christmas in prison
A prison cell is decorated for ChristmasReuters

Everyone who celebrates Christmas has probably, at one time or another, claimed that they are experiencing the worst Christmas ever.

Maybe they got drunk at the firm's Christmas party and insulted the boss. Maybe they've been told they have to work over Christmas. Maybe they have to spend Christmas surrounded by those unpleasant cousins from far flung corners of the globe.

Rubbish. You will have to experience a pretty rotten Christmas to beat a Christmas behind bars.

Having said that, the traditionalists will find much to approve about a prison Yule. For a start, the decorations don't go up straight after Bonfire Night. It's usually about five days before Christmas Eve when some kind-hearted officer dusts off that grubby box in the corner of the store room and reveals :(a) a very small plastic tree, (b) a few strands of tinsel, and, possibly (c) some lights for the tree.

Then there's the carol service. It's usually held a couple of days before Christmas and is well attended. The singing will be enthusiastic. And for many prisoners attending the service it's the first time its hit home that they won't be spending Christmas at home. There's a certain poignancy in that.

And most traditional of all is the fact that prison routine returns on 27 December, come what may.

But what about the day itself? First of all there is the cooked breakfast. This almost defies description. There are watery and unsalted scrambled eggs. There is fried bread (much to the mystification of overseas prisoners). Tinned tomatoes. Sausages of uncertain origin. Leathery bacon. All eaten on plastic plates with plastic cutlery.

So now it's 8.30am, you have had your breakfast. What next? Most people phone home. That puts a dampener on things. A few hardy souls will go for a walk in the familiar circular motion around the yard. For those that don't it's pool, chess, Scrabble, table tennis or descend on the individual lucky enough to have a Playstation. Surprisingly few people decide to watch television.

No-one listens to the radio (perhaps this stirs up too many memories of previous family Christmases). There is blessed relief from those repugnant Christmas songs that echo from every pub, shop and Christmas party in the outside world.

Just after midday it's Christmas lunch. Turkey, beef or the vegetarian option. There are tinned Brussel sprouts, tinned carrots, roast potatoes (cooked in a deep fat fryer), gravy. A smidgeon of Christmas pudding. Prison custard.

Just after the Queen's Speech prisoners collect their Goody Bags. These contain their evening meal: a baguette, a carton of fruit juice, some crisps, peanuts, a chocolate bar, a cake. Without exception, these are opened and consumed at once.

By about 6pm there's a languor over the prison as all are locked behind their doors on the wing. Relief it's almost over mixed with a sense of loss.

So next time you think you're having a lousy Christmas, count your blessings.

Steve Dagworthy is senior consultant at Prison Consultants. He previously served half a six-year jail sentence for what was described in court as a £3m Ponzi scheme.

Prison Consultants can be contacted for a free confidential discussion on: +44 (0) 20 7717 5564.