From Frankie (Letter 14)

Frankie - A Mexican Mafia hit man and leader of prison "booty bandits" who has been proposing our gay marriage ever since he saw me rubbing antifungal ointment on the bedsores on my buttocks at the Madison Street jail. He was there on murder charges he subsequently beat.


What’s up, my friend? Thought I’d write and see what you’re tripping on saying I never write to you. But you know me, same old Frankie, nothing ain’t changing, just waiting on seven more months to go by so that I can get released. Yes! I’m right around the corner to getting out and I can’t wait.

Hey, what’s up with your book? Am I getting one or what?

I was with Two Tonys, in the same building but different pods. He got real sick and ended up in the hospital.

I’m closing for now. Don’t make me go looking for your hairy ass in England. Can we get a legal gay marriage over there?

As always,

Mr. Frankie

Click here for Frankie’s previous letter.

Our friends inside appreciate your comments.

Email comments or questions for Frankie to or post them below. To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun Attwood
Prisoners Right to Vote

I've joined some UK ex prisoners - Farah Damji and John Hirst - who are fighting for the right for prisoners to vote. John singlehandedly won a ruling in the European Court of Human Rights that the UK government has ignored. The court ruled that UK prisoners are being denied a basic human right.

Farah has posted an article about this here. We are getting attacked in the comments. Here is my response to the comments opposed to prisoners having the right to vote:

How are prisoners – many of whom will be released – supposed to reintegrate with society if society deprives them of their basic human rights? If prisoners are treated like animals, some of them will return to society and behave like animals, and society will ultimately pay a steep price. Isn’t the right to vote a way to encourage prisoners to participate in the lawful activity of society? It seems to me that disenfranchisement is more likely to turn prisoners into enemies of society.

Living with prisoners, I learnt that a lot of them did not have the advantages many of us had growing up. That doesn’t excuse them for their crimes, but it has led me to believe that some encouragement from society later in life would help them to become productive members of society.
Lifer Slams Hard Time - Reviews by Prisoners No. 2: Peter

Peter is a lifer at HMP High Down in the UK. This review is from issue 15 of Not Shut Up magazine, who interviewed me earlier this year. 

When I pick up a book I like to escape the world I’m in. Since I’m serving life, I tend not to read about other people’s jail or crime experiences. This is no different at first, rich Brit gets involved in the rave and party scene, ends up in jail on a drugs charge. Does not sound that interesting. And it is not.

But some jail this is. The indifference of the guards and inmates to violence, abuse, and the conditions is just plain shocking. From the rotten food and overcrowding to the injustice and on top of it all the self-righteousness of the warden who seems to think nothing wrong in treating his inmates worse than cattle. It raises your blood pressure whilst reading. I wish for every person who reads this book to write a letter to Sherriff Joe Arpaio urging him to improve the conditions in his jail.

Most of us are inside for good reason but to push human beings this far is not acceptable. I finished reading this book with mixed feelings. If you like things like Ross Kemp on gangs or those shows about prison life you find late at night on TV, you’ll like this book.

Shaun went through a lot during his time behind bars but he’s not that much of an engaging person or a writer, so I felt for him not with him. His letters home were the best part of the book. There are also some supposedly humorous moments, which I failed to see, but this again could be because prison life is my daily routine and not something to joke about.

Media reviews of Hard Time

Reviews at Amazon

Hard Time at the Book Depository

I read 5 excerpts from Hard Time to the above audience at Storytails in London last night. Click here if you would like to listen to the podcast. 

Here are some new Hard Time YouTube videos filmed in the magical forest at Spinney Hollow, owned and inhabited by Geoffrey Brown and Kate Hadley who work wonders with wood:
Hard Time reviewed in News of the World

SHAUN Attwood had it all when he was a dotcom millionaire living the high life in Arizona.

But then he was busted for money laundering and drug dealing – and eventually sentenced to 9.5 years in jail.

