How to survive inside

Watch your tea bags and your mouth, advises former lifer Hugh Collins
Avoid drugs - not so much because of the effects but because, if you're dependent on a dealer, you can be controlled. The nice Santa Claus figure played by Ronnie Barker in Porridge is nonsense. When a guy has served many years, he's usually twisted beyond belief. If an older prisoner offers advice, he'll want your tea bags or, at worst, there'll be a homosexual implication. It's impossible to keep yourself to yourself - you'll be regarded as a weirdo. Be open, but never bad-mouth others or drift into their arguments. If you say something about a guy, somebody will tell him and then watch the show: prisoners are bored out of their minds and violence is entertainment. Decide how you'll act if provoked. You might think, "I can take verbal abuse, but if it gets physical I'll defend myself." Stand up for yourself; jails are full of bullies who like a weaker person - gay guys don't stand a chance. You're best off if you can entertain people. Guitar players are popular, and all prisoners and screws are friendly to a good footballer. Prison is draining. You can never get to sleep because of the constant noise - shouting, fires, smash- ups, stabbings. I found getting locked up for 14 months in solitary confinement was the answer. It was peaceful. I read cowboy books all day and didn't have to think about anythingl

Hugh Collins served 16 years of a life sentence and was released in 1994. His book, "Autobiography of a Murderer", is published by Macmillan at pounds 15.99.