A Prison Diary
Posted by Abz on Mon, 06 Oct 2008.
Writer Jeffery Archer is sentenced to 4 years in prison for perjury. This is a story of his three weeks in HMP Belmarsh and we discover what life is really like in a British prison. Each day is divided into sections each noted down precisely to the minute. In his time in the clink he ponders what his life will be like in the future and whether prison food is edible. As he encounters ‘window warriors’ and ‘drummers’ he starts to learn prison jargon and starts to write his diary. He takes each battle as it comes from one set of forms to another and then is praised by his efforts of keeping his temper with another stack of forms to fill out on arrival; the hospital block is next, then block one then is soon moved to block three. He makes friends quite easily as he is a well know figurehead (author and House of commons minister) but he soon has to leave them as moving form one block to the next brings the promise of having to integrate yet again, but also never seeing the inmates from the other blocks ever again.
As he learns about prison life we see old stereotypes thrown out the window. He wary the shop lifters but will quite happily play dominos with murderers. He befriends Fletch one of the Listeners and listens to his problems too, has conversations with some of the Prison Wardens and had a run in with the librarian. Several people ask him to look at pieces of writing and he starts a creative writing class. He learns that some people can’t even read and being in the slammer that some people being in the slammer in the first place is the only reason why one man can read and write.
Following Archer’s day to day routine you realise that prison life isn’t always the cushy life the media portrays. Cellmates are sometimes locked up for 22 hours a day and have to suffer Alsatians waking them up at 6am and sometimes rap music played late at night by the inmates. They can only have plastic items and one towel which has to last a week, association with other cellmates only lasts 45 minutes and the only other time they are allowed out of their cells on a regular basis is at lunch and dinner and when they go to the church service of they want to.
By the end of the book you gain a new insight to life inside prisons for both the staff and the offenders. You learn about how jail politics work and how people interact with each other.
It’s an interesting read, not a lot of action of any sort to be perfectly honest, after all what can happen in an A-cat prison that no one has ever escaped from. You soon begin to understand how repetitive it can be but even you read each section of the book at the exact time it was written I still get eh feeling that you wouldn’t even scratch the surface of how each person is feeling.
Within Archer’s true to life story we learn how Fletch, the most respected inmate, come to be in prison. It’s a tragic story of a life child abuse. He never knew life was any different and so thought it was normal to be abused every day and thought that everyone went through it.
Archer directly addresses the home Secretary of the time Mr Blunkett on a few occasions. This adds another level to the story by implicating members of the parliament that he used to work for and accusing them of wrong doing.
Told with compassion, honesty and mild humour, I would recommend this book for anyone who wants an insight into the working of an A-cat prison and wants to see what an ex-cabinet member thinks of the parliament’s decisions. A great read to see what happens behind closed doors.