Second Book Review for Hard Time
By Stephen Rodgers at The Week In
A justice system where police lock people away without trial
while they build a case against them, a prison regime where
inmates are fed rancid food with dead rats and where gangs
decide who lives and dies. A Third World setting for John
Grisham’s latest blockbuster perhaps? No, this is the true story
of Widnes born Shaun Attwood after he falls foul of the law in
the state of Arizona in America, land of the free!
Shaun was in Bristol recently when he spoke to students from
Sir Bernard Lovell School in Oldland Common as part of a tour
to warn of the dangers of drug use, something he has thrown
his weight into since returning from his ordeal at the hands of
the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County Jail system.
During his 26 month stay ‘at Sheriff Joe’s pleasure’ he started
‘Jon’s Jail Journal’ and his blogs began to lift the lid on the
conditions inside the jail where inmates are forced to wear pink
underwear, women work on chain gangs and more is spent on
feeding the dogs than the prisoners.
Shaun Attwood moved to Phoenix in the 1990’s and quickly
found success as a stockbroker. A fan of the rave scene which
was taking off just as he left Manchester, he set about bringing
it to Arizona. Success led to money, friends and inevitably
drugs – both using and supplying. The hedonistic lifestyle came
to an abrupt end in 2002 when a SWAT team broke the door
down and he found himself on remand in Maricopa Jail with a
$750,000 cash bond and all his assets seized. The nightmare
was only just beginning as Shaun was to find himself
submerged in a world where all normal rules of society are
turned on their head. Rival gangs vied for control, crystal meth
was more freely available than it was outside, slops and mouldy
bread were the staple diet and falling foul of house rules could
result in anything from a beating to death. Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s
jails had the highest death rate in the US.
For the next 26 months, ‘English Shaun’ had to navigate the
various gang protocols, keep off drugs and remain sane in an
inferno while suffering postponement after postponement of
court hearings and a doubling of his bond. With a State
Prosecutor out to make a name for herself but little hard
evidence, the twists and turns in the legal process keep adding
to the sense of hopelessness of Shaun’s ‘Through the Looking
Glass’ world. The story is skillfully told through first person
accounts and letters written to his fiancée and his family back in
England and often, just when you think things can’t get any worse,
they invariably do.
Probably the most significant effect of Hard Time, is that you
have to keep reminding yourself this is not Shaun Attwood’s
first novel, it’s his auto biography! Neither is this a simple story
of injustice, the false imprisonment of an innocent man. Shaun
makes no attempt to disguise the fact he had been heavily
involved in the supply of drugs during his time in Arizona.
Whether that justifies being held in a remand system while
police and prosecutors force witnesses to testify against him is
another matter. Especially as it becomes clear that the vast
majority of Shaun’s inmates are being held using similar tactics.
If there is a happy ending to the story, it is of a man who has
confronted his own version of hell and come away stronger for
the experience. At the denouement of his case he tells the
judge that Mahatma Gandhi once said that the law should be
used to change men’s hearts. Shaun Attwood’s heart is
certainly in a good place now. The jury is still out on Sheriff Joe
Arpaio. A harrowing tale nevertheless.
Hard Time is on sale from next week (Thursday 5th August). It
can be pre-ordered at most bookshops or at Amazon.
Link to the review.
Hard Time is now on sale at the Book Depository.
I'm doing a reading with the author of Try Me, Farah Damji, in London on 23 August · 18:30 - 20:00 at:
The Gallery Stoke Newington Library
Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16, 0JS