A damning insight into modern day prison life
Book review : “A Bit of a Stretch : The Diaries of a Prisoner” by Chris Atkins
The author Chris Atkins was sentenced to five years imprisonment after being found guilty of fraud. He was a successful film producer and his mistake was to agree to become involved with a film financing scheme which was found to be not legal. By his own admission he was aware that what he’d entered into was not 100% legitimate but saw it being widely being used around him and wanted to get on with making the film. The book chronicles his time mainly in HMP Wandsworth but also the short period spent in open prison towards the end of his almost three years of confinement.
The book graphically describes what a terrible state the prison system is in and at no point does he look for sympathy for his own predicament. His candid narrative describes just how dysfunctional life is in prison, from the point of view of both the inmates and of the staff. At times it’s hard to believe the tales he recounts but his film making background leads to a graphic but humane account of what goes routinely goes on.
His command of black, observational humour at times leaves you laughing at loud and at the same time aghast that it could really be like that now.
He brings life to the day to day mundanities of showers, eating, watching TV etc, the trading of all manner of goods, and the ban on mobile phones with the inevitability of the rules being circumvented, for which I will spare the details.
One of the many startling facts that are recounted, is the incredibly low levels of literacy which condemns so many to no choices in life and probably re-offending before returning to prison.
Despite all this it’s actually a very uplifting read and a real page turner too. The sadness you feel is that despite attempts by this writer and indeed many other commentators, nothing seems to change and apart from the white collar inmates who could navigate the system, the vast majority will continue to be left to decline and have very little hope.