Question Time

Email from a student:

Dear Mr. Attwood,
Many thanks for a very interesting talk you gave us at Kingswood School. I didn't get the chance to ask you questions, so can I ask how did you adjust to life outside of prison? Did you want to keep up the friendships with the inmates in prison, some of who you knew had committed some really awful crimes? And also, were you ever tempted to take drugs while in prison, as you must have found it hard to give up drugs when you went into prison?  

My response:

Adjusting to life outside of prison was strange because I had to readjust from what I'd grown accustomed to in prison, which is an abnormal way of existence. For almost six years, I was dependent on the prison to meet my basic needs: food, shelter, clothing... Outside of dodging threats, I spent most of my time reading and writing. As a free person, I had responsibilities to deal with. Luckily, I had my parents house to go to and their support. I stayed with them for my first year. My mum said in the beginning I was like a puppy dog following her around the house, awaiting orders. It took about a year for me to return to normal and to gain the confidence to move out of my parents' house and to start to rebuild my life.    

Yes, I have kept friendships with the prisoners I met inside, some of whom murdered people. I'm not justifying murder, but there is a hierarchy among the murderers in accordance with the circumstances of their crimes. For example, my friend, Two Tonys, was serving 112 years. He murdered rival gangsters, which earned him a lot of respect in prison. In the gangster world, each gangster knows that he may have to kill a rival or he could be killed at any time by a rival. By choosing to be a gangster, they accept and live with that risk. Having lived through some tough times with prisoners such as Two Tonys for years, I bonded with them for life. My prison friends such as Two Tonys also protected me from certain threats. 

Although surrounded by drugs in prison, I wasn't tempted to do them. Most of the prisoners were shooting up heroin and crystal meth and had diseases such as hepatitis C from sharing dirty needles. I saw the end result of drug use: death, despair, illness... I regretted sending people down that road by dealing drugs. It usually ends up devastating not just the users, but also their long-suffering families, whom I saw at Visitation. I started doing drugs as a shy student to socialize because I lacked the strength of mind to enjoy myself sober. The prison psychotherapist, Dr. Owen, taught me  to channel my energy into positive things, which is what I do now via writing, karate, gym classes, yoga and meditation. I'm naturally happy these days and no longer feel the need to take drugs.

Shaun Attwood

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