Once you’re settled in you’ll get 3-4 visits a month (plus legal visits which do not count). It is important that you understand about visiting order (VO) numbers and the ID your visitor needs.

At the beginning of each month you will be given 3 visiting order (VO) numbers, each number can be used for one visit. There are two ways to organise a visit:

The second method is generally better because, if you hand in a form requesting a slot on for example Tuesday at 2.45 pm and there are no free slots, you get the form back three days later telling you that slot is full and you have to go through the loop again which delays your visit.

Two of the three VO numbers will be valid indefinitely if they remain unused. A benefit of arriving in prison in the middle of a month is that you still get your full month’s quota of visits.

The person visiting cannot possibly bring too much ID or too many proofs of address. Even my six month-old daughter needed a passport or birth certificate.

It is not uncommon for visit slots to get full (especially in the bigger prisons and holding prisons). When this happens it can be very upsetting because, if a few get quickly filled up you could have to go a couple of weeks between visits, but remember that you still have the VO numbers and at some point you will get a couple of visits in close succession. At the time it may seem like cold comfort, but at some point it’ll cheer you up enormously.

The person visiting cannot possibly bring too much ID or too many proofs of address. Visitors should err on the side of caution – you’ll be gutted if they are turned away. My six month-old daughter needed a passport or birth certificate. My wife needed to prove that despite having a different surname she was in fact my wife, because that was what it said on the VO form.

First Prison Visit

All prisons have a slightly different concept of an induction visit and the law says this needs to be within 7 days, but I personally wouldn’t bank on that. This visit is normally done without a visiting order and the visitor should be able to contact the prison and book it in. Don’t expect too much prior communication or confirmation. The guards will come and get you for it (but try to be in your cell when your visitor arrives – if you’re elsewhere such as in the exercise yard you may not hear them shout). The first visit I had happened without a single bit of communication having happened beforehand; my phone PIN was broken and there was a postal strike yet it worked fine.

Interacting With The Outside World

When in prison, you build barriers to keep yourself sane and protected. When it comes to a visit or a telephone call it can be hard to drop these barriers and talk as you may have done on the outside. This can mean your conversation feel awkward and unpleasant (as if it isn’t awkward enough).

You’ll not know if this is the case for you until you’re sent into the visit hall, but try to be prepared in case. When you are looking forward to a visit for days, if it does not go as you hoped, the come-down can knock you back for days. It’s not a sign of fragility, it’s just two very different worlds, requiring two very different parts of your character, colliding in a short emotional time. It will help if your loved one is ready for that too, so you don’t spend three days after a visit wondering how they took it.

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