Before his trial he spent two years on remand in Maricopa Jail – known as the toughest prison in the US. It makes Shawshank look like a holiday camp.

And this is Attwood’s unflinchingly grim account of how he adapted to the terrifying daily routine there. He doesn’t make apologies for his crime and, now free, is a staunch anti-drugs campaigner.

But after reading this, you may be left wondering whether his punishment fitted the crime.

(Reviews by Douglas Wight and Sarah Hajibagheri) News of the World 26/09/2010

Hard Time at Amazon UK. Hard Time at the Book Depository.
Standing Up (Part 3 by Warrior)

Warrior - Serving fourteen years for kidnapping and aggravated assault. Half Hispanic and Scottish-Irish with family still in Mexico. Brought up by a family steeped in drug commerce. He writes some of the best prison-fight stories on the Internet.

“I’m not one to be the example. It’s a complex of mine I don’t tolerate,” I said.
“I hear ya, youngster. Sometimes you gotta pick and choose your battles wisely,” O.G. Pete said.
“Fuck this motherfucker. That cop’s a bully, and he singles out those he thinks won’t trip. Others sit back and take it. Fuck that.”
“That Hispanic-Irish blood in you is your fire, kid.” Pete knew there was no talking me down, so he gave me a little insight instead.
“You a sharp fuckin’ kid, Warrior. They don’t make ’em like you no more, no sir. You got respect, integrity in your eyes and words. You ain’t got no Kool-Aid runnin’ through your veins. Plus ya very intelligent, and to me that makes you dangerous. But you don’t see how influential of a cat you are. You have a charm about you that makes people trust you, trust your judgement. Men will follow you into the fire. That’s your gift. How you decide to use it is up to you. There isn’t any half steppin’. If you’re gonna ride, ride all the way.”
I looked at Pete, trying to make sense of what he’d said. Some of it registered, some of it didn’t until much later. “Well, I’m gonna get out of your hair. I gotta take care of a few things.”
“Alright, Warrior, have a good one. We’ll catch up later.”

Some of the prisoners were hollering for me, sending me kites [written notes passed by the inmates], wanting to know what went down. I got back to them on paper, explaining it all. The reviews were mixed. Some were upset, others felt I brought the situation on myself. The spokesman for our race, Capone, wrote giving me the green light to do whatever I felt was necessary.

I’ve never been one to think in small terms. If a statement is worth making, it should be one the world is going to hear. Capone thought I was going to make a single move,but I was thinking of action by a few of us. I didn’t know if I could pull it off due to the ongoing race war. I was determined to try, even if it meant overstepping my bounds. I was so angry, I didn’t care.

I spoke and wrote Spanish as well as English. I’d made it a point to explore the philosophies of the various prison races and gangs such as reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf, writings by Mao Tse-tung and other propagandist literature. I knew a bit of the mindsets of the other races, so I drafted three independent letters written in the terminology of each particular race. Perhaps it was the passion behind my words that led to how receptive the prisoners were. I was surprised.

I wrote about how the system had turned all the races against each other, and how at one time it had been convicts against the system. I stressed how officers feel it’s a perk to punish us sadistically with impunity, and how we were all sons, fathers, brothers and uncles to our loved ones, not numbers. I closed with the only two colors I saw: brown [guards’ clothes] and orange [inmates’ clothes]. Again, I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

Click here for Standing Up Part 2
Dawn of a New Adventure (Part 8)

Aza told me in no uncertain terms that I "need" to post an update on how I’m doing. He pointed out that the last update was in February. I apologise. I’ve been so focussed on launching the book, I should have updated much earlier.

