The Diaries of a Prisoner
WHERE CAN A TIN OF TUNA BUY YOU CLEAN CLOTHES?
WHERE IS IT EASIER TO GET ‘SPICE’ THAN PARACETAMOL?
WHERE DOES SELF-HARM BARELY RAISE AN EYEBROW?
Welcome to Her Majesty’s Prison Service.
Like most people, documentary-maker Chris Atkins didn’t spend much time thinking about prisons. But after becoming embroiled in a dodgy scheme to fund his latest film, he was sent down for five years.
His new home would be HMP Wandsworth, one of the largest and most dysfunctional prisons in Europe.
With a cast of characters ranging from wily drug dealers to senior officials bent on endless reform, this powerful memoir uncovers the horrifying reality behind the locked gates.
Filled with dark humour and shocking stories, A Bit of a Stretch reveals why our creaking prison system is sorely costing us all.
I read this book via Pigeonhole (see bottom of this post for details on Pigeonhole) and I am definitely getting into the way of reading a stave a day. This time I enjoyed the break between staves to consider what I had read each day.
This is a harrowing read in which Chris Atkins tells of his experience inside HMP Wandsworth. As a documentary maker he took to writing a journal as a way of passing the time in his cell.
There are many stories within this book which tell of others he encountered during his sentence. There are dark tales of self-harm and suicide. There are heartbreaking passages where prisoners are thrown in prison with no idea what to do next, how to cope with life inside whilst requiring assistance with their mental health more than anything else. There is humour in the book – more towards the end than the beginning which again shows how Chris had adjusted to his new life.
Many of the diary entries are shocking beyond belief and have changed the way I view life inside. Prisoners locked in their cells for 23 hours because of staff shortages? Drugs easier to obtain than paracetamol? From what I have read here I can now understand why some prisoners may go on to cause riots and I feel the public are never told the truth about what really starts a riot for instance.
I have so much to say on the issues raised in this book that I could type forever but there are many more questions than answers and I am still to work my way through all the footnotes which were very welcome. I have ordered a copy of this book and am awaiting on it arriving where I will be able to read through it again.
Final point, the epilogue lists the changes Chris would wish to introduce if he was given the opportunity to become justice secretary. It is clear from this that the immediate changes required are fundamental, straightforward and make good sense. We know there is no chance of him being appointed justice secretary. However, is there anyone in power who will read this book, take onboard what is being said and act on this information? I’m hopeful, yet doubtful. What is good to see is there has been a lot of talk regarding the release of this book on TV this week so maybe, just maybe….
I feel that this is a book which could change lives. It could be the start of something!
My sincere thanks to THE PIGEONHOLE for the opportunity to read and review ‘A BIT OF A STRETCH’ by CHRIS ATKINS.
All opinions are my own and not biased in anyway.
All my reviews can be found on my blog momobookdiary.com
- TITLE: A Bit of a Stretch
- AUTHOR: Chris Atkins
- PUBLISHER: Atlantic Books
- PUBLICATION DATE: 6 February 2020
- OBTAINED: ThePigeonhole (pre-order purchase from Goldsboro Books)
REVIEW PUBLISHED / BUY LINKS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Atkins is best known as a documentary maker. His 2007 debut feature, Taking Liberties, was a Michael Moore inspired documentary castigating the Blair government for undermining civil liberties as part of the war against terror. The film played in dozens of cinemas across the UK, got very strong reviews and was nominated for a film BAFTA in 2008. Chris also wrote an accompanying book, also called Taking Liberties, which was published alongside the film.
His next film, Starsuckers, took aim at the celebrity-obsessed media. The documentary became famous for selling fake celebrity stories to the tabloids, engineering a reverse undercover sting on red top hacks, and secretly filming Max Clifford boasting about covering up his clients’ sexual indiscretions. The film made the front page of The Guardian two days running and faced down legal challenges from the News of The World, Clifford and Bob Geldof. The film premiered at the 2009 London Film Festival, was shown on Channel 4 several times and was screened to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.
Chris has also made several notorious TV current affairs films. He spent most of 2011 undercover, secretly filming corrupt private detectives who were running a black market in private information, which became a Dispatches special for Channel 4 – Watching the Detectives. He made another Dispatches special in 2013 – Celebs Brands and Fake Fans – and tricked a slew of Coronation Street stars into plugging fake products on social media. This sting made the front of The Sun and The Mirror, leading ITV to threaten to sue Channel 4. Later that year Chris investigated bad practise in big charities for BBC Panorama, and revealed that Comic Relief was secretly investing millions in alcohol, arms and tobacco companies. The film kicked up a huge press storm, forcing Comic Relief to sell its “sin stocks” and got Chris his 3rd BAFTA nomination.
In 2015 Chris wrote and directed a fiction film imagining what would happen if UKIP actually won that year’s general election. “UKIP: The First 100 Days” was broadcast on Channel 4, and led to an incendiary reaction from UKIP supporters who lodged over 6000 complaints with Ofcom, making it one of the most complained-about TV dramas of all time.
In 2016 he was prosecuted for his involvement in an illegal tax scheme, which was used to fund his film Starsuckers. He was convicted in Southwark Crown court, along with several other defendants, and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He spent the first nine months of his sentence at HMP Wandsworth, and kept a detailed diary of his experiences. These have since been written up into a book, A Bit of a Stretch, which was the subject of a seven publisher bidding war when he was released in 2019. The book is due for publication on the 6th February 2020 and has already won praise from The Secret Barrister, Jon Snow, Mark Thomas and John Niven.
He is now back in North London working on a music documentary, and making a podcast series about prison life.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
- Chris Atkins on Twitter @scatakins
- Atlantic Books on Twitter @AtlanticBooks
- Link to video of Chris Atkins talking to Kay Burley on Sky News
ABOUT ‘THE PIGEONHOLE’
THE PIGEONHOLE (www.thepigeonhole.com) is a community of readers from around the world. Books are delivered in daily instalments (staves). The instalments are delivered to your Pigeonhole bookshelf on the IOS or Android app, or on a web reader.
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