How to survive in prison as a disgraced MP - by Jonathan Aitken

DAVID Chaytor will need to learn to be anonymous and go with the flow of prison life to cope with his jail sentence, former Tory cabinet minister and ex-inmate Jonathan Aitken said today.

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Mr Aitken, who was jailed for 18 months for perjury and perverting the course of justice in 1999, warned his fellow former MP that his first few hours and days behind bars will be difficult.

But he added life inside will not be dangerous for the politician, saying he will be treated as "just another ordinary prisoner" if he can keep his head down.

Mr Aitken, who spent seven months behind bars, said: "All men are equal in a prison uniform so he will need to forget quickly that he was once someone who was important.

"I don't think there will be the slightest preferential treatment for him, but nor will there be any unpleasant treatment for him.

"He will be just another ordinary prisoner, as I was, and that's the best thing that will happen to him. The more anonymous he can be and the quieter it can be for him, the better."

Mr Aitken, 68, said a jail sentence would be a shock for anybody and warned that Chaytor "will find his first few hours and days in prison difficult".

"But he will also find - if his attitude is right and if he avoids being a tall poppy and goes with the flow of prison life - that it's a life he can cope with.

"Prisons on the whole are run by good prison staff so he doesn't need to be full of fear about lurid stories about beatings up and so on.

"Prison will not be a pleasant experience for him but it won't be an impossible experience either."

Mr Aitken, who was chairman of a high-powered group of criminal justice experts that examined the state of Britain's prisons in 2007, went on: "Prison is a good place to reconcile where one went wrong in life and how one might start again in a different rehabilitated life.

"I have every confidence he will cope. The experience will be difficult but not one which will be dangerous or particularly nasty.

"He will be another average prisoner who will go with the flow of the prison."

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Page 2: 14:29It is understood Chaytor will be taken to Wandsworth Prison in south west London.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners, said the former MP should expect "to find himself in a prison reception that is cramped, cold and busy - with up to 200 prisoners being processed each day".

"Like all others who come with him he will be strip-searched, photographed, fingerprinted, showered, placed on a Bodily Orifice Scanner to ensure he is not concealing contraband, before being issued with prison clothing and a prison number and then left to consider his future in a reception cubicle holding around 20 others," he said.

"Before he leaves the Victorian reception he will be seen by medical staff who will ask if he has drink or drugs problems, he will be given a free telephone call to a loved one and will be issued with basic toiletries such as toothpaste, soap and shampoo."

Mr Leech went on: "Most of the weekend ahead he will spend locked in his cell in the first night centre, he will be allowed one hour of exercise and be served three meals a day, but the majority of the weekend he will be locked in his cell - where he will have access to just a television and a toilet."

Chaytor's induction to prison life will begin on Monday, he said, with interviews by security staff "who will make an assessment as to his likelihood of escape and the danger he would pose if that escape succeeded".

He is then likely to be moved out of the first night centre on Tuesday and allocated a cell on one of the main prison wings, Mr Leech said.

But he added: "The Governor may decide to keep him separate from others if it is felt that focus upon him means he represents a risk of unrest or security problems."

Chaytor will be then be interviewed by education staff, members of the prison chaplaincy, and will be able to call upon the services of listeners - prisoners who are specially selected and trained by the Samaritans to help inmates through the first week behind bars, Mr Leech said.

"It is often said that the first week and the last week of a prison sentence are the worst to cope with.

"Before too long he will come to terms with his sentence and start to progress to better regimes and lower security."

He went on: "Prison is not the end of the world it may at first appear. Of course, he will be ridiculed by other inmates - they like nothing more than to see people fall from grace - but there is nothing in his crimes that should make him afraid of other prisoners and thousands go through jail each year and come out the other side and he can do so too.

"He should keep a diary from day one - if other 'dishonourable members' are any example to follow, there is money to be made once the darkest days are over."

Mr Leech added: "It is certain the prison authorities will not to keep him in Wandsworth prison for too long. With hundreds coming and going each day, they do not have the space."

Asked for his advice for Chaytor, Mr Leech said: "Prison life will mean something different to each individual that unfortunately ends up there.

"The shock, chaos and disarray of what has happened to you and your loved ones will no doubt have you feeling various emotions.

"Sometimes those emotions are similar to the anguish one experiences when someone close to you has died - shock, denial, anger, blame, bargaining and then acceptance."

He added: "Life is what you make it, whether you're free or in jail: the choice is yours.

"It could be the start of a whole new beginning. Prison does give you options in the sense of bettering yourself."