Since Hard Time was published on August 5th, my life has revolved around its Amazon ranking number. (If you are inclined to waste your life away watching it with me, scroll down the Amazon page to "Product Details" and then "Amazon Bestsellers Rank") It made a strong debut. On the back of the BBC and Guardian news stories it got as high as 600, out of 1 million plus books. Nowhere near Tony Blair though, who was number 1 last week. As I write, Hard Time is at 10,140. The number goes up and down like the stock market. At first, I was jumping out of bed at dawn, starting my computer, and gazing impatiently at the screen to get the number, like a heroin addict fiending for the first fix of the day. Fortunately, some concerned friends performed an intervention. I was told that obsessing on the number would lead to a mental breakdown. Thanks to them, I’m down to looking at it about 5 times a day from about 50. I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms though. Even writing this is generating the urge to click over to Amazon. Damn! It’s at 13,823 now.

A big thank you to all of you who’ve read Hard Time and posted customer reviews at Amazonincluding Aza. Reviewers are generally saying that they can't put the book down in order to find out what happens to me next. I’m also getting different feedback from women and men. Men focussing on the mayhem, women saying they like the love theme with Claudia.

After Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced that he was reading Hard Time, I got several media inquiries out of America. Here's the Phoenix New Times story with its 106 comments, including plenty of Arpaio supporters slamming me. Arpaio approved Hard Time for the Maricopa County jail library, so I donated three copies for the inmates. I’m curious as to whether Arpaio will comment on the book. A few readers have suggested I debate the jail conditions and his hard-line policies with Arpaio on TV. I’d be glad to do so if he’s willing to fly to England as I’m banned for life from America by the Department of Homeland Security.
So far my three attempts to send Hard Time to prisoners in the Arizona Department of Corrections have been thwarted. No explanation has been given by the property officer for rejecting the book – an illegal violation of the civil rights of the prisoners concerned. The prison has also rejected some letters sent by readers of this blog to our friends inside, citing no reason for the rejections, which is also illegal.

My publisher said that I should take things easier workwise now that Hard Time is published. But that’s just not in my nature. I’m frustrated that I've been too busy since the publication to get much writing in. The prequel to Hard Time is at 110,000 words, but I’ve only just begun to polish the first 50 pages. I’ve also been bouncing ideas off various people who are generously spending time proof-reading chunks of the prequel. Hopefully, it’ll be ready next year. I’d also like to get a collection of short stories out, and to include contributions by some of the prisoners who write for this blog.

I did my first talk to a largish adult audience just a few days ago. About 80 people at True Stories Told Live. I was allowed to talk for 10 minutes only. Not easy for someone as verbose as me. I practiced plenty, and distilled the talk down to its punchiest elements. It was well received. The man who hosted the event, David Hepworth, watched me talk at Kingston Grammar School, and blogged about it here.

The presentations to schools are going from strength to strength. I’ve refined the talk to include a display of prison clothes, and PowerPoint images. The latter has taken the talk to a whole new level. The spider-bite wound image gets the students every time. I only show it for five seconds, but it causes so much uproar that I’m basically just left standing there drinking water while the teachers calm the students down. Two boys recently fainted at one school where it was shown. I also got mobbed on a train to London by a group of sixth formers who’d heard my talk.

Hard Time now has a US publisher, and is scheduled for general release in spring. The media stories have been building up. Two magazines, FHM and The Word, are next. 

The Hard Time literary event is coming up on October 21st at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the largest exhibition centre in the world. I’ll be getting interviewed by Erwin James the lifer turned journalist and author, who did Hard Time proud recently in The Guardian. Tickets are on sale here, with the proceeds going to the Koestler Trust, a charitable organisation that helps prisoners pursue arts. Tickets are only £5, and the event is almost sold out. Four people are flying from America, including some of my blog readers, and two from Ireland for this.

On October 29th is the Hard Time hometown launch party at The 8 Towers pub in Widnes. If you live in the northwest of England you are welcome to attend this free event that will include a talk, PowerPoint images, book signing and two special guests from Hard Time: Wild Man and Hammy.

Will you be there, Aza? Early indications suggest that several people from our school year at St. Josephs will be going, and quite a few from Fairfield.

