Welcome New Readers!

I started Jon's Jail Journal back in 2004 to expose the conditions in the maximum-security Madison Street jail, Phoenix, Arizona, run by the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I wrote with a golf pencil sharpened on a cement-block wall or metal door, and my aunt Ann, who visited every weekend, smuggled my writing out of the jail. My parents in England posted my writing to the Internet. The blog went on to attract international media attention, and the Madison Street jail was shut down a few years later.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is still in charge of the Maricopa County jail system and its various facilities. His detractors call him the Angel of Death, not just because of the abnormally high amount of murder and death in his jails, but also because he actually promoted guards that the federal court had found responsible for murdering inmates.

Where I was housed, there were only two guards supervising hundreds of inmates, so gangs like the Mexican Mafia had more control over the inmates than the guards. I got used to the sound of heads getting smashed against steel toilets and bodies getting thrown around. Here's a video of an Aryan Brother murdering another inmate in the jail:


On the right hand side of this blog below the banner is an archive menu you can click on. If you click back to March 2004 you can read the early blog entries.

Here are excerpts from the first two blogs I wrote:

19 Feb 04

The toilet I sleep next to is full of sewage. We’ve had no running water for three days. Yesterday, I knew we were in trouble when the mound in our steel throne peaked above sea level.
Inmates often display remarkable ingenuity during difficult occasions and this crisis has resulted in a number of my neighbours defecating in the plastic bags the mouldy breakfast bread is served in. For hours they kept those bags in their cells, then disposed of them downstairs when allowed out for showers. As I write, inmates brandishing plastic bags are going from cell door to door proudly displaying their accomplishments.
The whole building reeks like a giant Portaloo. Putting a towel over the toilet in our tiny cell offers little reprieve. My neighbour, Eduardo, is suffering diarrhoea. I can’t imagine how bad his cell stinks.
I am hearing that the local Health Department has been contacted. Hopefully they will come to our rescue soon.

20 Feb 04

My cellmate couldn’t hold his in any longer. He pinched his nose and lifted the towel from the toilet. Repulsed by the mound, he said, “There’s way too much crap to crap on, dawg. I’m gonna use a bag.” So as jail etiquette demands in these situations, I rolled over on my bunk and faced the wall. I heard something hit the rim of the seatless toilet, and him say, “Damn! I missed some!” When he was done, he put the finished product by the door and the stink doubled. He had no water to clean where the errant piece had fallen on the toilet, so it remained forming a crustation on the rim. We were hoping to be allowed out to dispose of the bag, until a guard announced, “There will be no one coming out for showers and phone calls, as we have to get one-hundred-and-twenty inmates water from an emergency container!”

The water came back on in stages. In our toilet, its level slowly rose.

“Oh no,” I said. “It’s about to overflow, and we’ll be stuck in here with sewage all over the floor.”

“One of us needs to stick his hand in the crap to let the water through,” my cellmate said. “And you’re the closest.”

The brown soup was threatening to spill from the bowl, so I put a sandwich bag on my hand. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I said, plunging my hand into the mound. The mound took the bag from my hand. Almost up to my elbow in sewage, I dug until the water level sank.

“I owe you one, dawg,” my cellmate said.

“It’s your turn next time,” I said.

Because the tap water hadn’t come back on, I couldn’t wash my arm. Not wanting to contaminate anything in the cell, I sat on the stool until a guard let us out for showers hours later.

Jon’s Jail Journal was set up anonymously to avoid retaliation from guards notorious for murdering inmates. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has paid tens of millions of dollars to the family members of dead inmates. After I was sentenced and moved to the Arizona Department of Corrections, The Guardian ran blog excerpts featuring my cockroach companions, and the BBC and other media picked up on the blog.

In the state prison system, I focussed more on the characters I lived with. I’ve always been fascinated by extremes of human behaviour and in prison such behaviour is common. If you look to the top right of this blog, you’ll see some links. If you click on the top link, MEET THE PRISONERS, or click here, you’ll end up with a list of prisoners I chose to write about. They range from a Mafia mass muderer, Two Tonys who left the corpses of rival gangsters from Tucson to Alaska, to men who think they’re women, such as Xena, a six-and-a-half foot transsexual who almost bled to death attempting to cut “her” man parts off and was helicoptered to a hospital where doctors saved Xena’s life. To read the blog entries on any of these characters, just type the name of the prisoner you’re most interested in into the Blogger search box at the top left hand side of the blog. All of their stories should come up.

The prisoners I wrote about started to receive mail from fascinated people around the world, and the blog became a bridge to the outside for all of us. The highlight of the week was during mail call when we’d receive printouts of the blogs and public comments sent by my parents. Some of my friends would even spy on the pile of mail in the guard tower looking for UK postage stamps, so they could announce that the blogs had arrived.

