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on 22 November 2010
Mr. Justice Potts apparently told either Jeffrey Archer or the jury that Archer's trial was "the worst case of perjury" in British legal history. The jury delivered a guilty verdict and the judge similarly pronounced the longest sentence ever for perjury - four years imprisonment. This is where Archer's first prison diary begins, with a long walk to a cell underneath the Court building. It ends 22 days later, during which Archer resides in HMP Belmarsh, a maximum security prison. The diary is subtitled "Hell" and daily grinds, humiliations, prison bureaucracy and fears weigh down on the prison's most famous resident throughout. Humour, although there is a little of it, is in very short supply.

Never, it seems, did the author expect to be convicted and several times throughout the journal Archer decries the evidence on which his trial was based. Beforehand, my prior knowledge of Jeffrey Archer, the man, was restricted to his illustrious writing career. Writing, as he is here, mainly to keep his sanity, his proclamations in this respect are somewhat difficult for readers unfamiliar with 'what actually happened' to comprehend. There is neither account of the trial itself nor anything approaching a statement such as "I'm innocent." Instead there are legal niceties - Archer's co-defendant was acquitted whilst Archer was convicted for "conspiring to pervert the course of justice" (Archer does not understand how he could have conspired with someone to commit a crime if that other person was acquitted); and a fair degree of venom for Mr. Justice Potts and the prosecution's witnesses, one of whom admitted in the witness box to practically robbing Archer blind.

As I suspect is common with all famous prisoners entering the system, Archer finds himself an unhappy passenger on at least three merry-go-rounds - the prison system is determined to treat him like any other prisoner and not to be seen to be awarding him any special favours; the legal system is, or was, both determined to follow through with his prosecution to the bitter end and ensure he was made an example of on sentence; and finally we witness the press interest/intrusion plaguing both his trial and subsequent internment. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for him being banged up in a notorious and dangerous jail, despite the hundreds of good causes he has supported over the years, if he is indeed correct that the evidence against him was doubtful. However, because he does not go into that evidence in much detail, the reader is also slightly alienated. Or at least I was.

Prison Diary 1, summed up in one word, is intriguing. The minutiae of every last action is penned - from the succession of forms that process his arrival - to the rules that regulate almost every aspect of his existence within the walls. Discovering that the warning given to him by another inmate that "Belmarsh has the worst grub in the whole prison system" is accurate, his diet becomes one of lollipops, cereal and UHT milk. And, partly in relation to an altercation in the exercise yard, and partly in relation to a succession of wholly invented 'revelations' about him 'lording it up' in prison by the News of The World, he remains in his cell for a long period of time each day.

He comes across a variety of characters including 'the man (who can get you anything)' Del Boy and a clued-up Irishman Shaun Keene, who educates him on the reality of drug-use within HMP Belmarsh. He forges something of an alliance with a few of them, whilst others are mentioned only once before Archer finishes his recording of the conversation with them with something like "I don't think I will see him again." Particularly memorable passages include his account of a psychotic double-murderer striding over to accompany him on association, and his discovery of the horror of 'listener' Fletch's 'little green book'. In less stress-fuelled moments, Archer teaches a creative writing class, and listens to the odd game of cricket.

As you might expect, the style of writing is a quite radical departure from the Archer fiction books. Prison Diary lifts the lid on exactly what serving a prison sentence involves with no exaggeration and only the odd touch of dramatic licence. The crimes of Archer's cellmates range from the sad (One man conveys that Archer must only repeat the details of his crime as long as he doesn't make the fact he stabbed an Australian multiple times sound in any way violent) to the more troubling (Drug-dealers who tell Archer that they can earn £200,000 per year from the trade and can therefore never settle into a 9-5 job). To help keep track of so many characters, they are often introduced by their Christian name plus a short recap of what they're in for. A short, but effective method.

As Archer's focus shifts on an hourly basis, the reader has to follow suit, allowing to experience just a little of the disorientation which pervades prison life. Then focus returns when one is least expecting it. One of my favourite passages was the Twelve Unit call the author made to his wife whilst feeling low, and its abrupt and critical moment of termination.

Extremely surprisingly, to both Archer and the reader, something about Archer's presence itself apparently brings a sense of calm to his maximum security surroundings. Prisoners, realising he is writing a book, put on a brave face around him, do not swear and ask him for the odd autograph. Officers forget themselves and call him "Sir". Prisoners intentionally applaud when he enters a room, and refer to him as "His Lordship" in jest. If Mr. Justice Potts thought he was condemning Archer to perpetual fear and misery, it seems he was mistaken. There is undoubtedly fear and misery in droves, and Archer experiences his fair share of it, but he brings something to the table that most prisoners do not - celebrity. Without sounding too gushing, even just his presence amongst them has something of an educational effect when they realise that the newspapers report Archer's conditions incorrectly.