Click here for Dawn of a New Adventure Part 7
The Last Sighting of Two Tonys (by CJ)

Written shortly before Two Tonys died.

I’m Two Tonys friend writing to tell you that a couple of weeks ago he went to the Medical Unit. I was on my way to work when he was being wheeled out in a chair. But you know what? The tough old guy still had the strength to call out my name and give me a wave. I’ve been watching his decline, and I hate seeing my friend go through this. But I remember what he told me: “Don’t worry ’cause I’ve lived a life.”

He always talked about you, Shaun, so I thought I would drop a line. He always wanted me to write for you, but I’m more of an artist. I didn’t think I had much to say. We used to have great conversations and I learned a lot from him. I used to make him laugh ’cause I told him he practically raised me. And he would agree. I met him when I was 18 years old, and brand new to the prison system. Now I’m 35. Two things he taught me are “Never give up,” and “Attitude is everything.”

One day we were kicking back when he pulled out a photo of himself. He asked if I wanted it. Of course I did, so I told him to write something on the back, to put something wise. He laughed. I told him I wouldn’t read it till he left this world. I’m wondering what he wrote. Maybe something funny.

Click here for the blog about Two Tonys death, which links to many of his best stories at Jon’s Jail Journal.
Inside the Snow Globe (by Guest Blogger Farah Damji)

The voice of the female prisoner is seldom heard on the Internet. Therefore, I am particularly excited to be introducing today’s guest blogger, Farah Damji, the ever-so-eloquent author of the book Try Me, and the blog, London’s Most Dangerous Woman.

August 2006. My lost year. Sitting in a prison cell in northern England – HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire – I was very scared. This was month 15 of a 21 month sentence handed down for numerous counts of theft and perverting the course of justice. Basically, lying and stealing.

HMP Foston Hall also known as Costa del Foston is the old country pile hunting estate of the Broadhurst family. It was acquired by the Prison System in 1953, and run by an insane, wibbly-wobbly women in fake Prada heels who liked a tipple before lunch. Paddy Scriven, Governor, had worked her way up to the position. From being a lowly prison officer she now considered herself lady of the Manor, benefactress. There were a lot of lesbians at Foston Hall, both inmates and officers. The prison was run through a hierarchy of bull-dykes with warring pheromones and strange and uncomfortable alliances.

Paddy Scriven was known to be a nutter but in a prison, the governor is literally the law. Whatever they do and say goes, and, unsurprisingly Foston Hall held the dubious title of being the establishment with the highest rate of self harm and suicide attempts. It was a grim place in spite of the beautiful gardens, the petting area where Paddy used taxpayers’ money to fund her own little private farm, which she could watch from her wood-panelled office, as she lunched on food ordered in from the nearby village of Foston. No prison canteen meals for madame. An area of lawn which was kept pristine and green, no matter what the season, across which inmates were not allowed to walk as it obscured her bucolic view.

I had been hit on by inmates before. A lot of women turn “jail gay” and I understood that some women with marriages and children on the outside, in the real world needed the comfort of skin on skin and human affection. It’s a pleasant diversion, an antidote to clanging steel, the jangle of keys and the sound of long steps in endless corridors, but I hadn’t yet succumbed to the female seductions, so easily available within confined prison walls. A lot of the femme on femme affairs that flourished around me were about the sheer thrill of experiencing something “else” or just satisfying the craving for another human’s touch. I longed for the smell of my daughter’s hair, a mixture of sweat, Baby Shampoo and innocence, as much I longed to stare into my son’s almond shaped eyes, the colour of bitter chocolate, but all sexual desire seemed to have been stemmed since the gates at HMP Holloway slammed shut behind me over a year ago.

