Question Time

Hello Shaun,

I am a student at Barton Peveril College, which you visited a few months ago. Firstly I would like to say how engaging and interesting your talk was and I was telling all of my friends about it afterwards! This encouraged me to buy your book which I have just finished reading recently. If you don't mind, I have a few questions that I thought of whilst reading your book. I hope there's not too many for you to answer.

We are now studying 'Beliefs' in Sociology and I noticed how both you and Wild Woman turned to religion to help you cope with your time in prison. Why do you think this helped you? It sounds strange but do you ever think it was almost destiny that took you to prison in order to become a better person than you would have been without the experience?

Meditation helped me tremendously. It calmed my mind down. Facing a life sentence, I couldn’t stop worrying if I’d ever be free again. The uncertainty was the hardest part of the punishment. My brain was constantly in overdrive, releasing unhealthy stress hormones such as cortisol, pushing me to the brink of mental exhaustion and madness. Meditating for months on end, sometimes for several hours, short-circuited the negative thought loop I was stuck on. My brain went quiet. I felt altered states of consciousness. The end result was less stress and unhealthy hormones. Meditation is a powerful coping tool.
Yes, I often think that destiny took me to jail to make me become a better person, and I wonder where destiny is leading me now.

Another thing that really got to me was the violence that you described. After your presentation I actually went on YouTube and looked at one of the videos which I had to stop halfway through because it was too harrowing. You mentioned you became desensitised to it but were you always detached from it or did you find yourself following the same mind set as the other prisoners?

At first, I went into shock. Most of the newcomers had the same look as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing in a world that revolved around violence. Over months, seeing daily acts of violence made the shock wear off, until I had what the prisoners call “dead eyes” – a face not showing any emotional weakness or sensitivity. It’s a mask prisoners wear as they learn, often the hard way, that weakness is quickly exploited by predators.  

Finally, I would just like to ask your view on the current prison system both in the UK and USA. Personally I feel it doesn't work as it leads to the same problems just in a more confined space and leads prisoners to lead a deviant career without changing their behaviour in the future. Do you think you would have benefitted more from a different form of punishment or know of those who you think would have?

I benefitted from my punishment, but most I saw did not. In America, the justice system is simply a business model for various interests, including private prisons and politicians, to make money by exploiting mostly non-violent drug offenders, people with addiction issues who need treatment. They are often non-whites from poor neighbourhoods who can’t afford to defend themselves with pricey lawyers. They are further criminalised in prison, where violence and drugs are a way of life. They get out unemployable and commit more crimes, which keeps the prison industries in business.   

I won't be expecting you to be able to answer all of my questions but I was very inspired by your experience and also found myself questioning similar things whilst studying 'Crime and Deviance' in Sociology. I would be really grateful if you would be able to answer just a few.
Best wishes,

Chloe Lebbern

A2 Student at Barton Peveril College, Eastleigh

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Shaun Attwood

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