Strangeways: A Prison Officer’s Story by Neil Samworth – review

An insider’s story of working at Strangeways reveals the profound flaws of Britain’s prison system

Over the past 15 years or so our prison system has been sliding deeper and deeper into crisis. Indeed, according to the recently published annual report by the chief inspector of prisons, violence, suicide and self-harm have reached a level that no advanced civilised society should tolerate. Squalor, drug abuse, poor access to education and work skills, and a failure to maintain the fabric of our jails, have led to the “worst prison conditions ever seen”. So how have we come to this?

Many clues can be found in this book by former prison officer Neil Samworth. As a serving life prisoner, I met hundreds of officers like Samworth (who spent 11 years as an officer, mainly in Strangeways, before being forced to leave because of PTSD) – men and women who should never have ...

Books behind bars: five of the best stories about prison life

From Alan Sillitoe’s inspiring story of a long-distance runner to memoirs about what life is really like on the inside, author and former inmate Erwin James share his favourite books about crime and prison

Books about crime and prison are often among the favourite reading choices for people in jail. Howard Marks, who died of cancer this week, wrote a classic of the genre with his autobiography Mr Nice. First published in 1996, it chronicles Marks’s international drug smuggling activities and his seven years in a US prison. Since then, Mr Nice has been one of the most borrowed books in prison libraries. As a former prisoner, I have read many books on the subject – not to mention written a couple. Among the best are the following five:

Related: Books kept me alive in prison

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Prison Reform Trust writing competition 2015: hopeful words after a tough year

With a record number of entries, this year’s work showed inspiring enthusiasm and self-discipline from the authors

It’s been a hard year for prisons in England and Wales. As well as nine prisoner-on-prisoner killings – the highest ever recorded – there has been a self-inflicted death every few days, thousands of incidents of self-harm and record levels of violence and drug use. But however dire the situation in our prisons may become, nothing can extinguish hope. The annual Prison Reform Trust writing competition always brings good reason to be hopeful about the people who inhabit our prisons. Related: Can prison work? | Prisoner Ben Continue reading...

Books kept me alive in prison

The end of the ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK reminds me just how vital they were to my survival inside, and to the life I have lived since

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

In 2008 I wrote a piece about The Grass Arena, the life story of former vagrant John Healy who found redemption through chess. “A good book can change the way you think about ...