The Deputy Governor who decided on transfers was a lesbian. A modern, Sylvia Plath, lipstick-wearing lesbian . When I tried to ask her what had happened to my application to be transferred, she had greeted me with the chilling words:
“You’re the lass who absconded from Downview, aren’t you? We know all about you already.” Her slitty eyes told me that whatever she knew was the paranoid security department’s version of my exploits along with a pinch of tabloid frenzy. I felt uneasy. She was young, a good decade younger than me but I felt it was time to draw some boundaries, so that Miss Amanda Dobbs knew where we stood which each other.
“I am not a ‘lass’ and I didn’t abscond. The governor was well aware of the situation, and I have already been adjudicated for that issue. Do you have anything to add to that?”
She looked startled and stood up to her full five feet one inch in teetering heels.
“I’ll deal with you later, missy.” She spluttered and pranced off, like a chubby poodle, on her hind legs.

I went back to my cell, which was in one of four purpose built buildings, squat, double storied, each cell had its own shower cubicle and thirty women shared a communal dining room. The other women at Foston Hall were prisoners from all over the UK, the Prison Service didn’t care about shuttling women hundreds of miles from their children and families, it has no human face. If your number or your allocated time at a closed prison was up, you were moved. There was no debate to be had about it. There was no viable complaints process and nothing would be achieved by complaining, the usual answers about overcrowding and easing the population were trollied out.

I had applied to go back to Downview, where – in spite of direct intervention from the now-disgraced, former Prison Minister Tony McNulty to ensure I did not have access to computers, just in case I managed to hack into them and access the internet , although there was no internet available – I had felt safe. I no longer felt safe. The most recent move had left my emotions frazzled and I was continually nervous and upset. At least at Downview the contempt was mutual between prisoners and staff but there was a degree of respect and a sense that we all had to muck along and make the best of an awful situation. At Foston Hall, there was no consistency, rules changed according to whom was delivering the answer and how far up the food chain they were located.

I had showered and was sitting on my bed, waiting to be locked in for the night. Another day to scratch off my calendar. I was sat sewing when the cell door swung open, without a knock. This was a no-no in prison etiquette, no other prisoner would have entered my single cell without a quick rap on the metal door.

Amanda Dobbs came in and pushed the door back, behind her, into its frame, leaving it unlocked but with the lock protruding, so that I could not hold her hostage. I was always amazed how prison staff did this automatically as if hostage situations were a common occurrence. The atmosphere in a women’s prison is different to that in a male institution. Men would not put up with the way in which prison officers treat women, women just suffer generally or take it out on themselves, which explains the much higher self harm and incidents of suicide.

I had no idea why a deputy governor would want to come and talk to me. I had no idea why she sat down on the corner of my bed when there was a vacant chair just by the wooden table next to the bed. I had no idea why she edged over towards me, ruffling the prison issue green bedspread as she moved her heavy body a little closer.

My insides felt as if I was being churned, the way in which a child might shake a snow-globe, really hard, to see how long the tiny particles would stay aloft. For the first time ever, I felt completely powerless and not in control of my own fate or what might happen next. She wore a predatory look and her voice dripped with sarcasm as sticky as honey when she leered at me and said, “I received your application to transfer to Downview. It is a highly unusual request, but there are ways in which I might be persuaded to consider it…”

Click here for Farah’s book that details her shenanigans in The States that led to a stint at the notorious Rikers Island. A free downloadable chapter is also available.

"An autobiography that shocks, appals, sucks one into its consistently amoral world and then spits one out at the end dry-mouthed. Damji's book is intelligent, gutsy, full of paradox, and quite unlike any other account of the immigrant experience.” The Evening Standard.

As this is Farah's first guest appearance at Jon's Jail Journal, your comments for her would be greatly appreciated.

Click here for another female prisoner's voice: Lifer Renee.
Two Tonys is Dead

Two Tonys - A whacker of men and Mafia associate who was serving multiple life sentences for murders and violent crimes. Left bodies from Tucson to Alaska, but claimed all his victims "had it coming." His fight with liver cancer is over.

