Greetings from the Abyss by Jack (Part 15)

Jack is serving life without parole, and has terminal cancer. Throughout my incarceration, Jack was a positive influence. He encouraged me to keep writing, to enter short-story competitions, and we proofread each other’s chapters. Jack is seeking pen pals, so anyone interested please email me at for his details.

How are things in your corner of the world?

Another float-building season has come and gone. This one was fraught with strife and animosity. Several of the prisoners either quit or refused to work on the float. There are several reasons behind this but chief among them is the pay issue. DOC decided that WISE Aides (the job we hold) are to be considered as semi-skilled labor. Because of this designation, our pay scale tops out at 45 cents an hour, but then DOC rigged the system so that no one could achieve the maximum pay in their assigned work area, which further reduced our pay to 40 cents an hour. This lower hourly wage coupled with, in some cases, up to 52% of the inmates’ pay being withheld for various things reduced the take-home pay of some inmates to less than $14 every 2 weeks for 80 hours of work.
We are expected to turn out high-quality hand-crafted furniture basically for free. A lot of the items we are building are personal items for the cops. We are getting orders from all over the state, but we are considered semi-skilled.

Then to top it off, quite a bit of the money that is deducted from us is not going where DOC says it is going. As an example, I’m a lucky one as I only lose 6% of my wages to these bogus expenses. One percent is a handling fee for DOC to process the wages they pay me. Five percent is for a non-existent drug rehab program. Even if the program were real, over 98% of the prison population is ineligible to participate. This begs the question of where is the money going? Of the 40,000 inmates in the system, at least 10,000 have jobs. 5,000 make the maximum of semi-skilled or skilled, which puts their 5% at approximately $3.20 a month. Multiply that by 5,000 inmates and you have $16,000 a month or $192,000 a year. Not bad money for a program that no one can attend when it is being run at all. You would think that in today’s tough economic situation someone would question the excess that is the prison budget. 

Shaun Attwood      

UK native Shaun Attwood shares experience in Maricopa County Jail (by Kelcie Grega)

A big thank you to Kelcie Grega for this article in the Arizona State Press:   

Shaun Attwood came to Phoenix in 1991 from a small industrial town in England with the intent of becoming rich stockbroking.

However, after feeling burnt out from the stressful job, Attwood began using Ecstasy. That choice would change his life forever.

“We were so arrogant when we were running around and doing these drugs,” he said. “We used to joke around that were above the law, and we felt we were living like this ‘Pulp Fiction’ style of life.”

Attwood was later arrested and spent six years in jails in Arizona, which prompted him to start a blog and, after his release, publish a book.

Attwood said England was in a recession when he finished school.

“I had two aunts living in Phoenix, and they said, ‘It’s booming out here, just hop on a plane, and you’ll easily get a job with your accent,’” he said. “I didn’t have any money. I just came here with my student credit card.”

As a stockbroker, Attwood said it took him five years to be the biggest producer in the office where he worked. He was grossing $500,000 in commission a year.

“I became a millionaire,” he said. “I had enough money to retire, and I put that money into retirement shares.”

Attwood said he eventually started to feel burnt out from the stockbroking business. Getting up early to accommodate the New York business hours made him want to turn to some kind of relief.

Party time

Attwood said it was the stress that pushed him into the party scene.

“I started to remember doing Ecstasy as a student, and I wanted to get that feeling again to sort of relieve some of the stress I was having,” he said.

Attwood said he started dealing Ecstasy in Tempe.

“I was getting Ecstasy for me and my friends,” he said “We were having a little apartment party in Rancho Murietta behind the Quadrangle Village in Tempe, Arizona.”

Attwood said more and more people started showing up to parties and that he was practically giving the drugs away at first because he wanted to show off.

“I thought I was Mr. Cool Guy from all the attention I was getting,” he said. “At the time, I had more money than common sense.”

Attwood said he started to see the business potential from drug dealing and applied everything he had learned from his business studies to dealing Ecstasy. Under the influence of drugs, he was having the time of his life.

“When you make these decisions on drugs, you think it is the most brilliant idea in the world,” he said. “The drugs are telling you that you’re going to get away with it and that you are Mr. Cool Guy.”

