Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hell: A Prison Diary

by Jeffrey Archer

The millionaire author and lord is sentenced to four years for perjury (he elides over the specifics of his case), and details his 21 days at London’s Belmarsh Prison while waiting on appeal.  It’s an interesting look at the British penal system, which seems to suffer from some of the same defects at the American one (too many inside for drugs, too many first offenders turned into career criminals by associating with them on the inside, not nearly enough education or other incentives to improve).  However, he’s befriended and protected instantly by the inmates; he goes through no kind of danger or deprivation as a “new fish.”

As a reporter of the underbelly of society, Archer is either immensely naïve or pretending to be, because he’s shocked at nearly everything.  I also wonder if his fellow inmates appreciated him printing their anecdotes and conversations, especially as he quotes some of them as asking him not to repeat certain things which he goes on to recount in detail.  In any case, it’s a little lightweight as a “prison diary” (I understand there are two more volumes, one for each prison he was sent to), and Archer’s main complaint is boredom and bad food, so it’s not exactly the most dramatic prison book I’ve read.

two stars