Prison Diaries
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Prison Diaries

Jeffrey Archer is known for his thrillers. But his writing during his jail stint is noteworthy too, writes Roshen Dalal.

books Updated: Jan 27, 2004 13:03 IST

Jeffrey Archer, better known for his political thrillers such as Cain and Abel, and Shall We Tell the President, as well as other crime fiction, has recently written three prison diaries.

Convicted in 2001 for perjury, Lord Jeffrey was sentenced to four years in prison, but released in 2003 after having served a sentence of two years, two days. He did not stop writing when he was in prison, completing three volumes on his life in various jails, as well as a new work of fiction, Sons of Fortune, which has a Bollywood-like plot of twins separated at birth.

His three prison diaries, of which the first two are available here, are: Volume One - Belmarsh: Hell; Volume Two - Wayland: Purgatory; Volume Three - North Sea Camp: Heaven. Though in a very different class from the great philosophical writings of someone like Solzhenitsyn, who described life in the Russian labour camps, Archer's Diaries are nevertheless worth reading.

In Volume One, he is incarcerated in the high security prison of Belmarsh. Amenities are few, and sixty-one year-old Archer, used to a life of privilege and luxury, has a problem with prison food, with being enclosed in a cell for long periods of time, with the noise, and with the difficulties of having a shower and keeping clean.

Yet his writer's spirit keeps him going, as he makes friends with the prisoners, learns the details of their lives and crimes, teaches a creative writing class, and helps some of them to write letters home. And indefatigably, he spends hours writing every day.

His life in a more open C Category prison forms the topic of his second book. Though Archer still doesn't like the food, the facilities are far better. There's a television in every cell, a gym, a library, and at least five different choices on the menu every day!

For instance, for Sunday dinner he can choose from: Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding / Steak and Kidney Pudding / Pork Chop / Vegetable Stew / or Creamy Vegetable Pie. Archer's new prison friends provide him with all he needs for an unofficial fee, and he even gets his cell repainted and decorated. Once again, he learns about the prisoners' lives and stories, and most important, continues to write. His entries in Volume 2 reflect his improved lifestyle.

For instance, he writes, "When I get back to my cell I find a biography of Oscar Wilde by Sheridan Morley awaiting me on the bed. I had asked Steve (conspiracy to murder, chief librarian) to reserve this book for me. Nothing like a personal delivery service". He adds , " Not a bad day, but please don't think, even for a moment, that it's therefore been a good one". Of course, no matter what the facilities may be, no one can feel content in prison.

The Diaries are interesting as they not only provide insights into the British prison system, but into human nature. In addition, Jeffrey Archer's refusal to give in to depression, his concern for his fellow prisoners, and his positive approach to his traumatic experiences, are inspiring. One looks forward to the release of the third volume in India.

First Published: Jan 27, 2004 13:03 IST