Attwood said that was how he began competing with Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and how he started to get serious threats from him.

Attwood said Sammy “The Bull” set up his Ecstasy ring while he was in Tempe.

“I met his son while I was in prison, and his son told me that he had been dispatched as part of a team to kidnap me from a nightclub and kill me,” he said. “They had just missed me that night.”

Because he was on drugs, he didn’t comprehend all of the dangerous situations he had put himself in, Attwood said.

When Attwood started getting death threats from competitors, he began to realize the dangers of his new lifestyle. He said the money he was getting wasn’t worth jeopardizing his safety.

“I met a young woman who would later become my girlfriend, and she steered me away from drugs,” he said. “I actually settled down and got an apartment in Scottsdale with her and thought I had gotten away with everything.”

Locked up

Attwood said it wasn’t his brightest idea to break the law in Arizona.

A year after he quit the Ecstasy business, a SWAT team came and arrested him at his apartment in Scottsdale.

“I was naïve to the statute of limitations at the time,” Attwood said.

Attwood was sentenced for nine-and-a-half years and ended up serving six of them.

“If I had gone to trial and lost, they would have stacked all my charges to a maximum 200-year sentence,” he said.

Attwood said his parents had to remortgage their house to come up with $100,000 to get a private lawyer.

“If you don’t have a private lawyer, you’re basically hung out to dry,” he said.

Jail was all about raw survival. Attwood said he was cramped into cells where violence was constantly breaking out.

“People’s heads were getting smashed against toilets, bodies (were) thrown around and everything you had in your everyday life just goes straight out the window,” he said.

Attwood said in the beginning, he pined for his old lifestyle and resented getting caught. However, he said that over time, jail did him a lot of good.

“It made me see the harm drug dealing causes people,” he said. “Most of the guys in jail were all drug addicts, and they were further down the road of drug use than me.”

Attwood said two-thirds of those incarcerated were shooting up heroin and crystal meth and that many of them had Hepatitis C from sharing needles.

“I was constantly worried that someone was going to smash me,” he said. “I’m not a tough guy, and if I had been there on my own, I would not have survived.”

Former ASU student Allan MacDonald was in jail with Shaun. He said he had heard that there was an Englishman in the yard and people wanted to scam him.

MacDonald said that he asked Attwood to start going to “dinner with him.”

“In jail, that means, ‘He’s with us,’” MacDonald said.

MacDonald said he thinks Attwood is a good guy and that he simply made an error in judgment.

“He is an honest person who is trying to make amends for what he did,” he said. “His only weakness is that he is naïve and will believe anybody.”

Joe’s Jail

MacDonald said he has sued Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio several times.

“He is a piece of work,” he said. “He doesn’t think the Constitution applies to him.”

Arpaio is known by many for his tough stance on illegal immigration, as well as crime. He has proclaimed himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”

According to Maricopa County Risk Management, more than 6,000 claims and lawsuits have been filed against Arpaio since he was elected in 1993.

Maricopa County has had to pay $1.5 million  to settle two federal lawsuits against Arpaio after he was accused of unethical and unconstitutional tactics.

MacDonald said despite all that has happened, he is not angry with Arpaio anymore.

Attwood said green bologna and moldy bread was the breakfast.

“Sometimes they were these crazy psychedelic colors and they looked like works of art,” he said. “But we were so hungry that we just brushed off the mold and put it in water to get it down.”

Attwood said the evening meal was called “red death” by many of the inmates.

“It looked like vomit blended with blood, he said. “It had all kinds of random meat in it, and it stunk.”

Attwood said he remembers one occasion where he found a dead rat, which a guard said was a potato, in his food.

During the 26 months he was in jail, Attwood said he lost 28 pounds.

“I was basically living off peanut butter and Snickers bars,” he said.

Attwood said whenever Arpaio came into the jail, everyone would start yelling and screaming obscenities at him.

He would come in with bodyguards who he calls “The Goon Squad” and they would threaten the prisoners, he said.

“Some of the guards said they couldn’t stand the guy,” he said. “One of them came up to me and said the real world doesn’t understand what’s going on in here.”