Here’s the news as expressed in an email just received from his daughter:

Just wanted to let you know that my dad passed away last night. I received a call from the chaplain this morning. I visited him last Sunday in Tucson, he was really sick. He had gotten pneumonia a couple of weeks ago, and really never recovered from it. When I saw him, he couldn't speak and didn't make much sense. I am convinced he is much better off now. That medical unit in Tucson is miserable, and he always feared spending his last days suffering there. Thank God he was only there for less then a week. Thanks so much for being a great friend to him. I know they are hard to come by in there. Keep in touch.

Click here to read Two Tonys previous letter

Some vintage Two Tonys blogs:
Bad Weather
Solving the Murder of Joe Hootner
On Jesus Christ
On Friedrich Nietzsche
TV Mourners
Little Chickadees
On Solzhenitsyn
Literature and Schlongs
Versus Ogre
First Blog

Two Tonys said that he was going to stick around long enough to read my jail memoir. He managed that, but sadly the Arizona Department of Corrections refused to give it to him. As shook up as I am (and I'm sure some of the long term readers here are) by this news, at least Two Tonys is no longer suffering in prison. I'll be carrying the memories of him, not to mention his positive mental attitude around with me for the rest of my life. 
Postcards from Long Island (9)

Long Island - Promising young cellmate I taught to trade the financial markets. Released on the 11th of December '05 and rearrested February ’08. Alleged to have committed forgery and hit an officer with a car. He’s writing from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Lower Buckeye jail.

You’re not going to believe what Sheriff Joe Arpaio is doing now. He has installed stationary exercise bikes with electric generators in each pod. When someone pedals the bike, the electricity that’s generated powers our TV’s. Arpaio was even on CNN a couple of days ago demonstrating how the bike works. He said that his inmates are too fat! We barely get enough food to survive as it is and now he wants us to pedal a bike in order to watch TV. Arpaio has got to be stopped.

A law firm named Osborn Maledon, P.A. came through here a few weeks ago and asked a few people to do food journals for an entire week and send them to them. I was one of the ones that did the journal. I recorded every item in the lunch bags and on the dinner trays, including what condition the food was in. Since then the food has gotten worse. The jail has retaliated for the investigation. He took the dessert off the dinner tray, and now we get what is commonly known as “jailhouse slop.” The Arizona Republic even did an article about it.

The inmate store gets more and more outrageously priced. Sodas that were 50 cents in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Arpaio sells the same ones here for $1.50. Stamps that are 44 cents, Arpaio is selling to us for 56 cents a piece. I don’t see how that is even legal!

Click here for Long Island’s previous blog.

Our friends inside appreciate your comments.

Post comments for Long Island below or email them to To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun Attwood
Big Issue Article Sep 6th (by Guest Blogger Andy)

Andrew Donegan's blog Wheel of Life at

I grew up as a half-caste kid on a council estate in the predominantly white rugby league town of Widnes, in a single parent family. On the only occasion I ever attended a Widnes match I was thrown out by a policeman because he suspected I had climbed over, even though I showed him my ticket. Another bad episode that stands out is when I was dragged off a bouncy castle by the scruff of my neck by an adult because I spat over the side.

When I was sentenced to nine months detention at her majesty’s pleasure at the age of twenty-seven, I lost my flat, my car, and my cherished job working with my best buddy from school, fitting luxury marble worktops in kitchens. We used to have a laugh all day long driving to posh houses, getting the job done, and driving back, all in our own time. Our clients included Raphael Benitez, Joey Barton, Stan Boardman, and one or two notorious gangsters.

As a teenager, I’d spent six months in a secure psychiatric unit with identity issues after a psychotic reaction to cannabis; prison felt like a direct continuation of that nightmare. I thought I’d matured into a reasonable adult, considering, but one thing the sentence did was solidify all the fears and doubts from my adolescence, reaffirming my suspicions that I was, indeed, simply a failure, and nothing more.

