Books

Top 5 books about the prison system, chosen by Andy West

Writer Andy West teaches philosophy in prison. He also has personal experience of life on the inside, as his father, uncle and brother all spent time in jail. He has written a memoir on the subject, and selects here five books about punishment, redemption and progress in the penal system

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Photo: @dlritter

Writer and prison philosophy teacher Andy West chooses five books that deal with progress and rehabilitation within the prison system.

1. Redeemable by Erwin James
When James was doing a life sentence for double murder, he was so ashamed that he wanted to sit in his cell and allow himself to rot. He was shaken out of this when a psychologist told him that he owed it to his victims to live a good life. Redeemable is a book about the possibilities of guilt.

2. A Sense of Freedom by Jimmy Boyle
The therapeutic unit at Barlinnie prison transformed Boyle’s life. Similar units could help many more people if we had the courage to build them.

The Life Inside: A Memoir of Prison, Family and Philosophy by Andy West is out now (Pan Macmillan, £16.99)

3. Prison: A Survival Guide by Carl Cattermole
Hope isn’t always about grand transformations. In prison, there’s hope in the fact that someone got out of bed this morning, or that they didn’t kill themselves today. This honest and funny book is there to get people through the next year, hour or minute.

4. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
This story features an astonishing moment of mercy which makes us think about what it is we really need from justice and how the law, even when it works, doesn’t always give it to us.

5. Brick by Brick: How We Build a World Without Prisons by the Cradle Community
Most people feel there is no politically viable alternative to prisons, but this book pushes for the alternative. I hope it moves the conversation forward.

You can buy The Life Inside from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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