That’s what motivated him to write about his experiences on a blog, Jon’s Jail Journal, under a pseudonym to hide his identity.

Attwood said he was allowed a small pencil and he wrote what he saw and then smuggled the journal entries to his aunt. His family members typed what he wrote into the blog.

“It was so hot in there and to this day, the paper on which I wrote my experiences on is all wrinkled from my sweat,” he said.

Journey through literature

Attwood said he went through a big psychological journey and read many different books to understand himself, which really changed the way he thought.

“In the jail system, it was very difficult to get books,” he said. “But once I was sentenced and sent to prison, I was allowed some books.”

Attwood said he was only allowed seven books in his cell.

“At one point, readers of my blog sent so many books, they were delivered to me in a wheelbarrow,” he said. “The guard who brought them to me said he would turn the other way and let me have them all.”

Attwood said thanks to the kindness of blog readers around the world, the prison library was filled with quality books.

“It was a ‘Shawshank Redemption’ moment,” he said.

Attwood said his sister has a degree in classical literature, and when he told her in 2006 that he had read 264 books that year, she couldn’t believe it.

“Her exact words were, ‘You lucky bugger,’” he said.

English lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski read Attwood’s blog, which she found when it was named “Best Prison Blog” by the Phoenix New Times.

“I learned within the first 30 minutes of perusing through his blog that he was a fantastic writer,” she said. “He could craft a narrative and tell a human story with humor and authenticity in a way that I’ve never really read before and my thought was, ‘I have to talk to this guy,’”

Dombrowski said they talked a lot about writing, philosophy and spirituality through letters.

“I felt like we were peers and we were friends, and we were both struggling to become vegetarians,” she said. “After I got to know him a little bit, I started to recommend books to him.”

She said she would mail him books through Amazon.

Dombrowski said she recently reconnected with Attwood on Facebook and was really happy to do so because upon his release, he was deported back to the U.K.

“I was pretty certain that I was never going to meet him face-to-face at that point,” she said.

Dombrowski said two years ago, she had a freshman come into her office during the first week of classes and said, “I wanted to meet you personally because you were mentioned in Shaun Attwood’s prison memoir.”

“I was unbelievably flattered,” she said. “It was my Facebook status for the next month.”


Attwood said people coming into and leaving prison get this crazy expression on their faces because of all the emotional undercurrents.

“I’m wondering how I’m going to adjust,” he said. “When I was finally released, it took me about a year to finally start thinking normally again.”

Attwood said in jail, he was conditioned to react to certain things and he had to readjust to everyday life. He said he remembers following his mother around like a puppy dog awaiting orders.

Today, Attwood gives more than 100 talks a year at schools and colleges.

“Kids don’t listen to their parents or teachers about drugs, but they seem to pay attention when I tell them my own story,” he said.

Attwood said talking to schools has helped restore his karma from all the mistakes he has made in the past.

“I can’t change my past, so all I can do is move forward,” he said.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @KelcieGrega

Sky News Interview on Thursday

Tomorrow morning I'm chatting live with Eamonn Holmes at the Sky News London studio. It's at 8.10am (UK time) and can be watched online here:
The discussion is about the hundreds of Britons in foreign jails on drug charges.

Shaun Attwood 

Greetings from the Abyss by Jack (Part 14)

Jack is serving life without parole, and has terminal cancer. Throughout my incarceration, Jack was a positive influence. He encouraged me to keep writing, to enter short-story competitions, and we proofread each other’s chapters. Jack is seeking pen pals, so anyone interested please email me at for his details.

I wish that I could say that I am doing OK health wise, but that would be a lie. I can’t remember if I mentioned to you or not, but the prison has cut off my pain medication. It has become progressively more difficult with the passing of each day. I usually get up at 4am. That’s the time I feel the best and it’s the easiest to get around. It varies day to day but usually by 11am I’m in so much pain it’s difficult to function with any sense of normalcy. Frankly, I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. I’m due to go back to the oncologist in January, right now that seems a long time off. The end of this month will mark three years since I was first diagnosed with cancer. During this time it has been a constant battle for proper care. I am sure that my frustration of dealing with them has contributed to my current situation. Shaun, the way I feel now makes me question continuing with treatment. At the moment, I do not see the benefit of prolonging my agony. What exactly is the use of undergoing all of the chemo treatments if I must endure this constant pain?  Add to this the knowledge that this type of cancer will just continue to reoccur, and I will have to deal with these same pain management issues for years to come makes me question the reasonableness of this course of action. At least this isn’t a decision I must make today.