It had been tough to cope with the environment I found myself in as a sixteen year old kid, when I had to lock my door every night because one patient believed I was responsible for his mother’s death. In his delusion, I was a murderer. He would walk past me and draw a finger across his throat as if to say he was going to cut me. He would sometimes freak out at me, unprovoked, once with a boiling kettle, and have to be restrained and sedated. The strangest part was when I saw him receive a visit from said Mother one time!

My only escape was to start writing, inspired by the teenage novellas my teachers would bring in for me to read at the time. I remember writing a whole book of my own in biro pen but then losing it upon my release. I never plugged that hollow feeling of loss until eleven years later, when again I was locked up, and again I decided to write my way out of it.

The scariest event I witnessed in prison was an inmate getting dragged into a cell by a gang and slashed with razor blades because he had stolen a mobile phone. I also saw a shit-slinger launch a tub of his waste over a female officer. It was difficult turning the other cheek in the face of constant racial abuse from the cocky young offenders, but if I’d started getting involved, I would never have got out.

One afternoon, as I was typing in the education suite, the manager showed me an entry form for a writing competition. I entered some of my work and scooped prizes right across the board. Certificates were pinned to the education suite wall. Money was put into my account. I left prison having promised myself that this achievement would be the beginning, not the end. It was all I had as I tackled the prospect, and real fear, of homelessness. I was so worrisome towards the end of my sentence that I almost didn’t want to leave. I’d slept on the streets before and never wanted to again, ever.

When aged thirteen, I’d run away and slept on a roof by the river Mersey. It was the windiest, wettest place I could have picked. I sold all my Sega Megadrive games to buy food and was eventually picked up by police, four days later, after my mum had reported me missing. It was the longest four days of my life. Aged seventeen, I was hiding in a train toilet with all my worldly possessions in a bin bag, travelling from a hostel to a YMCA without knowing if there was even a place for me. I kipped a couple of nights rough on the train station until one became available. It was freezing, the time dragged, and I was hassled by the police for hanging about.

Fortunately, accommodation was arranged at the last minute when leaving prison, and I moved into a resettlement hostel. Once more I was pointed in the right direction when the resident creative tutor, who also introduced a second passion, ceramics, into my life, suggested I contact the judges of the competition I won and seek further advice and guidance. I did so, and the judge was impressed enough to invite me to take his place and help judge that year’s upcoming competition! I was sent a stack of short stories written by people around the country in various secure units and prisons and told to crack on with it! It was a sincere privilege.

The one good friend I made in prison was inspired to write himself after seeing me win, and as a judge a year afterwards, while he was still inside, I came across a story he had submitted. That was a brilliant consequence. I could identify so much with all the entrants because I had been in their exact situation. It was one thing to have my own work read and receive feedback but to be in a position to critique other peoples was even better.

I was invited to meet the rest of the board of judges and other professionals one day in Manchester. I was nervous, but in a good way. I made some excellent contacts and enjoyed a fine meal. The very next year I did it all again, only this time down in London. After meeting everybody at the Koestler Trust’s breathtaking headquarters in the old Governor’s house of Wormwood Scrubs, where over five thousand entries of various art forms are pinned to every available inch of wall, I partook in a creative writing seminar and later performed my first ever public reading at a well-attended event in the Southbank Centre, which was a giant hurdle for me to overcome. Again I made more great contacts.

On the back of that I have enjoyed my first printed short story publication in a magazine, started my own blog, and am in the process of helping create a website specifically geared towards providing information for homeless people. Writing is a solitary habit but nobody can achieve anything on their own. I plan to pursue my artistic ambitions until I am rewarded with something that resembles a living in a creative field, regardless of my previous circumstances.

I believe it is where one is going that matters, not where one is from.

