Book Review: A Life Inside & The Home Stretch


ISBN 1903809983, £7.99


ISBN 1843544385, £7.99

Both by Erwin James, Guardian Books

Star Rating: 5/5

Erwin James has created two compelling accounts of modern prison
life that would appeal to an audience far greater than anyone could
imagine. Collectively, the books provide a prisoner’s remarkable
journey from a category A prisoner to a successful participant in
the workforce, writes Jonathan White.

The books portray a collection of themes and emotions, including
friendship and confrontation, anguish and success, and joy and
pain, all written with power, compassion and intelligence.

These books will leave you with neither contempt nor sympathy
but with a genuine awareness of a life in jail.

Most striking is the insight into the social organisation of a
group of people living within a socially excluded environment. We
see how prisoners are categorised according to the severity of
their crimes or because of the traits they possess.

There is a fascinating insight into the strategies prisoners use
to survive, maintain their dignity and progress through the prison
system. Where “outsiders” quantify time by birthdays, deaths and
anniversaries, time “inside” is measured by reviews,
re-categorisation and knock-backs.

Erwin has created an inspirational story that highlights how
somebody who embraces the principles of prison life can transform a
negative chapter into a new life worth living.

He praises the welfare intervention provided in prison and is a
shining example of how positive intervention can create
In contrast, these books also highlight how harsh regimes can
create troublesome behaviour and he comments that external
campaigns to make prison more austere can lead to a system where
unscrupulous staff can more safely abuse their authority.

Jonathan White is an assistant policy officer at
Denbighshire Council and has worked in the voluntary sector with

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