Whatever your feelings about prisoner FF 8282 (currently detained at her Majesty's pleasure in a Lincolnshire prison and author of A Prison Diary
), there is no denying that Jeffrey Archer (author, businessman, ex-Tory party chairman, mayoral candidate and convicted perjurer) has added considerable life and colour to the national scene.
Archer is one of the great survivors: when catastrophe strikes (as, in his case, it always seems to), he invariably bounces back and forges a new career (or at least reinvigorates an old one) out of the ashes of the disaster. But many felt that his recent conviction for perjury and the subsequent prison term was really the last of Jeffrey Archer's nine lives being used up. The Conservative Party had turned a blind eye to previous indiscretions, but his time inside prison walls would clearly mark the end of his political ambitions.
Of course, what Archer may want to be remembered for is his skill as a writer, a phenomenally successful writer, in fact, with an iron-clad reputation for producing page turners. Which is what makes A Prison Diary by FF 8282 (Archer's name is not to be found on the front of the jacket) such a remarkable document. This is the book that created further problems for the writer, possibly contravening the rules that state a convicted prisoner cannot make money from his crime. But whatever the rights or wrongs of that situation, there is no denying the straight-from-the-hip verisimilitude of this unvarnished picture of life inside Belmarsh for a category D prisoner. As a picture of our penal system, this is eye-opening stuff, and combines a strong denunciation of current practices with fascinating day-to-day detail of life inside. --Barry Forshaw
"There is a child of seventeen in the cell below me who has been charged with shoplifting - his first offence, not even convicted - and he is being locked up for eighteen and a half hours, unable to speak to anyone: This Great Britain in the 21st century, not Turkey, not Nigeria, not Kosovo, but Britain. This same young man will now be spending at least a fortnight with murderers, rapists, burgiars and drug addicts. Are these the best tutors he can learn from?" Monday 23 July 2001