fluid and your barrister might be able to cite some other reason for not sentencing you on a Friday.

Getting a subscription to a newspaper every day makes you feel a lot more sane and the weekend papers in particular take up a lot of time. Also as in the first few weeks your head’s in a bit of a spin, it’s far easier to read a newspaper than wade through a book.

Don’t feel you have to give someone something (cereal, whatever) just because they ask – they try it on and are used to being told no, just do it nicely…

Prisons don’t let you send newspapers or magazines in – if they did, prisoners relatives would send so many subscriptions that the post room would grind to a halt.. However, you can arrange a subscription with a specific newsagent local to each prison. The easiest way to do this is to get someone on the outside to phone the prison and get the details of the newsagent they use, and then they can phone the newsagent to organise. It is rare that they would accept payment by phone so will need a cheque or postal order to kick-start the process, as well as your name and prison number. You can do it from the inside by getting hold of the right form, but it’s more annoying and takes longer, not to mention it potentially messing up your cash (see Buying goods in prison).

Do your best not to start trading (especially when you’re still figuring it all out) and don’t feel you have to give someone something (cereal, whatever) just because they ask – there are hundreds of scabs who just try it on and they are used to being told no (all the time), just do it nicely…

Get to know the chaplains – it doesn’t matter if you’re religious, and they don’t care. Ask to have a chat with them for pastoral reasons soon after arriving, they are good to talk to because your mind will be racing and they have seen it all before, but even more important if you need a help or a favour they are a good place to start. They are no more able to break the rules than anyone else, but they seem to exercise common sense more than others are able. In bang-up they also have the benefit of being pretty accessible – if you spend all the time you are allowed to outside your cell in the corridor/wing, you will see them at least once a day wandering around – all other supposedly useful sources of help tend to involve going via a guard, or filling in a form.