So in the endless lull that is our five month summer holidays, I've been trying to keep engaged in my degree by reading and listening to some crime related podcasts (nerd).
Some of the most interesting stuff has been first hand accounts of people who went to prison, and have come out the other side. Like Chris Atkins' podcast A Bit of a Stretch, David Masons' Not Just Another Prison Diary, and Jeffrey Archer's trilogy A Prison Diary (presumably just another prison diary).
While they give a fantastic insight into incarcerated life, I can't help noting that they're all written by men who were wealthy before their incarceration, and then - tactfully - used their prison experiences to make even more of their already abundant wealth.
Chris Atkins enjoyed a successful career as a journalist and filmmaker, receiving three BAFTA nominations. After his conviction of tax fraud and subsequent two year excursion to HMP Wandsworth, he gained a Sunday Times Bestselling book - along with the royalties and social status that accompanies such an accolade.
Jeffrey Archer, or to give him his full title: Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, was already notorious for being a bestselling author, former MP of Louth, and peer of the realm (a lord). Until Archer was convicted of perjury (lying in court while under oath) and perverting the course of justice. Archer was sentenced to four years, with the understanding that he would really only serve two (a common way of trying to get people to behave in prison).
During his confinement Archer recorded meticulous diaries about prison life; eventually publishing three books entitled Hell, Purgatory and Heaven styled after Dante's Divine Comedy (which tells you as much as you need to know about this nauseating loony).
Though not as successful as Atkins work, Archer's first instalment "Hell" received great feedback, with the latter two falling short.
David Mason's was the least successful of the summer readings. Though it did focus on the decidedly more interesting area of white collar crime.
Mason convinced 32 people to invest £270,000 into a company called EduVest; a fake company that Mason had set up.
He received a two year sentence, during which he wrote Not Another Prison Diary.
What all these men have in common is the entrepreneurial spirit and previous educational attainment necessary to write a book/podcast and monetize their prison sentence.
Many, many people are in prison. In fact 78,768 people are in prisons across England and Wales as of September 17th 2021. Clearly, it takes a very specific kind of person to write about their experiences.
Perhaps the majority of inmates don't believe anybody would give a shit about their time spent at Her Majesty's Leisure. Undoubtedly, the levels of reading and writing are significantly lower in prison than in the general population - as Archer and Atkins themselves note. But I'm not convinced that if levels of english were improved, we'd see more accounts of life in prison.
The lion's share of inmates in England and Wales are from a lower socio-economic backgrounds. They grew up poorer, in worse off areas (Yates, 2014). Many have untreated mental health problems (Fazel and Baillargeon, 2011). They are often the victims of childhood abuse and neglect (Walsh et al., 2019), or in the 4% of the prison population that is female, domestic abuse (Corston, 2007).
These factors surely contribute to their unwillingness/inability to write about their - often much longer - prison experiences.
Maybe these inmates are so used to the poor treatment encountered in prisons in their normal, free lives (less space in smaller homes, shitty cheap food, less money to engage in recreational activities) that they are less outraged at prison conditions. And don't feel the need to 'educate the masses' on the conditions that caused Archer to indignantly splutter "This is not Turkey, not Nigeria, not Kosovo!"
I don't really know what I want to say about this. Other than, it's all a bit grim - isn't it? So many (SO many) people come into our prisons in such worse states than Archer and Atkins did.
Most inmates haven't had star-studded careers. Or prestigious awards. Or a lot of money. And yet it's Atkins and Archer who experience their sentences and go on to increase their bank balances and social status - as a direct result of their incarceration.
The vast majority of people do not come out of prison with a successful podcast, or royalties from a book they wrote while inside. I would wager that if a regular inmate wrote a book about their prison life, it would be far less well received than A Bit of a Stretch.
It just means something so different when an upper class person goes to prison, than when a working class person goes to prison. And it really fucks me off.
Corston, J. (2007) The Corston Report: A Review of Women With Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System. London: Home Office
Fazel, S. and Baillargeon, J. (2011) ‘The Health of Prisoners’, The Lancet, 377(9769), pp. 956-965
Walsh, D., McCartney, G., Smith, M. and Armour, G. (2019) ‘Relationship Between Childhood Socioeconomic Position and Adverse Childhood Experiences (Aces): A Systematic Review’, Journal of Epidemiol Community Health, 73(12), pp. 1087-1093
Yates, J. (2014) ‘Structural Disadvantage: Youth, Class, Crime and Poverty’ In Taylor, W., Earle, R. and Hester, R. (eds) Youth Justice Handbook. Oxfordshire: Willan, pp. 5-22