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Back in 2002 I remember feeling rather sad that a lot of work friends were leaving. I cheered up when I walked past a newspaper stand and the headline proclaimed 'Archer gets four years'. I knew nothing really about the man, my opinion formed by gossip from the pub. Two years later, after quitting my job like so many colleagues, I picked up a copy of a 'Prison Diary' and quietly flicked through its pages during a Eurostar trip. HMP Belmarsh and continental Europe cannot really be fair comparisons.
Prison is a secret society; the goings on behind the walls occasionally being set free through a spread in a weekend broadsheet or a well meaning documentary. A British prison isn't Oz or Alcatraz and this book (I suppose) deals well with the initial confusion surrounding imprisonment. Archer doesn't ask for sympathy and he details the day to day goings on insightfully. The book is accurate regarding details of prison regime and a useful read for anyone considering working in a prison, pursuing a course in criminology or considering writing. Archer gives a human element to the people in the book as often one is tempted to see the crime and not the person.
Negative comments have been made by prison writers about Archer's version of "cheque book" journalism and the ease with which he discusses his fellow prisoners' crimes, sometimes with scant regard for anonymity. These criticisms bear some weight but should not detract from the overall quality of the book.
It is well worth purchasing all three volumes of this series. I wouldn't recommend any other of his prison based stories as the editing is inaccurate and the stories not well enough written to engage the reader.
DAY 5 MONDAY 23 JULY 2001 5.53AM 'The sun is shining through the bars of my window on what must be a glorious summer day. I've been incarcerated in a cell five paces by three for twelve and a half hours, and will not be let out again until midday; eighteen and a half hours of solitary confinement. There is a child of seventeen in the cell below me who has been charged with shoplifting - his first offence, not even convicted - and he is being locked up for eighteen and a half hours, unable to speak to anyone. This is Great Britain in the twenty-first century, not Turkey, not Nigeria, not Kosovo, but Britain.' On Thursday 19 July 2001, after a perjury trial lasting seven weeks, Jeffrey Archer was sentenced to four years in jail. He was to spend the first twenty-two days and fourteen hours in HMP Belmarsh, a double A-Category high-security prison in South London, which houses some of Britain's most violent criminals. This is the author's daily record of the time he spent there.