If you've found this page, you're probably facing potential jail time in Australia, and you want to know how to make it through. I know how it feels, I was in that same situation before I did my time. I was on bail, stressing about the fact I might go to jail, looking for anything online that could give me a hint of what it's like, and to make me feel less anxious. Unfortunately there was not much info out there, so when I eventually got sent to prison, I vowed that when I got out I would create a website and help others like me.
The good news is that Aussie jails are not like what you see in the movies. You won't be raped by your celly (cellmate), beaten by the screws (guards) or eat slop from a metal tray. (In case you're wondering what the food is like, click here to read my post.) It will be tough, but you will get through it, and I hope I can make it easier for you with this article.
First I'll talk about how to prepare for jail, then I'll discuss surviving jail in terms of safety, and finally I'll cover how to cope mentally with being in jail. If this page hasn't given you enough information, and you still have questions, I offer consultations via phone call. If you would like to book, or find out more information, message me using the Contact Form.
Preparing to go to prison in Australia
Sort out logistics, get your affairs in order
If you are on bail and your lawyers tell you that you will definitely be doing time behind bars, then you need to make sure all your affairs are in order before your sentencing date. What this involves will depend on your personal situation, but a few main things would be to ensure any pets are looked after, and cancel any subscription services you may have. If you are renting by yourself, move all your property into a family member's place or place it into storage. If you are going away for a long time, sell any possessions that may depreciate, such as cars or motorbikes.
If you are not sure if you will be going to prison, you still need to be prepared for the worst. If you don't have a contingency plan when you are sent to jail, then you will have so much additional stress in your first few weeks that you just don't need. Moving all your stuff out of your rental house may be an unnecessary hassle if you don't end up going to jail, so instead of doing that, maybe you could get your friends to organise it all for you if you do go in. But you need to have this organised beforehand so if you go to jail, they know what to do.
Prepare what you will take into prison
There is not much you will be able to take with you, but one thing you can take is a piece of paper with important details on it. Write down a list of phone numbers and addresses of people you want to contact once you get to prison. Write the addresses even if you do not plan on writing them a letter, because you will need it when you add them to your phone call list. The phones don't work like a normal phone, you can't just type in any number you want to call. Instead, you have to submit a form with the full name, phone number, and address of your contact, which needs to be approved before it is added to your account.
The other thing you can take in with you is some cash. I would suggest $100, which is a good amount to get you started. Your money will be placed into your jail account, which you can use to put money on the phone, and buy food and other items (such as shoes and radios) on the buy-ups. Don't bring too much money because you don't want other inmates to know you have a lot of money, and also you may not be allowed to deposit it all into your jail account. Then it could end up sitting in your property, which I wouldn't trust the screws not to take.
Besides this, leave everything else at home (or at a family member's home). You don't want any jewellery or other valuables with you. If it is in your property, it could get lost, or stolen by inmates when you are on escort. What I mean by this, is when you travel from one prison to another (also known as "going on escort"), your property is put on the truck by working inmates. When you arrive at the new prison, the inmates working at that prison take your property off the truck. You do not want to risk any valuables getting stolen, lost or broken during transit.
Mentally preparing yourself to go to jail
Get your mind prepared so that it is not such a shock if or when you end up going in. If you are in a situation where you may or may not go in, a good idea is to be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best. Don't be overly optimistic, and think "oh, it could never happen to me. I couldn't be that unlucky, I won't be going to jail", because you can, and you might. Just like what happened to me.
The more you have come to terms with it before you go in, the better prepared you will be in the first few days and weeks as you adjust to life inside. Be prepared that you may not talk to or see your loved ones for a while, so treasure the moments you have with them before you go in. If you have elderly parents, make sure you spend more time with them, because (touch wood it doesn't happen, but) they may pass away while you are inside. I have friends who have had both parents pass while they were doing their sentence, and another guy in his early 40s, who lost his wife while he was in.
How to stay safe in prison
Australian prison can be dangerous if you are an idiot, but if you act like a decent human being, you shouldn't find yourself in too much trouble. I am not the toughest guy around by any means, but I never found myself in any danger. Here are some tips and pointers on how to survive in Australian jails.
Don't try to be the tough guy
You may have an idea from movies, or from popular opinion that you should go in and pick a fight with the biggest guy in prison, because it will show that you aren't afraid of a fight, even if you lose. And you will gain respect from the other inmates. No, please don't do that because you will put a massive target on your back if you start a fight for no reason, and you will probably get stabbed.