Shaun Attwood

Conversations with a Dead Man (Part 2 by Weird Al)

When the Mexican federal police captured me and my American partner in my pot-growing venture, we were taken to the town of Uruapan. Over the course of the next few days, they began to round up and arrest Mexican citizens who they thought were involved in my nefarious deeds. They put them with us in a police compound. All told, including my friend Jack, they brought in nine people. Five of whom I had never met in my life. They didn’t even know my name nor I theirs.

During the day we were free to roam the compound and at night we were locked into two small rooms. After a few days, two of the Mexican nationals they brought in escaped at night by simply getting out of their room and climbing over the compound wall. Needless to say, my captors were none too thrilled about this and from that day forward they handcuffed us together at night while we were locked in these two rooms. I was always handcuffed to my friend, Jack.

The compound itself was a strange place. Under a two-story covered part was stacked up at least ten tons of marijuana. We felt free to pilfer small amounts for our personal use. The police knew we were doing this but did not seem to mind in the least. When we grew hungry, we were allowed to send out for food from a local restaurant provided I paid for it.

The police who had us were a strange lot, friendly one minute, brutal the next, often times apologizing for the brutality saying it was only their job, nothing personal.  I did not know about the others, but I did take being tortured personally. Although for the most part they were far more violent with the Mexican citizens than with Americans, I nonetheless got a pretty good taste of some of their “questioning” skills. The very first day they had me my right elbow was broken with a rifle butt. It still at times bothers me to this day.

I was also subjected several times to the Mexican version of water-boarding.  What they did was this: A popular mineral water was given several good shakes while still sealed in the glass bottle. A towel was stuffed into my mouth, so I could only breathe through my nose.  I was tilted backwards in a chair. They poked a small hole in the bottle cap and shot the bubbly water up my nose. The sensation was akin to drowning and burning at the same time – a tad uncomfortable to say the least.

After about eight or nine days of this, Jack was brought back to our cell about dusk. They had been very hard on Jack that day and he was clearly in a great deal of pain. When I awakened the next morning, Jack’s cold dead eyes were staring at the ceiling. As usual, I was still handcuffed to Jack. I went crazy.  Absolutely barking mad.  I began screaming at the guards that I would kill all of them. They were afraid to even come near me and as such I remained handcuffed to Jack’s dead body for the next day or so. Being handcuffed to a dead man creates many logistical problems. Going to the bathroom for instance. I was so crazy that I began talking to Jack and thought he was answering back. It was the closest I have come to pure insanity in my entire life. Dead people can, at times, have quite a lot to say.

About two days after the handcuffs were removed, which had connected me to my dead friend, the Federal police who had questioned me flew me back to Guadalajara in a private twin-engine aircraft and placed me in a local jail. A few days after that I was transferred to a Mexican prison, where I spent the next two years trying to escape. The Federal police’s last words to me were, “Gringo, the next time you come to our mountains, you need to work with us. If you buy one ton of marijuana from us we will give you another ton for free.” Believe me, they were quite serious. I know because I later took them up on their offer.

The author of this blog entry, Weird Al, was deathly sick a few months ago. He’s presently in a nursing home battling hepatitis C. Please support Weird Al at his  Facebook page. His email is:  

Shaun Attwood

Greetings from the Abyss by Jack (Part 13)

Jack is serving life without parole, and has terminal cancer. Throughout my incarceration, Jack was a positive influence. He encouraged me to keep writing, to enter short-story competitions, and we proofread each other’s chapters. Jack is seeking pen pals, so anyone interested please email me at for his details.