Click here for Andy’s previous guest blog at Jon’s Jail Journal

Post comments and questions for Andrew below or email them to To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun Attwood
Radio Netherlands Worldwide Interview

Here's the link to the podcast. My interview by Jonathan Groubert begins 19 minutes in and finishes at 32 minutes.
Hard Time Reviews by Prisoners No. 1: Ben Gunn

I’ve mailed several prisoners copies of Hard Time. The copy mailed to the Polish Avenger was returned to sender by the Arizona Department of Corrections with no reason cited for this violation of his human rights. Copies to Two Tonys and Shane were mailed a month ago, and neither have been received. This is odd, as even Sheriff Joe Arpaio has allowed me to donate copies of Hard Time to the Maricopa County Jail library.

Fellow prison blogger, Ben Gun, had no problems with the UK prison authorities when it came to receiving his copy of Hard Time. Ben has served 30 years, and his profound understanding of the nature of prison is self evident in his review.

A severe arachnophobic reviewing a book with a cover bejewelled with cockroaches was bound to be uncomfortable...

Reading books by my fellow prisoners is often a painful and depressing experience. Lacking in self insight, or wedded to a tabloid mentality, I am rarely left informed or elevated.

Shaun has given me hope with this book. It is carefully crafted, avoiding the pitfalls of self glorification or perpetual outrage - when I would have been equally wedded to both!

How does a home counties boy, a stockbroker, find himself in the bowels of the insane mechanical machine presided over by the "Toughest Sheriff in America", Joe Arpaio?

By spreading the dubious joys of Ecstasy. I missed the rave revolution in the UK, and until Shaun arrived it seems the Americans had missed it also. Shaun went about rectifying that deficit with a vengeance. Having escaped the law and retired from the party scene, he returned to a quiet, professional existence only to have it shattered by the rude arrival of the SWAT.

And so began a slow descent into Arpaio's dominion. A series of institutions built of concrete but fuelled by an officially inculcated hatred and indifference. It is noted, but not stressed, that many of the prisoners debased by Arpaio are on remand - that is, innocent.

Shaun has not fallen into the trap of unleashing a big picture campaign upon us in this book. Rather, he patiently details the daily life of himself and his co-prisoners and allows us to react with the obvious judgement.

It is difficult to explain imprisonment, even harder to give any outsider a genuine sense of the experience. Shaun manages to do so. From the slow, confusing and terrifying introduction that is intake processing, through daily survival and his trial.

Along the way we learn about “red death” and “chomos”...and the thousand small ways in which violence can be induced, inflicted or avoided. Those new to prison will be fascinated by the social structures, the gangs, the interpersonal encounters that must be managed if survival is the aim.

This is not dryly related, this time in a modern cesspit is born out of that most precious of the writer’s gifts, the ability to weave a picture out of words with such delicacy that we can close our eyes and see just what is being shown to us.

This is not the Gulag Archipelago, and the better for that. Analysis of the greatest carceral complex on Earth has been avoided, as has any detailed dissection of the legal system in America. Shaun has delivered us a carefully crafted descriptive account of his time in Arpaio's jail, and leaves the reader to place it in their own moral framework.

Every word, each picture painted by Shaun grabs you by the hackles and holds your face up to the horrible reality of imprisonment. And you won't be able to close your eyes, whether out of morbid fascination, disgust or a passion to know the next event.

Perhaps most importantly, Shaun makes those subjected to official inhumanity - and those who have committed inhuman acts - into human beings. His ability to bring the people who surrounded him to life gives us a genuine sense of his situation in prison, and in making the prisoners into human beings rather than a reflection their situation, Shaun highlights the travesty of Arpaio's regime.

This book is a joy, on so many levels, and I hope that it entertains and informs every reader as much as it did me.

Ben Gunn "Prisoner Ben"

I’d like to thank Ben for expressing himself so eloquently. Ben’s Prison Blog is well worth a read. Amazingly, his blog readers recently saved the day when the prison tried to cut the funding for his PhD.

Click her for Ben's guest bog at Jon's Jail Journal

Hard Time at Amazon UK. Hard Time at the Book Depository.