When you get to jail, just be respectful of others. If you notice there's a routine, or a way that things happen, make sure you don't disrupt it. For example, if that group of four guys always takes that table to play 41 (the most popular card game in jail) at 11am every day, don't be a dickhead and try to assert your dominance by sitting at that table and refusing to move. Be a decent human being, just because you are surrounded by criminals, doesn't mean that they are all bad people. You yourself are a criminal, and you are probably not a bad person yourself, am I right? You just made a mistake, or got involved with the wrong people at the wrong time.
By all means though, stand up for yourself if you are being stood over. If someone's telling you to give them your food, or to send money into their account, make sure you don't let that happen, because once you do, they will see you as an easy target. In that circumstance you will need to tell them firmly that you aren't going to do what they ask, and if it escalates into a fight, be prepared to do it. Even if you lose the fight, they will respect you for having a crack, and they won't bother you again, they will find a softer target next time. If you don't fight and you give them what they ask, then for the rest of your sentence, you will be seen as the weak one that everyone will take advantage of.
Don't owe anyone money or drugs
My recommendation is to stay off drugs altogether, but if you do end up getting involved in it, make sure you don't owe anyone money or drugs. If you buy off someone, make sure you pay them. This is why most fights occur, because someone cannot, or refuses to, pay up. You will stay out of 99% of fights if you have nothing to do with drugs, plus it is better for your long-term prospects if you stay clean. First, you will be getting your body used to not relying on drugs, so when you get out, you can continue being clean. Secondly, if you are caught with drugs in jail, you can get tipped to another jail, or get jail charges. It can also affect your chances of getting a lower classo or getting parole.
Make sure you find yourself some friends that you can hang out with, so you do not look like a weirdo, or an easy target. You can easily make friends with the people you shared a jail truck with, your celly, or people from the same racial group as you. If you are an Islander, Koori (Aboriginal), Arabic, Asian or Latino, you will almost always be able to find your ethnic group, no matter which prison you go to. It is easy to talk to them and often they will welcome you if they see you are a new arrival. They will look out for you, so that's a benefit of being one of those groups. As a White Aussie it may be tougher, because you do not automatically have a group that you belong to. All the Whites do not hang out together and they are not immediately friends with you just because you are White as well.
Having friends can help to keep you safe from trouble
Picture: Adam Taylor
Don't screw up the phone line
The phone line is one of the other main things that people fight over. There is only a small number of phones available, and so usually there is a line for the phone, especially in the mornings just after let-go, and in the afternoon before lock-in. The correct procedure if you want to make a phone call, is ask "who's last?" and when that person identifies themself, you tell them, "OK, I'm after you". Then when the next person asks "who's last?", you tell them that you are, and you remember who they are, so you know who is after you. You always need to know who is before you and who is after you, so you don't screw up the queue. Also, make sure you don't cut the phone line. If you jump in front of someone when it's their turn, you will cause an argument.
An inmate on the phone while another one poses for the picture. In reality, you would never stand so close to someone making a phone call.
Picture: Adam Taylor
Don't insult people's families
Even if you are in an argument with someone, don't say anything about their family, especially their kids. People will get very protective of their families, and if you push the wrong buttons, you could find yourself in some serious danger, as the other person flies into an uncontrolled rage. It's an unspoken rule that you leave each other's families out of it all.
Final tip - DON'T go into protection
You should only be in protection if you are a sex offender (particularly a child sex offender), police officer or an informant. If you are any of these things, you WILL be in danger. If you are NOT any of the above, make sure you do NOT end up in protection. When you first arrive in jail, and then at each prison you are moved to, they will ask if you are fearful of your safety. Make sure you say NO. They are not asking if you are scared about jail in general. They are asking if you have a reason to think your life will be in danger, which is if you are a sex offender, police officer or informant. If you answer yes, and you are placed in protection, you will be surrounded by rapists and pedophiles, which no one wants to be. Secondly, you will never be able to return to the main jail wing, since people will find out that you were in protection (also known as the boneyard) and then your life will again be in danger. It doesn't matter if you aren't a sex offender, if you have been in protection, people will assume that you are, and you cannot prove that you aren't, because no one will believe you. Don't think that you can hide the fact that you have been in the boneyard. Every time you enter a new wing or a new jail, people ask where you came from. And they ask if you know "such and such" from there. If your story doesn't add up, you will soon be in trouble, and you do not want to be living your sentence fearing for your safety.
Ask an ex-inmate any questions about jail
If you have any quick questions that you are curious about, or if you are facing imprisonment and need some more info, please leave me a message below with your details.
I am also available for telephone consultations if you need to chat for longer.
