David Best is professor of criminology at the University of Derby, Honorary Professor of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University and Chair of the BSC Prison Research Network.
Politically, we appear to be surfing a new wave of being ‘tough on crime’ with more prisons to be built and a growth in the prison population to be anticipated. Outside of the political posturing however, all of us who have spent any time in the UK prison system recognise that prison is a tough, miserable and potentially damaging environment for all of those who have to spend time there, including but not restricted to the prisoners.
This is captured in a wonderfully accessible way in Carl Cattermole’s ‘Prison: A survival guide’ a lived experience account of what life in a UK prison is really like, with the original draft written by someone newly released from a male UK prison. The book does exactly what it says, providing a largely chronological account of how to get through the experience with as little distress as possible.
Illustrated with cartoons from Banx (@banxcartoons), it also provides a sense of hope – particularly around the friendships that can emerge in prison and how they can endure ‘through the gate’ – and the humanity that is a theme of the book comes across incredibly strongly. The book is warm and at times funny and is easy and accessible, but what makes this survival guide so important is the multiple voices contained within it.
Watch a video of Carl talking on Straightline.
Carl is a fabulous narrator and story-teller but his voice is supplemented with those of the partner of a prisoner, the child of a prisoner, a child prisoner, a prisoner who has a child in prison and the experience of a prisoner from a member of the LGBTI community. Each of these accounts is incredibly poignant and insightful and the strength of feeling is intense and powerful.
It would be extremely difficult to read the book without realising the ripple effects of pain and misery that imprisonment causes to families and to communities, but it is also impossible to read the Survival Guide without acknowledging the resilience and strength that emanates from each of these clear and powerful voices.
As a criminologist, I would like to recommend it not only to all of the members of the Prison Research Network but also to all of their students as a rich and layered insight into the prison experience. But it should also be mandatory reading for all prison officers and prison governors.
Of course, expecting politicians to read something that is inconsistent with their own prejudices and soundbites is unrealistic but perhaps some of those working in the MoJ and the Prison and Probation Service may be swayed by the pain and the power of this book.
Whether you think prisons are a necessary evil or not, this is a book that confirms the harms that prison inflicts while clearly proclaiming that there are a group of people who can and will overcome that harm. Whether they should have to is a critical part of the debate ‘Prison: A survival guide’ should generate. And perhaps Carl could be encouraged to follow it up with “Community: A survival guide”?
Buy the Book – Prisonism website
BSC members can win a copy of ‘Prison: A survival guide’ together with a copy of ‘Pathways to Recovery and Desistance: The Role of the Social Contagion of Hope’ by David Best by emailing ‘Prison Book Draw’ to firstname.lastname@example.org The draw runs through September and October with a closing date of October 29, 2019.
Prison A Survival Guide (Penguin, 2019) is the cult travelogue for the obfuscated and complex British prison system. Its primarily authored by Carl Cattermole, a 30 year old ex-prisoner, based in South London and sometimes Latin America, but also features contributions from female, LGBTQ+ and child prisoners and their supporting family members. Its target audiences are anyone who contacts the system: prisoners and their families, criminologists and politicians, citizens who want to bust media myths and know where ‘criminal justice’ £billions are being thrown. The first print run sold out in 10 days. Carl and other contributors are currently touring to promote the book.
Professor David Best, University of Derby
Copyright free image courtesy of author
Cartoons courtesy of Carl Cattermole and Banx (@banxcartoons)