A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner by Chris Atkins - review by Stephen Bates

Stephen Bates

Jail Broke

A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner


Atlantic Books 336pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

The filmmaker Chris Atkins often steered close to the wind in making documentaries, criticising politicians and the media, and using undercover sting operations to expose the dark side of celebrity culture and tabloid reporting. When he himself got caught and sent to jail for taking part in a tax evasion scheme, perhaps the obvious thing to do was to write a book about his experiences in Wandsworth prison.

This is that book, written in the form of a diary chronicling the first nine months of his five-year sentence. Its format is similar to that of recent bestselling books by doctors, military surgeons, pathologists and barristers, vividly exposing conditions in NHS hospitals, war zones and criminal courts. The difference is that Atkins was a malefactor. As he himself admits early on, he was guilty, though he is rather coy about why he received such a heavy sentence for a first offence, especially as he claims he did not personally benefit from the crime for which he was convicted. One must also issue a caveat about some of the diary entries containing ostensibly verbatim conversations: were they recorded at the time – and, if so, how openly – or recollected in tranquillity? As lawyers used to ask policemen giving evidence in court, ‘Were your notes made up at the time, officer?’

What Atkins found inside the grim, crumbling south London prison will perhaps not come as much surprise to readers who take an interest in such things: inadequate, run-down, malfunctioning facilities; a high percentage of psychotic, drug-addled prisoners; and complacent, obtuse and negligent staff working under the supposed supervision of ministers

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