By Rusty Brown and Mother

Being arrested is always frightening, but if it's never happened to you before and you're outside your home country, it can be even more terrifying. In my case, I was arrested while taking a flight home without any warning. I'd never been to jail before and had to learn the hard way how to cope. Luckily, I had the support of my family, including my amazing Mum. That's why she and I have decided to co-write our very best tips on how to get through your first week. 

  1. Don't make prison any harder than it has to be

Being arrested suddenly in a foreign country is always going to be stressful, especially if you don't speak the language. Their laws may work differently, so you may not have the same rights like having someone informed of your arrest. Prison rules and conditions may be very different from those in the UK. 

You should stand up for yourself but in the right way - make formal complaints, write to the Prison governor and also your consular representative if necessary. Obey rules, even if you think they're unreasonable until you've had a chance to make your case. If you become disruptive, harm yourself or refuse food, you're just going to make it easier for prison staff to dismiss what you have to say.

  1. Open lines of communication

Prisoners Abroad already does amazing work offering freepost envelopes to inmates around the world. Still, you should always check with prison staff what the rules are on letters. Even if they offer to send mail for you free of charge, check to make sure if they'll also provide paper and envelopes. 

If someone you know is locked up in a foreign country, another great way to help them is to register a 'virtual' number e.g. through Skype in that country so the prisoner can avoid international phone charges. These numbers can be dialled from a regular payphone - you only need internet access from your end.

Both prisoners and their loved ones should check with staff on their visits policy. Visit times may vary depending on the wing on which the inmate's held. Visitors will almost certainly need to bring ID, at least the first time they arrive. Prisoners also usually need to fill in a form in advance providing details of the visit. If you have children, you may also need special permission to bring them along (even babies), so make sure to check if any special authorisation's required. 

  1. Pack your Kit

If you're due to appear in court for sentencing and you're given jail time, you'll almost certainly be taken into custody immediately. There'll be no time to collect your things or say goodbye to loved ones.

If you're out on bail, you're best off giving your passport, bank cards, cell phones and other important items to a family member for safekeeping before you're due in court. The same goes for personal jewellery like rings, which may not be allowed under prison rules.

Assuming you have time to prepare, some essential items you should bring include;

  • Cheap digital watch (being able to mark time in prison is essential).
  • Cash (As much as you can spare. This should be added to your prison account when you arrive).
  • Casual change of clothes (If you're wearing a suit to court, you probably won't be allowed to wear it in prison).
  • Underwear and socks.
  • Handwritten list with contact details of family and friends (You may need to fill in a form to call people outside and probably won't be allowed to check your cellphone if you don't remember people's numbers).

Not all of these items will be allowed at every prison. Check regulations before you appear in court. Even if these items are allowed the prison may also take a couple of days to inspect them before bringing them to your cell. 

  1. Adding Items

If you're lucky enough to have someone supporting you on the outside, you may be allowed additional items in your cell like proper bedding, a radio, books and so on.

We can't emphasise strongly enough that both you and your loved ones need to check with prison staff about how the "handing in" process works. Some jails insist you order virtually all items through them. Some allow loved ones to bring in items but not to mail them. Some prisons can be extremely pedantic, even about permitted items - for instance, I've seen radios being refused just because they have an alarm clock function and a towel banned because it was "for the beach", not a bath towel.

If you send an item into someone that's not allowed it'll probably be placed into storage until they're released. This is a waste of everyone's time and money. Many prisons will have a list specifying exactly what's allowed - make sure to share this with your family and friends. 

Above all, warn them to let you know if they're sending anything in as the prison may require you to fill in a specific form for this. (Some prisons waive this rule for the first day or so after you arrive to allow family to bring you essentials, once again check this with them.)

When it comes to items, make sure to speak to a staff member to clarify. Even if the prison website or ex-con says something is allowed/banned, regulations may have changed since then.

  1. Cashing Out

If you were able to bring some cash with you to prison, this should have been added automatically to your prison account, which you can then use to buy essentials like toiletries.

Check with prison staff to see how exactly this works, as it may be different to the UK 'canteen' system. Make sure to clarify how exactly family and friends can send you funds - is there a website where they can do a top up? Does the prison except wire transfers? Can loved ones just mail in cash?

If you know someone on the inside, wait until you hear from them before trying to send money. The UK Foreign Office can sometimes help with exchanging and wiring money to inmates if you ask. 

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.

Can you help to support our life-saving work by donating today?