How to cope mentally in prison
Now you know how to survive prison in terms of your safety, you need to learn how to survive mentally. How do you cope with the fact that you will be away from your family and friends for months or years? How do you pass the time and keep your mind occupied so you aren't running head-miles? Here are a few tips that I found personally helpful.
Remind yourself of the positives
Serving a prison sentence is pretty shit, I get it, but remember that it's not the worst thing that can happen to you. Even if you are sentenced to 10 years non-parole period, which is an incredibly long time, think of some scenarios that could be worse. For example, you could have lost your family in an accident, or you could have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I can think of many worse scenarios but they are not nice to write about, but I'm sure you could come up with some too. Remember the positives, which will differ for each individual. For example, you may be grateful for your health, or that you are at a jail that has quite nice facilities, or that you have met some great people in jail, or that you can spend some time learning a new skill, such as guitar. Keeping a positive mind is the best way to get through jail.
Keep yourself busy with a job
When you have nothing to do, that's when the day drags on, and you start thinking about all the possibilities "What if I didn't do that", or "If only I said that". You will drive yourself crazy if you dwell on the past and what can't be changed. The best way to get through your sentence is by keeping busy. When you are working, the days fly by, and it also gives you a little bit of money that you can use to buy food or make phone calls. At maxo jails, you can try and get a job as a sweeper, and in some minimum security farm jails, they're working jails so everyone has to work. Your time will fly once you are working and have a good routine.
Exercising is an excellent way to keep your mind healthy - not only are you distracted when you exercise, but your body is filled with dopamine and endorphins afterwards which is like a natural drug to your body, making you feel better. Not only is it good for your mind, it is of course good for your physical health. When people are free in the outside world, they often make excuses about why they don't exercise, eg: because they're too busy. Now you have time to focus on yourself, and you may as well make the most of it while you're in and get your body in the best shape it's ever been in. You can exercise by using gym equipment, doing bodyweight exercises, jogging, or playing sport.
Working out on the gym equipment is great for both physical and mental health
Picture: Adam Taylor
Find a hobby or work towards a goal
When you're not exercising, you can fill up your time in other ways. You may like to read, watch TV, paint, play chess, play cards, write letters or even keep a journal. When you have something that you are looking forward to each day, it gives you motivation to continue, and distracts you from your negative thoughts. There was a middle-aged Chinese man in one of the pods I lived in, who had only picked up painting since being in jail for the last 8 years. His paintings were amazing, he even did a copy of one of Van Gogh's self-portraits.
An inmate painting a mural inside a prison wing
Picture: Adam Taylor
Keep in contact with family and friends
It is hard being away from your loved ones, but maintaining contact can keep you in their lives, and will also make your time pass quicker. Phone calls, letters, and visits are great ways to connect with them and remind you that there is life outside the four walls you are currently held in. During COVID, they introduced video calls because visits are too risky, with the risk of transmission. Get them to send in photos so you can stay up to date with everything that is happening in their lives.
Getting visits from your partner can help you get through your sentence
Picture: Adam Taylor
See a Psychologist or Chaplain
If you want someone to talk to about your thoughts and issues, you can ask to see a psychologist or the chaplain. You may be put on a waiting list which can take weeks, but at least you have a professional to talk to. The chaplain is useful even if you are not religious. I'm not a Christian, and the chaplain knew that, but it doesn't stop him from being a listening ear and talking through my issues.
Having a good network of friends within jail is another great way to help you cope with being locked up. You have someone to rant to about anything, and also to pass the time by sharing stories. You can make jail a lot of fun if you have some good friends; there were points in my sentence where it just felt like I was on a school camp with some mates, and we were doing pranks on each other, and having some great laughs.
Having friends in jail can help you pass the time
Picture: Adam Taylor
Final thoughts on surviving prison
I hope I have given you some useful information that you can take with you to jail. There will be bad days, but there will also be some good days, and in the end, remember it is temporary. There IS life after jail, no matter how far away it may seem at the moment. I have many friends who have done more than 5 years in jail, and while it is tough, they have come out the other end, and are moving on with their lives. It is NOT the end of the world if you get sent to prison. It is just the start of a new chapter, which will change you - hopefully for the better. Don't waste the time you spend behind bars. Use it to better yourself physically and mentally, and come out the other end with a new appreciation of life, like I did. If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment below, or email me using the Contact Form. I also offer consultations via phone call, if you are still anxious about going to prison, and need some more questions answered. If you want to make a booking, email me via the Contact Form above. You may also find it helpful to read about what life is like in an Australian prison.