Finally, scattered liberally through the text, are a number of observations which Archer makes. On some occasions he even speaks to politicians directly - "Are you listening, Home Secretary?" Alas, although this diary was written some seven years ago, many of these startling obvious observations remain uncorrected. Why, for example, are prisoners on remand (i.e. not yet convicted of an offence) housed with psychotic double-murderers? Why does 'the system' wait until a person is actually convicted then classify him as a B-cat (B dangerous level, from a scale of A (high) to D (low)) prisoner until it works out his 'real' categorisation?

Prison Diary 1 is a book that needed to be written and, however unjust Archer's incarceration may or may not have been, he was exactly the right person to write it. He is not released at the end of this diary, merely transferred to a second prison. The story therefore continues for two more volumes.
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on 13 July 2003
As someone who has always thought of Jeffrey Archer as a successful but obviously populist writer of best sellers I was very impressed by what I judge to be his most important work so far (by far!).
His frank and sometimes moving account of life inside was one of the most fascinating books of the year.
Not always sympathetic, sometimes over didactic, sometimes very disturbing, Jeffrey this time has produced a weighty book, putting hard questions to the prison service, the Home Secretary and to our own consciences.
Buy it!
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on 17 January 2013
I did not and still do not really know much about the Jeffrey Archer perjury case. I looked it up after reading the book but I am still none the wiser on the detail. It does not really mater though because this book starts just after the guilty verdict and sentencing. Jeffery Archer is led down to the court cells and spends three weeks at Bellmarsh prison before being moved on (and into the second book).

Archer gives a picture of prison life but there are really no surprises. There is the fixer who can get anything. The dark exercise yard and the institutionalised cons. He seems to have been treated slightly better than most prisoners because he had his own cell for most of the period. There is some interest in Archers first impressions, but after that the narrative is a bit flat. That is probably because not a lot happens to write about. Not his fault.

Archer mentions a few elements of his case in passing, but without knowledge they are ciphers. What did come out though was Archer's view of hope. In prison, hope keeps some prisoners going and its loss leads to despair. Archer himself seemed to have hopes that what he felt were unfairnesses at his trial would lead to his release. He hoped what he thought was an unfair summing up by the trial judge would lead to his conviction being quashed or at least his sentence reduce.

