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Prison Time Paperback – 27 Feb 2014
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"Prepare to be transported to a brutal, life-threatening, drug-addicted world. 40 years after Papillon, a new memoir of prison survival has arrived" (Clayton Littlewood, author of Goodbye to Soho)
About the Author
Shaun Attwood is the author of Party Time and Hard Time: A Brit in America's Toughest Jail. He regularly speaks to audiences of young people about the perils of drugs and the horrors of prison life.
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Shaun Attwood describes life in prison as it is for the prisoners and it is fascinating. It is lived by and with and for the other prisoners. The prison guards and authorities really have no part in it except in the way that the environment does, like insects and forests and chasms and abysses and, sometimes, rock walls: they set the limits and character of the environment but not the life that is carried on within it. Only the prisoners and the people who have a direct impact on his life (like his family, his girlfriend and his therapists) have names and lives and personalities and they are much richer and more varied than you would expect if you were to forget (as perhaps the Arizona DoC might like you to do) that prisoners are people with rich histories.
All of this is described in an undecorated style. The stories do not need drama forced onto them. The circumstances which have led to the various prisoners ending up where they are include vicious crimes and Shaun Attwood does not avoid this but he does not judge them either: he describes the other prisoners and himself (including what they have done) and how it is being a prisoner and how the prisoners act towards each other. This may be brutal but is also often very touching, with respect, loyalty and affection. Some of the descriptions of the book make a lot of how it describes sex amongst the prisoners but they tend to mislead. Sex in various forms happens and is described in the usual straightforward way but it is just part of the life that is being written about, not a subject to be avoided nor made more of than it was as part of that life. It is not the subject of the book nor is there anything in it for the prurient reader.
The world described is horrifying in many ways but overall effect of the book is not depressing. This is partly because *spoiler alert* he is released in the end and so there is a happy ending. It may also be because of the origins of the book in the author's blog which he used as a way of trying to improve life not only generally by making public some of the scandals of the system but specifically and directly for some of the prisoners he lived with. Helping others because you can, as he did, is always uplifting.
Prison Time deserves a wide audience to expose the world to the colourful and fascinating characters and the life-threatening circumstances which are more eye-popping than many works of fiction. This final instalment in the trilogy of "English Shaun" is a fine work in its own right and a fitting finale to the tale of a multi-faceted but normal guy faced with an array of abnormal challenges through a mixture of unchecked ego, misdirected obsession, bad luck and poor choices.
The deconstruction and reconstruction of the writers personality through personal growth and supportive psychotherapy is fascinating enough but becomes gripping when interspersed with the everyday dangers and shocking reality of living amongst volatile rapists and killers within a corrupt system. He has a talent for writing honestly, intimately and unswervingly about the often overlooked frustrations faced by inmates (emotional and sexual in equal measure) and the various ways in which they are released.
The core value of this book for me is in the fundamental humanity described through the importance of family, simple pleasures, circumspection and growth, non-judgemental empathy and respect, and most of all the initially unlikely but ultimately heart-warming bromances forged. Prison Time will suck you in, make you laugh, cry and wince before seeking out more from Shaun Attwood about his own experiences and the diverse characters whose life stories he has captured. Fortunately we already have the earlier chapters in this Odyssey to turn to along with Jon's Jail Journal, the blog which began it all. Hopefully there are yet more chapters to unfold and additional characters to meet in the future
This trilogy has been completely compulsive reading and I would urge anybody to soak up the lessons learned through this real life experience. Like many good books, there is heartache, rejection, cruelty, sadness, unfairness and yet they are touched with humour, ambition and drive towards a better life for the writer, the other inmates and definitely the readers.
Very highly recommended.
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