A Prison Diary
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Volume 1: Belmarsh: Hell
Published in English
|Followed by||Wayland: Purgatory|
This book, written under the nom de plume FF 8282, documents Archer's introduction to the prison system. He was to spend the first 22 days and 14 hours in HMP Belmarsh, a double A-Category high-security prison in South London. Although Archer spent less than a month there, Belmarsh is described as a real hell-hole. Despite this, many of the inmates are extremely kind to him and regale him with anecdotes, which he duly records. One such prisoner apparently spoken of is the inspiration to one of his short stories from Cat O'Nine Tales, "It Can't Be October Already". On the other hand, some of the information Archer learns in his three weeks at Belmarsh is extremely disturbing, and he makes great play of imagining that the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, ought to be reading it and asks for his attention. One theme is the fact that some inmates are thrown into cells for first time offences even though the cellmate is a hardened criminal or murderer and/or drug addict. Further, it seems there are more heroin addicts coming out of prison than going in. This is because of both random and compulsory checks in which the inmates have discovered cannabis does not leave the system any time soon, but heroin is flushed out of the body in 24 hours providing large quantities of water have been consumed. They want a drug and this is the one they can obtain. Other inmates he talked with include an experienced Listener (for the Samaritans), who had been sexually abused through much of his childhood, existing as a sex-slave, and only knew crime. The very people set up by the institutions to protect him like social workers and magistrates, judges and policemen, let him down, and also paid to abuse him.
Volume 2: Wayland: Purgatory
This book is much longer than the previous one and charts Archer's time in HMP Wayland, a C-Category prison near Thetford in Norfolk. The rules are more relaxed, but as the title suggests, boredom is the main enemy for all prisoners, not just Archer. He charts each day in varying levels of detail depending on whether anything of interest happens. His friends and family remain constantly faithful and carry on his appeal case while he is incarcerated. It was here that he apparently encountered another character inspiring a short story in Cat O'Nine Tales, Maestro. Archer interacted more in this prison with those inmates who could obtain for him goods and services not formally permitted by the authorities, like extra BT phone-cards. He emphasizes how ineffective prison bureaucracy is, especially how the hierarchy works or rather does not work, for example a number of personnel each claiming to be governor.
Volume 3: North Sea Camp: Heaven
This details his time in North Sea Camp near Boston, Lincolnshire a D-category open prison. More privileges, a more relaxed regime and of course, more anecdotes from his time in prison. Archer spent almost a year in this prison and some weeks, once eligible, working in the local theatre. A minor breach of conditions during a home visit resulted in Archer being sent to B-Category HMP Lincoln for 22 days - described in a section of the book subtitled "Back to Hell". An investigation reversed the decision and he finished his sentence inside D-category HMP Hollesley Bay without opportunity for outside work, summarised in an epilogue.