Published on Tuesday 3 January 2012 14:04
When a SWAT team broke down the door of Shaun Attwood’s American home and arrested him for drug offences, he couldn’t deny the accusations against him.
He had been living a party lifestyle, organising raves, taking drugs himself and getting other people to sell them for him.
But although he was willing to hold his hands up and admit his mistakes, he had no idea how gruelling his punishment would be.
Shaun ended up in Maricopa County Jail, the prison with the highest death rate in America, in such unimaginably appalling conditions he came close to a nervous breakdown.
He had a cell mate who put a padlock in a sock and threatened to smash his brains out with it while he slept.
He heard prisoners’ heads being smashed
against toilet bowls by other inmates, and each night had to suffer cockroaches crawling all over him.
Shaun, 43, said: “There are various gangs
divided on race lines. I was approached by the white gang, called the Aryan Brotherhood
, and asked what my charges were. If you are in for paedophile crimes, or offences against women or children then you are KOS - Kill on Sight.”
“I saw prisoners being stretchered out with horrific head injuries.”
Once when his family were coming to visit, Shaun was beaten up by a gang member.
“You have to fight back and try to defend yourself. If you don’t fight back then they all pile in,” he said. Shaun spent nearly six years in prison, including time in maximum security after his bail was raised to $1.5m.
“Lock down was 8pm and lights out was 10pm. Just before the lights went out you could see the cockroaches
getting ready to come out and as soon as it went dark they swarmed all over the cell.”
“You could wrap yourself up in your sheet like a mummy, with just a breathing hole left for your mouth, but it was 50c heat and so hot that you ended up having to throw the sheet off and just let them crawl all over you. They didn’t bite but they go into your ears as well to get the wax.”
“The heat gave everyone skin infections as well and people would have sores full of pus.”
Shaun was unable to sleep at night and was near to a nervous breakdown when he was put on sleeping tablets.
He told his incredible story to around 400 students aged 16 to 18 at Worksop’s North Notts College.
Friendly and well-dressed, Shaun believes that not looking like a sterotypical ex-con helps teenagers to relate to him.
“I was a model student at school. I went to sixth form and then to Liverpool University where I graduated in business studies.”
“I think they can see that if this could happen to me, it could happen to them if they start getting involved in drugs.”
Shaun, originally from Widnes in Cheshire, moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1990 after graduating. He had two aunties living there and was intoxicated at first by the lifestyle.
“I got a job as a stock broker and for the first two years worked really hard and lived on cheese on toast and bananas. But then I started making a lot of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and became a millionaire during the dot com bubble of 1999.”
“I had been taking recreational drugs since getting involved in raves in Manchester in 1989. It was part of the stock market lifestyle in America, people took stuff at their desks.”
Shaun says the prison experience has changed his life completely.
“When I was in prison my sister gave me a book on yoga and I got into meditation, which helped me. I was very lucky to have the support of my family and my biggest regret is what I put them through.”
“I did 119 talks last academic year, all over the country, and I’ll be doing more this year. I’m hoping to improve my karma by doing something good.”
“Teachers have told me that the hardest to reach students are the ones who stay behind to ask me questions and I had an email from a student who said she had been dabbling in drugs but had given up after hearing my talk.”
Shaun wrote a prison blog called Jon’s Jail Journal, which put the spotlight on conditions within the jail, and has also written a book called Hard Time.
Angela Adams, head of students services at the college, booked Shaun to speak. She said: “You would have to have your head in the sand to think that no teenagers are dabbling in drugs in Worksop and this talk is part of a series on being safe.”
Click here for info on my talk to schools on drugs and prison