A Bit Of A Stretch by Chris Atkins details Atkins’ time in prison after being sentenced in 2016 to five years in jail for his part in a film investment tax fraud scheme. Atkins serves the first part of his sentence in the imposing HMP Wandsworth, built in 1851 and definitely not fit for purpose.
Atkins is refreshingly honest about his crimes and doesn’t try to absolve the men from their guilt. His focus is the terrible prison system that is failing allow men to call their families and shower every day, let alone to rehabilitate them and prevent re-offending.
Atkins’ story is both horrifying and heartbreaking. Working as a Listener means Atkins is called upon to talk to prisoners who are suffering from mental health problems, including one young prisoner who is starving and afraid. The toll of 23 hour bang-ups, uncaring officers and the ridiculous paper-based admin system is harrowing and eye opening. Atkins challenged a lot of the ideas I had about life inside a prison, and offered an incredibly insight into the way we fail those that, I believe, need compassion in order to become reformed citizens when/if they are released.
There are comical moments, such as when Atkins has to be taught ‘shitiquette’ by his new cellmate and the creative ways he makes life inside bearable.
If there is only one non-fiction book you read this year make it A Bit Of A Stretch. Although, if thought provoking non-fiction is your thing see my five must read non-fiction books.