With regards to the rule “nothing in – nothing out”, it is essential that the CSD should be able to trust us completely. Please be meticulous in keeping this rule.

It is also important to make sure that one does not inadvertently break this rule by leaving anything behind after a visit. It is advisable to have a look around before leaving, to check, or by the same token to take out anything by mistake that does not belong to you.

Place – Length – And Frequency Of Visits

The visit takes place in the Legal Visit Room and is described as an ‘open visit’. This differs from a ‘closed visit’ accorded to most family members or personal friends. Each visit would normally last about 40 minutes or so. We would suggest that the ideal frequency for visits would be every two weeks. The minimum that we feel is acceptable is once a month plus one letter a month. But please do not be put off by this. If you are unable to visit once a month then another member can substitute in your place and both can visit the same prisoner; you can go alternate times and cover for each other in case of sickness or leave.

The First Visit

You are not necessarily given any information about the prisoner before you visit him. This can be an advantage and gives you the opportunity to build the relationship ‘from the ground up’.

Sometimes he has no idea who you are or why you have come, and may even have a hostile, suspicious, hard attitude in the very beginning. This will usually very rapidly dissolve once you explained a little bit about the PFA and what we do, and will help him to relax and realise that you pose no threat of any kind.

Once you have briefly introduced yourself and the PFA, you can then explain that he is in no way obliged to be visited and that he does have a choice. Furthermore, if he would prefer someone of a different nationality or religion etc., it could probably be arranged. Usually he will be delighted at the prospect of being visited at all, but occasionally say that it is not necessary. If he does not want visits, please let the PFA office know for our records. If he does want visits then I would proceed to ask a few basic questions which I would note down such as:

  • The date he came in to prison
  • His EDD (estimated day of release), though if he is a ‘Lifer’ he may not have one.
  • His birthday: (so that you can make a note in your diary to send a card).
  • You need to know his name and number: (His number needs to be on everything you bring in or send in to him).
  • I usually suggest that he calls me by my Christian name and I ask him what he would like me to call him.
  1. Relax
    Although it is not always easy, I think that one of the first things to aim at is to try and help your new friend to relax. This is very difficult to do if you yourself are very tense, so it helps to consciously make yourself relax. Take a deep breath if necessary, relax all the tense muscles, smile, give the impression of being very relaxed and bear in mind the importance of putting the other person at ease.

  2. Shaking Hands
    We would suggest that you shake hands at the beginning and end of each visit. I know that this is not always customary in the ‘outside world’ but the prisoner is rarely touched by anyone and everyone needs to be touched. It is a sign of respect and friendship: polite and friendly. It is one of those little things that contributed to one prisoner’s surprised remark “You don’t treat us as criminals, you treat us as people.”

  3. Concentrate
    I think it is important to give each prisoner your full and undivided attention for the whole period of the visit. This will make it a valuable time for you both. It is a very precious time and will be less than the best if you are thinking about something else. It is good if you can avoid looking at your watch and other indications that you are not listening.