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


JM said...

so many people seem outraged at the conditions of the jail. i wonder how they would feel to know that places like adboe mt were worse in 1990 and this is how they treat our children, not just adults. imagine being a child having to endure what shaun did. im very passionate about fighting child abuse because of what i experienced in the arizona dept of corrections as a child. kudos for shaun exposing these conditions and helping people like me to feel that i can do the same.

Jon said...

thanks, bio! many of the prisoners i met were abused as children, it really messes peoples lives up

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that Peter didn't appreciate the dark humour and excellent prose in Hard Time. I think he may be prejudiced against 'rich Brits' that get in trouble. He may not want to read about prison but many more people,including myself, have been enthralled with Hard Time and couldn't put it down. Please read it and judge for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Are Not Shut Up magazine going to run any more reviews of Hard time to balance out this one? It seems such ashame that the reviews so far have been unanimously positive, yet prisoners - who may well enjoy reading Hard Time the most - may now be put off due to this review.


Anonymous said...

hi shaun, i wouldnt take this as a slamming, i would take out this "i wish for every person who reads this book to write a letter to sheriff joe arpaio urging him to improve the conditions in the jail." These words alone are a great review


Jon said...

He seems to start and end slamming it, Charlie, but like you have pointed out, he does drop some things in there that are positive, but in a reluctant way.

Shannon Clark said...

Hi Shaun-I did write this to you personally but I want to write it publicly...remember this is an inmate writing. Your book is really aimed at the general public, who have absolutely no bloody idea what goes on behind bars. I mailed it to a friend, tried to tell her about the story, and she cut me off. But this is an issue that isn't going away. Most people can't even wrap their heads around the idea of having a child incarcerated or friends, anyone close to them, let alone dealing with the situations on the inside. To someone who sees it every day, it may not mean much. But to many more who need hope or need to know, this is the truth. Not everyone will like it or like you. It's ok. Just keep putting it out there.

Anonymous said...

the inmate who wrote this review is jaded and hardened by his circumstances, Don't be discouraged.

Chris H said...

Big Dawg

Hmm. I don't know how to feel about this review.

On the one hand, I'm extremely biased towards you and your work. I've enjoyed your work for years and as such get a red haze when it's given a poor review (so much so that I had to take a moment before I put this together without swears).

But when I take a deep breath and think about it properly, it's not really a slamming review. He doesn't get your humour, not everyone finds the same things funny and it'd be a pretty boring world if they did. He felt for you and not with you, well to me that's just because he's been there already and wasn't being told anything he didn't already know - how are you supposed to bring someone along on a personal journey if they've done that journey already?

On the whole, the red haze still wins out. I think he's a douche and don't think you need to worry about his criticism against the majority of good reviews. That being said, everyone is (I suppose) entitled to their own opinion and if YOU choose to take something from it and grow as a writer from that - more power to you.

Hugs & kisses

Chris H

Wigarse said...


Small point of correction: Ben Gunn is most definitely not an "ex" prisoner. I wish he were :(

Ben's Prison Blog

Jon said...

Thanks, Cat & Babs.

I don't know if Not Shut Up are prepared to run another review to balance this viewpoint out. If UK prisoners have access to what the ex prisoner Erwin James and serving prisoner Ben Gunn have written about Hard Time then they probably won't be put off by this review. The founder of NSU had not read Hard Time when this review went to print. He has a copy now, and I would be interested in his opinion of the book.

There will be more reviews from prisoners coming in soon, including 2 from America.

Hugh Stoddart said...

Hi All
As editor of NOT SHUT UP I would like to add that a review has to be a personal opinion. It's not necessarily mine and if i asked for another review, the implication would be I am interfering to push a different opinion! It's arguable, as Peter implies himself. that Shaun's book isn't aimed at people who are imprisoned themselves but I like to keep as much of the writing of the magazine in the hands of prisoners or ex-prisoners. Without wishing to stoke up the debate, our Board of Trustees, who give prizes for the five best pieces of work in each issue, felt Peter's review was thoughtful and well-expressed (which is not the same thing as agreeing with his opinion) and gave it a prize!

Anonymous said...

As editor of NOT SHUT UP I ought to emphasise that a review has to be a personal opinion and if I asked for another review the implication would be I wanted to impose my opinion! Peter is honest about his view being very affected by his own situation. Without wishing to fuel the debate, I ought to add that our trustees, who award prizes to the five best pieces of work in each issue, felt Peter deserved one; not because they necessarily agreed with his opinion but because they felt it was a thoughtful and well-expressed piece of writing. I might add too that I’m a writer and I know reviews can sometimes sting. I hope Shaun is focusing on the good ones and doubtless there have been many. Hugh Stoddart