Hello, my friend. How are you today? Well, I hope

DOC has just hit us with a new change to policy concerning the receipt of food securepaks and books. We will no longer be able to receive these things from just anyone. We will only be allowed them from individuals on our pre-approved visitor list. The term DOC used was “authorized adult visitors.” DOC’s reasoning is that it will cut down on the ability of drug users to pay their debts through the securepak system. It’s faulty logic if you ask me. There are many different ways to circumvent this issue, and all DOC has done is cause a momentary irritation that will probably lead to more assaults until the new pay off method is worked out. Personally, I’d like to see some verified statistics that justify this move. Sounds more like the typical knee-jerk DOC reaction. Anyway, thank you for the securepaks you sent. They were appreciated and always a pleasant surprise.

On a writing note: the last best seller to go on to be a blockbuster movie is Cassandra Claire’s The Mortal Instrument. Real name Judith Lewis, represented by Simon and Schuster. Two books in this series have gone to #1 worldwide. I mention this as something for you to consider. I realize it would be pandering to the masses, but sometimes it is necessary to try several different avenues. While I haven’t read Claire’s books yet, I’ve read the first five of R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series and understand the appeal. I guess what I’m saying is don’t pigeonhole yourself. You have the natural ability, so flex your muscles and give it a try.

I received your letter and printouts this week. Draft chapter 1 of your new self-help book reads well. I had to read it a couple of times to reach that decision though. The section with you moving to Tucson into a gated guarded community didn’t read smoothly for me at first, but after going back over it, I think it was more my own flawed perception than anything to do with your sentence structure.

It must be nice to have your own meditation master to guide you in the UK. I have to admit that I have not dedicated as much time to my own meditations as I once did, or that I would prefer to do now. All the usual excuses apply but none bear repeating here. The journey you are on can be as difficult or easy as you make it, once again it comes down to you and your choices. This seems to run through everything in life.

I have enclosed some poems from JR who you met during your time here.

Time to go my friend. I hope you are well and happy. Take care and tell all I said Hi and wish them the best.

Always yours,


Two poems from JR:


All things of love and intimacy
Held just out of reach
Only serve to stalk my sanity
I wonder, What do you hope to teach?
You’ve compounded my hatred
Keeping all I love at bay
Have you turned me into a sociopath
So you can point at me and say –
“Look at that hardened criminal
Full of anger and hate!”
But you know I was quite the opposite
Before I walked through your front gate!

This Cruel Place

In this cruel place
Where hate runs rampant
Far away from society
Outcasts of the human race
Touch the fringe
Of lost sanity
Unlucky recipient
Of pent-up anger
Now gone to meet his maker
His spirit now roams
A much better place –
His body’s with the undertaker

To leave this cruel place
As you once were
Is but an elusive dream
With feelings of loneliness
Hate, anger and despair
Everything’s changed, or it will seem

Someday soon, maybe
You will get out
They will say: “You now are free!”
But the inner reality
Is that it will take many years
To shed what’s inside of me.

Shaun Attwood

Prison Riot

From my jail memoir, Hard Time, here's the full account of the jail race riot I described in the Sky TV news interview 

While on the phone in the day room, I noticed men gathering suspiciously on the balcony. Most of the blacks were engrossed in a card game downstairs, as three torpedoes [gang members] – a white, a Mexican, and a Mexican American – entered an upstairs’ cell, where the head of the blacks, who was called SmackDown, lived. More torpedoes guarded the stairs.

“Each of the races have decided you’ve gotta go, SmackDown,” yelled the white torpedo, a tough forty-year-old ranch hand from Nebraska. “Now roll yer stuff up!”
“For doing what? Who wants me to roll up?” SmackDown yelled, shifting away from them.
“Come on, SmackDown, let’s do this the easy way, dawg.”
“I ain’t rolling up!”

