Lord Jeffrey Archer, wealthy British writer, was convicted of perjury by the British legal system in July 2001. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment and spent the initial three weeks in a maximum-security prison in London. This is his daily diary of those three weeks.
His legal counsel offers him this advice: “Don’t believe anything anyone tells you in prison, and never discuss your case or your appeal.” Archer follows that advice as he meets and befriends a few fellow inmates during his (relatively) short stay at Belmarsh. Everyone knows he is keeping a diary, so he is inundated with stories to tell, prefacing each with the warning that he has no method of confirming the veracity of the accounts.
As a well-known author, he is an instant celebrity among the prison population, and some of the ways this is manifest are pretty amusing. His cell ID card is stolen daily, his books must be removed from the library, and guards and prisoners alike line up outside his cell for autographs.
There are vivid descriptions of the food, the living space, and the routine of the prison. Although I believe the author is trying to be objective, it becomes clear during the book that he is a bit of a narcissistic snob, and made me wonder how much of what he is writing about himself we are to believe. He is, after all, “telling us this in prison.”
Even so, Lord Archer is educated and articulate; his comments and criticisms of the English penal system are well thought-out and clearly described. He describes (in great detail) the social order that prevails in this particular facility, with a number of comparisons to other gaols, based on his conversations with fellow inmates. The one item lacking is a direct explanation of his own trial and subsequent conviction, other than his opinion that the judge in that case singled him out for harsh punishment.
It is crystal clear that this experience was the seed that grew into his novel A Prisoner of Birth. The inmates, their stories, some of the events, and the prison itself feature prominently in that book. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
This is Volume One in a three-part series.
Rated: High. Thirty usages of the f-word, and about three dozen occurrences of other terms; not surprising when considering that all the foul language is quoted from prisoners. Some fairly strong descriptions of crimes against persons are also evident, and possibly upsetting for some readers.