A Prison Diary is a series of three books of diaries written by Jeffrey Archer during his time in prisons following his convictions for perjury and perverting the course of justice.
Each volume is named after the parts of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. The volumes become progressively longer due to his stay being longer and longer at each prison he went to. The UK prison system is highlighted as very petty, poor with pathetic conditions. In my view Jeffrey Archer and the likes of him should have been fined and given useful community service not banged up with murderers and rapists in rubbishy prisons. Prisons and the Police need thorough overhauls to make them fit for UK purpose.
1 Volume 1: Belmarsh: Hell
2 Volume 2: Wayland: Purgatory
3 Volume 3: North Sea Camp: Heaven
Volume 1: Belmarsh: Hell
On July 19, 2001, following a conviction for perjury, international bestselling author Jeffrey Archer was sentenced to four years in prison. Prisoner FF8282, as Archer is now known, spent the first three weeks in the notorious HMP Belmarsh, a high-security prison in South London, home to murderers, terrorists and some of Britain’s most violent criminals.
Although Archer spent less than a month there, Belmarsh is described as a real hell-hole. Despite this, many of the inmates are extremely kind to him and regale him with anecdotes, which he duly records. One such prisoner apparently spoken of is the inspiration to one of his short stories from Cat O’Nine Tales, “It Can’t Be October Already”. On the other hand, some of the information Archer learns in his three weeks at Belmarsh is extremely disturbing, and he makes great play of imagining that the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, ought to be reading it and asks for his attention.
For twenty-two days, Archer was locked in a cell with a murderer and a drug baron. He decided to use that time to write an hour-by-hour diary, detailing the worst three weeks of his life.
One theme is the fact that some inmates are thrown into cells for first time offences even though the cellmate is a hardened criminal or murderer and/or drug addict. Further, it seems there are more heroin addicts coming out of prison than going in. This is because of both random and compulsory checks in which the inmates have discovered cannabis does not leave the system any time soon, but heroin is flushed out of the body in 24 hours providing large quantities of water have been consumed.
They want a drug and this is the one they can obtain. Other inmates he talked with include an experienced Listener (for the Samaritans), who had been sexually abused through much of his childhood, existing as a sex-slave, and only knew crime. The very people set up by the institutions to protect him like social workers and magistrates, judges and policemen, let him down, and also paid to abuse him.
When A Prison Diary was published in England, it was condemned by the prison authorities, and praised by the critics. I personally found it quite boring – what he had for breakfast, how many types of cigarettes there were on the cafeteria list, how he spent his £12 allocated… There were some interesting bits but it could have done with a bit of trimming down.
Volume 2: Wayland: Purgatory charts Archer’s time in HMP Wayland, a C-Category prison near Thetford in Norfolk. The rules are more relaxed, but as the title suggests, boredom is the main enemy for all prisoners, not just Archer. This book is so boring that you feel that you’re doing time with him…
His constant nudges towards his political stand was interesting at first but after a while, it became tedious. The name dropping, the hooded political motives, the not-so-subtle finger pointing simply took over the story in its dull, vise-like grip
Volume 3: North Sea Camp: Heaven details his time in North Sea Camp near Boston, Lincolnshire a D-category open prison. More privileges, a more relaxed regime and of course, more anecdotes from his time in prison. Archer spent almost a year in this prison and some weeks, once eligible, working in the local theatre. This book was so repetitive I was dying to put it down but I stuck with it.
The book is as others in the series full of boring daily rituals peppered with a few interesting stories about how and why people, specifically men, end up in prison, and moreover might be decent apart from their specific crimes. The most horrendous crimes according to prisoners is sex crimes, and paedophiles need not only segregation but a cover story to be able to stay alive in prisons full of murderers. Going by the stories from just four prisons Archer gives this gradation is truly more along what should be put in place in dealing justice.
The only “exciting” plot twist happened when Archer breached his home visit conditions and he was sent to B-Category HMP Lincoln for 22 days – described in a section of the book subtitled “Back to Hell”. An investigation reversed the decision and he finished his sentence inside D-category HMP Hollesley Bay without opportunity for outside work, summarised in an epilogue.
The good bits: When I first began these three books I can’t say I was overkeen on what I had read about Archer but on finishing his real-life trilogy I have a new respect for him – for one he really knows how to stay positive and make the most out of a situation when everything seems against him (and at times it really did seem like he was being treated very unfairly by the powers above in this third book). These diaries have also shown a different side to Archer’s writing and are pretty well-informed studies on prison life.
The bad bits: While Archer moans that he was being treated unfairly, there were others in the prison that had it far worse than he had and him, being a celebrity of sorts, got preferential treatment. I mean the guards asked for his autograph! This incessant moaning about his case and how he should be let out and what he had each day for breakfast and what sports teams he followed make it a tedious and a boring read. Would not recommend unless you are a true prison enthusiast.