At least we can see now he was released on license after half his sentence so perhaps his hope was repaid.
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on 1 July 2004
While people probably felt that Archer deserved to go down, and others felt not, this narrative of prison life in a cat A prison pulls no punches. Archer has taken the time (excuse the pun) to find out as much as he can about the life people lead in prison.
It speaks of the trials (again, excuse the unintentional pun) and tribulations of life behind bars, and the stark culture shock that first time offenders face when they pass through the iron gates. Interesting though, is the fact that the sanest, friendliest people in there, those that befriend him, and look after him, not because of his outside status (many of them spend too long behind bars to know) but because they want to, because, in their own morals he did not deserve to be there, and they wanted to help and ensure that Archer survives, those people are in there for some of the worst crimes.
A fantastic work, which really brings home the state of Britains prisons in the 21st century.
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on 1 September 2003
In 2001, Jeffrey Archer was convicted of perjury, arising out of his libel suit against a tabloid newspaper some years earlier, from which he had profited enormously. His conviction occurred as a result of new evidence indicating that there had been a conspiracy, instigated by Archer himself, to 'prove' that he could not possibly have been with a prostitute on the night in question.
Convicted of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, Archer was initially sent to Belmarsh, a high-security jail in London, pending recategorisation to a lower-security prison based on being assessed as low-risk. He spent a period of just over a month in Belmarsh, and this diary - written while in prison - is the result.
In reading it, one has to learn to ignore the continual hard-done-by attitude of Archer. He consistently pleads his innocence, despite his guilt being indisputable, and complains about the 'bias' of the trial judge. We are treated to a stream of commentary about the judge's summing-up, and as if that's not enough, Archer tells us all about the letters he receives sympathising with him and agreeing that he has been treated unfairly (he doesn't mention any correspondence which says that he got what he deserved!). He also name-drops constantly in relation to 'famous' people who are apparently on his side.
He also has to name-drop in relation to fellow prisoners, so we hear about Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber, who is also in Belmarsh, and also Barry George, on remand at the time awaiting trial for the murder of Jill Dando. In this respect, it is hard to understand how the book got published; it is apparently against Home Office rules to identify serving prisoners in this way.
All that aside, there are some telling insights into prison life which deserve wider reading. For instance, Archer puts forward a vigorous argument against sending those convicted of minor offences and serving short terms to a high-security prison such as Belmarsh. The young man serving six weeks for breaking a red light is a telling example: he is being put under severe pressure to murder the witness in another prisoner's trial, once he is released. Another short-term prisoner was persuaded to try heroin for the first time while in Belmarsh, and within a couple of days is addicted: so when he is released once his six weeks are up, how will he fund his addiction?
There are certainly lessons to be learned about the prison culture and the criminal justice system from Archer's book, and given the author's reputation as a novelist, this book is sure to get a wide circulation. However, it is far from being the best critical account of prison life in recent years; I would recommend that anyone wishing to read a less egotistical and melodramatic account might look for Erwin James' A Life Inside, also available.
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on 8 September 2003
Having enjoyed all of Jeffrey Archer's books I am now reading volume one of Prison Diary. It is fantastic. Written in his usual witty style, what makes it even better is the insight of what really goes on in our prisons. Names and places bring the book closer to reality and little or no imagination is needed to bring this book alive and enjoy it. Archer makes no friends out of enemies by naming and shaming them throughout the book, and you can see howthe British Legal System can be unjust in surprisingly public situations yet it is the smaller less public members of this system that uphold human rights and fairness helping people who have chosen the wrong path in life find the pleasures of returning to the correct path. I have really enjoed the book so far and have only put it down to add this review.
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on 15 October 2002
I enjoyed reading this account of Jeffery Archer's life in Belmarsh prison. It is written in his usual style, and although it's not trendy to admit with Jeffery having fallen from grace, I like his style, and attention to detail.
The book opened my eyes to the many injustices of the prison system, and made me cry at some of the chilling accounts. I was previously blissfully ignorant, and for this reason Mr Archer's book makes a valuable contribution. I'm not in any doubt that criminals should be punished, but there seem to be glaring flaws in the system, which Jeffery Archer is now equipped to articulate, and bring to our attention. If only for this reason, the book demands to be read.
I felt some sympathy for the humiliation of the author despite his misconduct, but I was disappointed to see no mention of remorse or shame for his crime. Indeed the book is often used as a launchpad to air his many grievances, a lot of them personal. Despite this sad omission, the book is very readable, and you cannot help being gripped by the account of mindless daily life in Belmarsh. There is a rare snapshot view of a regime completely unknown to many of us, which is all the more poignent because of the real-life characters.
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on 8 December 2004
As a member of the legal profession (I practice purely in Criminal Law) I found this book terribly annoying. The inaccuracies within do not help the general public have faith in people like me. I don't know whether the author is simply gullible or has embellished his experiences! A perfect example is the tale of the lovely man sent to prison for driving without insurance! This is impossible - the offence is punishable only by way of fine, penalty points and perhaps disqualification. This was one of many - I drove my family mad shouting at the book whilst reading it.
As an avid book reader however, I couldn't put it down!! The praise of his wife I thought seemed a bit rich, given the circumstances. But on the whole, a good book-just don't believe everything you read!!!!
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on 4 May 2016
First, let me make one thing clear, I am NOT a fan of Jeffrey Archer. I have never read any of his novels, nor seen any of the tv versions. So what, you may ask, am I doing writing a review for one of his books? Well, I DO have an interest in true crime, which led to the purchase of not just volume 1, but the other two as well. All three cost me the princely sum of £6 from a second-hand book-stall. My verdict - a b****y good read! We find out just how Archer feels about prison life, the long hours locked away, the (sometimes petty) regulations, the food, (which in Belmarsh is pretty awful), and the inmates he befriends. Being who he is, of course, he also has to contend with the gutter press, who merrily print rubbish about his treatment in prison, persuade others to tell all about him, and even hassle him on the day of his mother's funeral. He also learns, the hard way, that prisoners have virtually no rights when it comes to adjudications - at least they don't when the Home Secretary himself is pulling the strings. In fact, it shocks me that a man I admire could be so nasty and vindictive, not to mention guillable enough to believe the lies peddled by the Sun!
Most people Archer meets treat him with a measure of decency, though, and he gets on well with most of the prisoners and staff.
I would have liked to have seen a fourth diary, detailing his time at his final prison, but I suppose I'll have to settle for the three I've got,

But I still won't be getting any of those novels.
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on 18 October 2014
All three volumes are well worth reading. I read them one after the other and couldn’t put them down (and I’m not a particular fan of his fiction.) You get a really good insight into the state of our prison system, mainly due to Archer’s ability to present you with a cast of characters. Each of them has a story to tell and Archer tells those stories with skill.
Whatever you think of Archer the man, you have to admire a guy who can get banged up and still sets out to extract the positive by creating three volumes of diaries.
It also has to be said that Archer never hesitates to talk about the good that he finds in those around him and he displays compassion for many of the unfortunates he finds himself sharing prison with. He has a bone dry sense of humour which adds a lot to many of the tales. Actually made me wonder if there isn’t a comic novelist in there trying to get out.
For me, what makes the books merely good, instead of great, which they could have been, is Archer’s inability to admit any wrongdoing on his part. He goes on at some length about how the trial judge was against him, and how unfair the sentence was, and how much he was let down by those around him, including people he’d regarded as friends - all of which may be true; he certainly presents credible evidence that all these things were true - and it seems clear, in the 3rd volume, that he was harshly treated for a claimed violation of his licence while out on home visit, but he never once finds it in himself to admit that he was guilty of the crime that saw him put away in the first place, never once expresses the slightest remorse, never once shows the slightest understanding of the fact that his incarceration was, ultimately, of his own making. If he could have done that the diaries would have been far more balanced. As they are, they come across as just a bit whining in places. Still a good read, though. Just flawed.
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