A Prison Diary, an hour-by-hour diary detailing life in jail, is probably the last thing youíd expect from Jeffrey Archer. Archer, the British MP, is a widely-read author and master storyteller who gave his readers such bestsellers as Kane and Abel, Prodigal Daughter and several collections of short stories. However, the British courts that gave him a four-year sentence on charges of perjury changed all that. Archer took to writing prison diaries, and upon his release took up prison reforms with such gusto as to leave his detractors speechless.
A Prison Diary is an account of the three weeks Archer spent in Belmarsh, Great Britainís high-security prison that holds murderers, terrorists and violent criminals. From Thursday, 19 July 2001, to Wednesday, 8 August of the same year, Archer chronicles a day-by-day, often hour-by-hour detail of his life in Britainís harshest prison environment.
Interestingly, the moment the prison doors closed, Archer began to write, furiously prompting several snide remarks from the Londonís newspapers. The Guardian commented ďArcher's problem with prison is not that it's full of criminals, but the coarseness of the Belmarsh alumni.Ē Another newspaper blazed ďYour diary keeping is to ram home the fact that you're back in charge, and that your sentence wasn't a punishment, as such, more a research project.Ē
Regardless of the raison díetre of Archerís work - whether it was the abundance of time in the prison, or a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness or even Mammonís inspiration - A Prison Diary comes across as an honest and sincere narration. One is made acutely aware that things that we take for granted are, in prison life, not commonplace at all; they are rare events to be savored. That the sun rays streaming in through the window, warm cereal in milk (the bowl doubles as a shaving bowl soon after), or a washed and clean shirt or walks around the prison compound can bring immense joy, is a poignant thought indeed.
Detailed descriptions of mundane events fill the book and there are funny anecdotes aplenty. Humor finds place even amongst the disconsolate. Archerís formal creative writing course throws up some interesting characters, all short story writers seeking the authorís help and opinions.
A Prison Diary has faced a lot of criticisms from Archerís own people, the British. Though, of course, an elite Tory perjurer is hardly the best spokesperson in town for jailed underdogs, Archerís witty and forthright style even while pointing out to the indignities and inhumane conditions in the jails make this book worth reading. And his days with rapists and murderers many of whom he befriends, do give us some profound insights into a highly structured, tough and brutal penal system.