This is the third prison memoir I’ve read this year. One was Prison Doctor, the second Strangeways from the perspective of a prison officer who worked there.
This one A Bit Of A Stretch has been written by a former prisoner, a journalist/documentary BAFTA nominated and someone who has worked on Channel 4 Dispatches and BBC Panorama. He was jailed for five years for his part in an dodgy scheme to fund his latest film.
By the author’s own account, unlike a large proportion of the population in prison, he is a white, middle class and educated with a network of supportive friends and family. Using both his journalistic skill and ability to document events for research purposes Chris Atkins has used the diaries he kept during his incarceration to note down a lot of the hardships and tragedy of those he was ‘banged up’ with. Sentenced to serve the nine months of his sentence in HMP Wandsworth, according to the blurb ‘the oldest, largest, most dysfunctional prison in Europe’
- What I’ve learned from this book
Chris Atkins discovered for himself and experienced first hand that a large part of inmates were in fact mentally ill and should have had proper mental health care prior to and for the duration of their sentences. The awful conditions with the lack of care they experienced exacerbated their conditions and led to ever worsening problems and behaviours.
- The latest decisions from various ministers, about ‘reforms and ‘changes’ are basically hogwash as prison officer numbers are reduced leading to stress for the remaining officers and the prisoners themselves
- Suicides and self harm statistics in prison are high.
- Re-offending costs the UK taxpayers £15 billion.
- Rehabilitation is a joke. There are plans to increase the already full to the brim prisons with more heavier and longer sentences.
- Chris Grayling wanted to remove books from prison
- A large percentage of prisoners are illiterate
- There is a charity devoted to teaching prisoners to read and training prisoners to teach other prisoners to read and write
- The sheer amount of drugs that are smuggled into prison
- So many mistakes are made by court officials that in one case a violent offender was released too early.
- There is a lot of covering up and disguising of of various facts, misinformation and downright lies within the prison system and those who are supposed to serve in government
- Sweden and Norway have fewer released prisoners reoffending because of the systems they use within their own countries
- Teaching a trade to prison offenders so that they can find employment on the outside makes them much less likely to reoffend and end up back in the prison system.
- Britain has the worst reoffending record in Europe
Eventually Atkins became a ‘Listener’ – inmates trained by The Samaritans to counsel those in distress, the potential suicides and those who are deeply despaired. The Listeners were often called out at all hours of the day and night to try to help. A number of them became overwhelmed with the sheer scale of their volunteer roles.
There are a lot of facts and statistics within the book that are staggering and also a massive amount of sources and media articles at the end of the book.
I literally couldn’t put this book down. Harsh, Horrifying and fascinating but often the kindness of others within the prison was heartening to read.
About the Author
With thanks to the publisher Atlantic Books for my copy via NetGalley