When my sentence was almost up, I promised to keep the blog going so that my prison friends’ voices would continue to be heard. Prisoners in Arizona do not have Internet access, so they mail their stories, and I print out their blogs and the comments readers post.

Keeping Jon’s Jail Journal going has not been without its challenges from the powers that be and prison-gang members. Click here for an article on the issues I’ve faced over the years. Here's a video of my first live TV appearance, just out of prison and rather nervous, after the Arizona Department of Corrections tried to stop the prisoners from writing to me in order to sabotage Jon’s Jail Journal:

 
As for me, incarceration sent my life in a whole new direction. I put myself in jail by dealing Ecstasy and needed to mature as a person.

I got out in December 2007, and moved in with my parents, without whose support I don’t know how I would have survived. In February 2009, I moved near London, and now speak to schools across the UK and Europe about my jail experience and the consequences of choosing the drugs and crime lifestyles. The feedback from students, teachers and even parents of students keeps me motivated. My jail memoir, Hard Time was published by a division of Random House, and the prequel, Party Time, is expected in 2012. I'll end this with my final blog from the Madison Street jail:

13 Jul 04

A sudden spate of tragedies has compelled me to write this entry. At the weekend, two inmates on my floor attempted to commit suicide. One threw himself off the balcony and survived. The other was discovered trying to hang himself. Sadder still, an inmate housed in a medium-security pod was found dead in the shower. Inmates are often "smashed" in the shower area because it is out of view of the cameras. The jail has refused to release the cause of his death.

The temperature outside is 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The trickle of air into our cells feels like hot air blowing from a hairdryer. We are soaked in sweat all day and night. It is difficult to write on this sweat-moistened paper. The majority now have skin infections and rashes, which persistently itch. My skin is so soggy from perspiration that when I scratch it the skin detaches and I end up with clumps of it under my fingernails. Between the sweat trickling down my body and the cockroaches tickling my limbs, it is impossible to sleep properly. Last night, while sleeping on my side, my ear filled up with sweat, and when I moved my head, the sweat spilled onto my face. I woke up, startled. It felt like someone was touching my cheek.

I once asked a guard how the jail’s administration gets away with this and his response was, “The world has no idea what really goes on in here.”

When I was a small child, I imagined hell consisted of caves in which the damned were trapped, tortured and burnt. I imagined serpents and indescribable creepy crawlies tormenting the captives. I never imagined man's nature could be so hateful as to recreate these conditions on earth.


Tips for surviving Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail system:


Click here for my jail survival tips.

On Jailhouse cockroaches:

If you know a prisoner who would like to write a story for Jon's Jail Journal then click here.  
Post comments below or email them to writeinside@hotmail.com To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun Attwood

54 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Shaun,

I'm glad you're out of the slammer. I got thrown in the drunk tank about half a dozen times when I was young and just back from Vietnam.

Hang in there

Tom Chittum

Anonymous said...

Hia Shaun

Cool article mate. Well done with the exposure. How are you? How's the book going?

So tell me your enthralling tales.....I bet it doesn't stop there does it with the article...a wild life but wilder to come eh!?

Love Foxy xxx

Anonymous said...

Hiya Mate,

Just read your articule and enjoyed it, well put, well i would say that i know the full story, shame you could not say more about your conditions to give more people a better idea of the abuse there but hay hoo your blogs try to do that.

Hope is all well for you and the work is going well see you soon

Curry Girl Sarah

Anonymous said...

Hi Shaun

Thanks for the link to the article. Will be printing it off to keep and use.

Trust life is going well for you. How is the publishing coming along? Do keep me informed of developments. Am looking forward to reading the whole thing.

Best wishes,

Maidy

Jon said...

Foxy and Maidy,

Everything is going great. My agent is submitting my book to publishers, and we expect positive news on that front soon.

More schools have been asking me to come and talk to their students, so it looks like I'm going to be getting busy with that in the New Year.

Have a great Xmas season!

Shaun

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, very interesting read. Can't begin to imagine what it was like as i've said before!

Lady Jane

Anonymous said...

Awesome!!!

Esther

Anonymous said...

Good stuff!

Hope you're pleased with the article and thanks for your work on it.

Ben

Koestler Trust

Anonymous said...

Hi Shaun,

LOVED the story. It was more interesting than George Michael's story in The Guardian as well, and to be fair to him he packs a fair bit in:-)

My mum (who is far more intelligent and well read than me) wants to know about your book, as she found your story compelling and wants to know much more. Me as well.

I related to the bit about the flash house and all the trimmings having lived that way myself - I am glad that I don't live that way anymore. I am quite happy getting my fashion fixes at Primark than Prada these days. But you know, when you are an old man you will be able to look back at the wild times and know you have lived a little.

