In 2008 Stephen Jackley (a 21-year-old university student) was sentenced to 13 years for armed robbery and associated crimes. Dubbed by the press as “a latter-day Robin Hood” – but classified by the prison service a high escape-risk – Stephen served six-and-a-half years in UK prisons. While serving his sentence Stephen was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and also completed an Open University degree.

After release, Stephen set up an award-winning social enterprise enabling people from disadvantaged backgrounds to fulfil their ambitions and make the most of their true potential. Now he tells his own story of life behind bars and reveals the many failings (and some successes) of the UK penal system …

In his candid and articulate memoir, Stephen shares his personal experience of life in prison: the intricacies of navigating prison politics, the disparity in sentences for similar crimes, suicide watch, fights, segregation, punishments, abuses of power by officials, depression, frustrations and anger, the food, the sanitary arrangements, the work, relationships with other inmates, trying to keep fit, the different prison officers and governors – and much, much more.

He says: These are not places built for reform, no matter how strongly some politicians protest. They are the universities of crime; the holding pens for society’s rejects – a sorry excuse for punishment. There are better ways.

Against the backdrop of severe budget cuts, hastily enforced policies, rising rates of violence and suicide, Mental health issues and drug abuse, Stephen’s book tells it how it really is for the 85,000 people currently incarcerated in British prisons. 

Stephen offers us is a frank, thoughtful and often shocking insight into the treatment of prisoners – as well as a discussions about remorse and guilt, the nature of punishment and the chances of rehabilitation in our prisons.

I’ve now read this book and a review will be coming soon.