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The Guardiana€™s Eric Allison writes: I sometimes think I know all there is to know about prisons. The delusion comes from spending some 16 years, on and off, behind bars, during a criminal career that spanned over four decades. Since turning my back on crime, The Guardian newspaper has seen fit to employ me as their prisons correspondent, a post I have held for the last nine years so, although I last left prison some 12 years ago, prison has never really left me. But of course, nobody knows everything about anything. And I am frequently surprised-amazed even-at a prison story/issue that lands on my desk. And so it was when the manuscript of IN IT came my way; the tale of one mana€™s sojourn as a guest of Her Majesty at HMP Bedford and Hollesley Bay. Jonathan Robinson was a a€œfirst timera€; nicked for stealing from his employer and sentenced to 15 months. Given that prison sentences have become much longer since I first trod the penal path, 15 months is a€œshort terma€- hardly time for a a€œshit and a shavea€ (as us old lags used to opine when a newcomer grumbled about spending a few months with us.) Not that Robinson moans of his plight, far from it; throughout the tome, he repeatedly shows remorse for his crime and declares he deserved a longer sentence. No wallowing in self-pity for this lad, he just got on with it. Now a free man, he is on a mission to change the system that incarcerated him. Robinson landed in Bedford jail, a Victorian relic that takes the flotsam and jetsam from the courts of the county it serves. He feared the worst when the gates slammed behind him. Shades of Shawshank Redemption closed around him. Would he be assaulted, robbed, raped? No such thing of course, as Robinson quickly realised. Far from terrorising him, his fellow travellers helped him traverse the minefield of pettifogging rules and rigmaroles and his only fight was against boredom and bureaucracy. To deal with the former, he elected to start a diary and recorded his experiences with great perception - and not a little humour. Robinson surveyed that system through an eye that saw more in a few months, than many a prisoner I knew saw in many years. His account immediately drew me back to the wasted wings and landings I knew so well. Seeing them again through his fresh eyes, put me back in the early 1960s when, like Robinson, they were new and equally strange to me. When I first entered the adult prison system, I was a a€œstara€. No kidding; all first timers wore a red astral sign on their jackets, to denote their lowly stature in the prison pecking order. Dona€™t ask me why; prison service orders made as little sense then as they do now. Robinson, the star prisoner, may just turn out to be a star writer. He paints a stunningly accurate picture of the chaos and confusion that exists in prisons like Bedford. These are a€œlocala€ jails, where prisoners are dumped from courts, categorised and, eventually, shunted around the system. He ended up in Hollesley Bay, an open jail, where he expected to find more order. But the chaos followed him, albeit at a slightly less frenetic pace. I found the account of his travails highly readable; the narrative is colourful and goes at a good gallop. He could turn out to be the penal equivalent of Adrian Mole. Like that spotty kid, Robinson was different from his peers inside. Well educated - he was a helicopter pilot before landing inside - and, I suspect, fairly right wing in his attitude to offenders, before he became one. And though I disagree strongly with some of his views and ideas for reform, I cannot fault his passion for change, or his ability to capture the essence of doing time, in a bloated, failing prison system. Apparently, a copy of IN IT has been sent to Justice Minister Chris Grayling. It should be required reading for him as he sets about his Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Eric Allison Prisons correspondent The GuardianAn enormous man, Oliver(Hardy)turns up and goeson about the complications of keeping hisa€œCarhere.a€He reels off a long list of the obvious such as road tax, insurance, the vehiclea#39;s logbook and the registration documents but a€œCannot understanda€ whyhe a€œMust ... have been filled out and an a€œappa€ to get theball rolling witha€œTag ladya€ to see whether ornotit is possible to commit aviation whilst manacled.

Title:IN IT
Author:Jonathan Robinson - 2013-10-07


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