Good luck in all that you do now. I can only guess how bad things got but your enthusiasm and intelligence, and compassion for others got you through and beyond.

Have a fab Christmas and keep in touch and let me know how you are in the New Year.

Nancy.

Anonymous said...

Shaun,

What I like about your article is that you take responsibility for your actions and you don't play the blame game or the poor me game.

I see with so many inmates and their wives, girlfriends and mothers that the judicial system is the problem and there were no victims involved, so why are they there.

There are victims in every crime, even in the "simple' drug crimes or DUIs. Every time a person buys drugs from a dealer, he or she is keeping him or her in business so that the dealer can turn around and addict a new teenager every day. And when a person gets behind the wheel of a vehicle (deadly weapon) while intoxicated, that person is committing attempted murder. There are victims in every crime.

Thanks for manning up, Shaun!

Janet

Anonymous said...

very good article !! I''m very proud of you !

I have been missing our talks

Love you Shaun

Barry in Tonopah

Anonymous said...

Really!!?!?!? A bisexual lapdancer???? Is that all I was to you? I was actually a world traveled university student who now has her masters. I was more like you than you want to think. Educated and in love with the ectasy and the rave life style! I hope your book is better! Brat!

Amanda

Anonymous said...

just read the article that ran in the Guardian. True and honest, it gave me goose bumps...even though I know your story and read it written so many times. I find it has matured in the way it is told. Not flaunting it anymore..just saying it, damn straight. :)

Cat Eyes

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is amazing, I've been reading the blog all day x

Mitya

Anonymous said...

Bloke,

Just read the article in the Guardian. Good exposure. Also read these comments. Sounds like you pissed off the bisexual lap dancer a wee bit. Oh well.
Anyway have a fun day. Oh, Iron Man says hello again.

Be Good,

Weird Al

Anonymous said...

creme always rises to the top, my friend, but you look like a proper twat in that guardian photo

Hammy

bronlonius said...

ive only seen a few pics of some of the blogs characters and i think its funny how i picture these people in my head. ever seen the movie " cable guy" when matthew brodericks characters is walking into jail and the mexican guy yells out " im gonna bust that booty ese". that was frankie to shaun-lol for some reason i pictured "t-bone" more old school with a wet curl or fro.

Anonymous said...

Well done!

Moni

Anonymous said...

I really like the photo in the Guardian and the article.

Babs

Anonymous said...

Nice pic in the Guardian, la

Wild Man

Jon said...

Nice sarcasm, Wild Man.

The Guardian photographer said he was trying to create loose prison imagery, with me behind the window as if behind bars. He took over 200 pics at Mike Hotwheelz house, and it took over an hour, so by the end of it I was grimacing - as if behind bars. So I guess he achieved the desired effect.

Shaun

Anonymous said...

Awesome!

Daisy

Anonymous said...

Shaun,

You're normally a big smiley happy bastard, so the photo makes you look not like you. These photographers are more cunning than I thought (they're like a damp fox). Also, I had to go a lot of places to get the Guardian.

I've been up all night, and I'm just here drinking myself to oblivion. The Wild Man just passed out in my bedroom. He's like a big bear when he snores, he sucks things in. Be Jesus, its like nature watch - In search of Big Foot/Yeti. Me thinks the mystery is solved.

I've got 5 bottles of wine, and I'm about to do the 5 bottle challenge. I only had 1 bottle of wine when I got back here, so it was panic stations, and I had to go to the offlicence, and the bastard made me wait till 10. Sunday hours. But now its going splendid.

Hammy

Jon said...

Hammy,

At least the Wild Man is temporarily harmless while sleeping. You'd better increase your house insurance before he wakes up.

Shaun

Anonymous said...

Good article!

Cheers

Gareth

Anonymous said...

good article Shaun

Anonymous said...

Hi Shaun

It was great to see your story in the Guardian magazine on Saturday!

Best wishes

Sarah

Koestler Trust

Anonymous said...

Kudos!!! I'm soooo proud of you!! Take care!! Great Article!!

-Bea

Anonymous said...

Loved the article. Thank you for the link.

Miss You!!

Blue Lady

Anonymous said...

GREAT ARTICLE ROOMS!

Hyla

Anonymous said...

I've got the paper copy of The Guardian article on my desk. It's a very interesting read.

Anonymous said...

Hope you got some really good feedback about the article.

Pauline

Anonymous said...

Hi Shaun,
I actually met you once with my friend Jill. In a little apartment somewhere in Az. You mentioned her in one of your blogs. I googled her and that's how I found your site. She always talked highly of you and your intellectual abilities. This site is great. Keep up the good work on exposing all the Az b.s.