The white torpedo dashed behind SmackDown, while the other two approached from the front. He put SmackDown in an upright headlock while they punched SmackDown’s head and stomach. SmackDown lurched backwards, sandwiching the white torpedo between himself and the wall. SmackDown flicked his head forwards and then backwards, instantly breaking the white torpedo’s nose. Noisy crosses, jabs, and uppercuts fermented into a bloody mess. The yelling and pounding of knuckles against flesh caught the attention of the blacks, who charged half way up the stairs before the torpedoes began pushing them down. One of the blacks weighed almost 30 stone, and he fell down the stairs, knocking men out of the way like a bowling ball striking pins, dragging more men into the fight. Two of the blacks fought their way past the torpedoes and onto the balcony. Inmates of all races emerged from the upper-tier cells and fought those two blacks. The battle for the stairs was raging below them, and the fight at the bottom of the stairs was spreading throughout the day room. Several blacks were still trying to gain ground on the stairs until a hefty Mexican American attacked them from behind with a mop stick. Everywhere I looked a black man was bravely fending off multiple assailants.

Officer Mordhorst turned the phone lines off. “Lockdown! Lockdown now!” he yelled over the speaker system. “This is a direct order: lockdown right now!” Everyone ignored him, so he suited up a gas mask.

Knowing Mordhorst was on his way to the day room to spray us all, I tried to get up the stairs behind my cellmates, Troll and Doug, who were struggling to elbow through the fighting men. Struck by flailing arms, I raised my forearms to shield my face. Progress was impossible: we’d advance a few steps and get pushed back down. The torpedoes at the top of the stairs were pushing the blacks down onto the rest of us. I’d never been in the thick of a room full of people fighting. Caught up in the atmosphere, I was soon elbowing and pushing men of all races away with increased force. I felt the rush of the battle as I did what was necessary to try to get up the stairs. Also motivating me was fear of Officer Mordhorst who was descending the control-tower stairs, wielding a giant canister, seconds away from entering the day-room door directly behind me.

Sane guards waited for backup before entering a riot situation, but not Mordhorst.  Watching over him in the control tower, Officer Alston activated the sliding door to our pod. As Officer Alston yelled “Lockdown!” over and over, Mordhorst turned sideways to get through the half-open door, and charged into the day room. The Mexican pulling ninja moves with the mop stick was the first to be sprayed. An awful smell assaulted us, as if a thousand bird’s-eye chillies were being deseeded all at once. The spray scattered the men from the stairs. Falling over each other, eyes smarting, my cellmates and I rushed into cell D10, and slammed the door. From the safety of the cell, I watched Mordhorst, resembling an invader from World War II, dashing around spraying the combatants as if fumigating vermin. Coughing and wheezing prisoners rushed into cells. Many locked down in the nearest cells they could find just to escape from Mordhorst. The Mexican and Mexican American torpedoes slipped out of SmackDown’s cell just before Mordhorst got there. Mordhorst locked the door, and sprayed the cell for a good few minutes.

“I’m freaking blind! I’m blind!” SmackDown kept yelling.
By the time backup guards charged into Tower 6, Mordhorst had put out half of the riot. The backup guards dragged out anyone still fighting.
“My eyes are killing,” I said, panting by the cell door.
“Wet your towel and wrap it around your head,” Doug said. “It’ll stop the spray. Blink as much as you can, so your tears wash the crap out.”
I put a wet towel around my head, but left a gap to monitor the day room. Guards were ascending the stairs, hurrying toward the fighting noises still coming from SmackDown’s cell. The guards opened SmackDown’s door and rushed in, yelling orders to stop fighting. They emerged with SmackDown.

“You’ll all be sorry for pulling that three-on-one move when I get back outta the hole!” SmackDown yelled. Hardly able to open his eyes, he otherwise looked unscathed as they escorted him to lockdown.
Then they brought out the white torpedo whose bleeding nose was pointing in a new direction.
“Yer nose is crooked,” mocked a guard.
“Can I fix it before you handcuff me?” the white torpedo asked with a polite cowboy twang.
The guard looked perplexed. The white torpedo placed the palm of one hand against the side of his nose, and struck his nose with his other hand. It made a crunching noise as it went back into place.

I'am the author of the English Shaun trilogy, Party Time, Hard Time and Prison Time.

Click here to read Chapter 1 of Party Time.

Click here to read Chapter 1 of Hard Time.

Click here to read Chapter 1 of Prison Time

Shaun Attwood