I first met Ross Greenwood shortly after Locked Up was published – but out long enough for Ross to have read it. Having been a prison officer, he pointed out that I got one thing wrong in the book, I’ll tell you what at the end of the article. But in the meantime, here are some tips from the author with the direct prison experience, of what not to get wrong.
Ten popular misconceptions for fiction writers.
- Prison is a combination of The Shawshank Redemption and Porridge. Really?
- Prison is cool. No. Brad Pitt is cool. Prison is shit. It’s bad breath and everyone you hated at school x 1000 locked up in the same place.
- You’ll get raped in prison. Erm, nope. Trust me, the chances of this happening are virtually zero. Despite this, many men will not have a single shower the entire time they are inside. Even if that is years.
- Prisons are cool. True. In the winter they are freezing, and you won’t have suitable attire. In the summer, they are boiling. And what do you think a place that holds 1000 men in the middle of August is going to be like when the windows don’t open? If you earn £8 a week for dismantling washing machines you aren’t going to spend it on Right Guard.
- Your cell mate is going to be an axe murderer. Consecutive prison ministers may have been seemingly intent on ruining the system, but even they can see the logic in not padding anyone up with Charles Bronson. How’s your new pad mate, Charles? Quiet. Unsurprisingly, the same applies to arsonists.
- Prisons are fun. Wrong, prisons are boredom and toothache. They are tension and despair. They are small narrow rooms without your family, friends, fridges, futures or freedom. They contain only fear. Chances are, it will break you.
- If you’ve done something dodgy, you can get away with saying you’re inside for fraud. Prisoners aren’t stupid. If you say that, they’ll think you’re a pervert or worse. It won’t matter if you aren’t. Otherwise they’ll ring their mums, and they’ll put your name into Google.
- Prisoners are at the gyms all day long. Wrong! They get an hour to work out, three times a week. All prisoners have time to focus on is their top half to get big guns. That’s right. They all look ridiculous.
- Prisoners have to sit a parole board to get out. No, only lifers do. Everyone else gets out at exactly the half way point of their sentence, or two-thirds now with violent crimes. Even if they’ve refused to do a day’s work or change their underpants for their entire sentence, they will still leave on their Automatic Release Date.
- Violence is cool. There are many dangerous men in prison, who believe violence is their right. They bully and fight. When the adrenalin drops and they are bent double and marched to the block, humiliated by a strip search, and left for days on end with only their thoughts for company, they cry like babies.
So which one did I get wrong? Actually it was none of the above, so it’s kind of a number 11. I said that all the prisoners claim to be innocent men, apparently the opposite is true, they often try to big up their conviction, but as number 7 says, it’s not that hard to find out the truth.
More information on the reality of prison life from Ross will be featured on this blog next month.
Still, prison is one area of life I’m glad that I don’t know enough about and happy for men like Ross to do the incredibly hard work that they do in there.
Thank you, Ross.