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A Life Inside: A Prisoner's Notebook Paperback – 10 Apr 2003


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A Life Inside: A Prisoner's Notebook + The Home Stretch: From Prison to Parole + Prisongate: The Shocking State of Britain's Prisons and the Need for Visionary Change
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Guardian Books (10 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903809983
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903809983
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.3 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 41,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mr R B CLIFFE on 26 Dec 2003
Format: Paperback
The book contains a series of self-contained articles about prison life as observed by a 'lifer' approaching the end of a long sentence. They could be described as vignettes of the personalities and peculiarities of prison life; an existence about which most of us are ignorant. They are superficially an easy and entertaining read but you quickly find yourself gripped by the predicament of those at the very bottom of 'society's heap'. Erwin James writes beautiful prose and his own story, communicated through this book, is an inspiration.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on 31 Jan 2004
Format: Paperback
I first started to read Erwin James in my copy of the Guardian every two weeks, and if he was not in the paper I found myself disappointed. James does not in this book dwell on himself or his crime which he is sent to prison for life for. Life as he was to learn on seening it stamped on a folder was 99 years. His tarif was 25 years changed to 20 and by the time he begins writing he has been behind bars for over a decade.
We all think we know something about prison life you know the common presceptions. They use phonecards, they have so many visits a week and so on. But on reading this book you learn what it is really like to be inside and it takes it one more step by introducing us to that unknown group of people called "lifers". It tells us of the closed conditions of the maximum security prisons where you eat, drink and even think when they tell you to. It introduces us to men who for one reason or another have been sent away for the rest of their life. And each one deals with the tarif set in very different ways some surrive, more don't. James wants no sorrow from you, he is grateful for what prison has given him. He has been educated by the prison system. He is thankful for the kind prison officers and others who have advanced him a kind gesture. He agrees with the ideals of the prison system but as only someone who has used the system and knows it he points out its failings. And indeed the failings of the Home Office and authority. He is grateful for the Home Sec. who showed his human side by putting his trust in a lifer and rewarding him with £5.00.
I am glad to say Erwin James surrvied the dispersal prisons, the spurs and the strips to write. Long may he do so.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Spiritdancer on 1 Mar 2008
Format: Paperback
Erwin James did not write his memoirs to gain sympathy, or to cry "I'm innocent" ... he simply wrote of his day to day life and experiences in diary form. A gripping book, his characters come to life as he describes different incidents that he encountered in his twenty years inside. At times hilarious and at other times sad, we enter a world where danger is never far away, where a simple breaking of prison "rules" can be as serious as contravening the official rules, where a hard shell is essential for survival.
Erwin's journey was hard, but along the way he learnt that hope for a better future was in his won hands and that with the right attitude, he could emerge at the end of it a better person.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Dr W. Richards on 8 Nov 2003
Format: Paperback
In the early 1980s, Erwin James - a pseudonym - was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was in his early twenties at the time. What his crime was we are never told, and nor is it relevant to this account, although James himself never tries to minimise it, making clear that he believes that he deserves his punishment. We're also told that he had a 'tariff' of twenty-five years, later reduced to 20. In 2000, James began writing a series of fortnightly columns for the Guardian newspaper, on life as a 'lifer' in the prison system. It is these columns, or those printed up to January 2003 (James continues to write for the Guardian) which are published in this collection.
James, in his first couple of years writing for the Guardian, was not paid; a note at the bottom of each column read: 'Erwin James is serving a life sentence. He has not been paid for this column'. At that point, the fee went to charity, but once James was moved to open conditions and permitted to engage in paid employment, the fee was held in trust for him. Surprisingly, in 2003 the Press Complaints Commission criticised the newspaper for running the column and for paying a serving prisoner for writing; given the plaudits the newspaper has received, and which have been lavished on this book, by people such as Martin Narey, Director of the Prison Service, that decision by the PCC was astounding.
In his columns, James shows the reality of life inside high- and medium-security prisons in a way other, more high-profile, prison memoirs fail to do. We meet fellow prisoners - all pseudonymised - and experience their hopes and disappointments through the clarity of James' writing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Yogini Star on 22 Feb 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Still poignant now., 22 Feb 2009

I have just finished reading A life Inside, as part of research into life inside, and I have found this book to be the best I have read so far and the most truthful. It states clearly, without emotion the impact on someone's life when they are sentenced to a period of incarceration. It is written with honesty and sincerity. A must read for anyone who would like a glimmer of what it maybe like. Although at times I feel the amazing sense of optimism Erwin James manages to maintain within himself through his experiences may give some readers, who know nothing of our outdated and still often brutal penal system, a false belief it really does work!
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