Love T.

Anonymous said...

hi you went to simon balle school today (my school) and done a speech, just thought id say that im going to get your book and just thought how terrible it must have been for you, will that be your only visit to our school ?

Jon said...

Anonymous,

I'm glad you enjoyed the talk. I would love to come back to your school. It's something your teachers must decide.

All the best!

Shaun

Anonymous said...

Seems you're doing ok for yourself now from the experience. Must have been a good thing for you! Being someone who doesn't cross the line of the law, I don't know if you're telling the truth, or if you're just giving us prison spin. I happen to support sheriff Joe. Whose fault was it you were given accommodations in Joe's hotel anyhow. You were in jail dude, did you expect dignitary treatment? But, like I said, you have taken your bitterness and turned it into a good thing for you, and now you'll take your scandalous past and market it, and some moron's will buy your book, and illegalities will become profitable. That's the American way, eh?

Anonymous said...

actually just stumbled across this, looks really good so ill be back,when im more awake,yawnnn

A Man from the Angels said...

What Up Shaun,

I too have been incarcerated in Maricopa County. Even though it was 2009, I still experienced the horror of the Madison St. Jail. While I was being housed in LBJ, every court hearing I had to held for transfer-to-court at the Maddison St. Jail. According to "jail-house" sources it was to be condemned but was still being used as a transfer point.

Let me tell you if I had to be housed there I would of ended up taking the first plea bargain, no matter the sentence - just to get out of there - it's that bad.

I ended up doing my sentence at the Tent City (Estrella) a little different from Los Angeles - in Cali you don't associate (at any level) with African-American inmates - PERIOD. In AZ as in Cali, there are 4 race cards, but in AZ the black card is known as "Kin Folk" and the other card is the "Chiefs" (Native-Americans).

In AZ you have this super-yolked-up elite force known as SRT, they are the inmate-murders. Just the sight of them instills fear in most if not all the inmates.

It quite noticeable too, you have the regular jail worker usually puggy and over-weight and then you have SRT.

As they say in the county jail,

"Come on vacation, leave on probation"

I look forward to reading you book, I'm ordering it from Amazon.

A Man from the Angels...

Jon said...

Thanks, A Man from the Angels

If you want to share any of your stories, I'd be happy to post them to JJJ, and please keep me posted on what you think of the book.

Shaun

Anonymous said...

I've just finished your book Shaun. That sounds like an almost unbelievably awful jail - and I wonder, did the conditions stop anyone from returning? Sounds like they didn't. I hope you are using your terrible experience for the good now and I wish you all the best in the future.

Shaun Attwood said...

They stopped me from returning but most come right back. Phoenix has the highest crime and reoffending rates in the USA.

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Anonymous said...

Very interesting Shaun. I watched your story on " Locked Up Abroad " this evening and it brought back memories. You and I have a lot in common it seems, the main difference being that mine took place in South Carolina, USA. I too decide to turn my life around and am now one quarter away from finishing college as a certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor. It's funny how things work out sometimes heh? Best of luck to you mate.

Anonymous said...

Shaun,
I watched your episode of "Locked Up Abroad" as many others surely did.
It's horrifying in this day and age that such human rights violations are taking place in the U.S.
It makes me think of Nazi Germany. And before people think i'm being dramatic, think about it. The Jews were an easy target. They were hated, so policies that ripped their rights and lives from them were barely questioned. As are ANYONE charged with a crime here. No matter the offense, people simply dont care, and it's sickening. Sherrif Joe sees an opportunity to prey on the disenfranchised and forgotten and by god he's getting away with it!! 62 deaths in 5 years?! The people of Maricopa County are allowing this by electing him over and over. Those that know and vote for him anyway are tantamount to accomplices. I am very happy to know you got the word out, but disheartened that it doesn't get any attention. We have to stop this thought process that people cease to matter because they are stuck in jail. This day and night treatment of one another is astounding. Thank you for sharing your terrifying story. With any luck "Joe" will end up a guest of the horrors of his own design one day.

" English Steve " said...

Bought Hard Time to read whilst on holiday in Spain.

A light read it was not! Really felt for your plight, pleased to hear you are out and well.

Only just found this blog.

Buying the prequel when I get home.

Good luck for the future.

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Anonymous said...

Hi,

I watched the program based on you on National Geographic I think it was televised on 7th of April, today i searched your blog and read it. Its quite inspiring how you have learn from your past and survived through such inhuman behavior. You are source of inspiration for those who are surviving with unwanted circumstances. I wish best of luck for your future endeavors.

Regards,
AZ

Anonymous said...

Wou fair play to u for letting people know and best of luck Irish boy

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