A convicted murderer–turned-journalist tells the story of how he became a criminal but then underwent major personal rehabilitation while serving time in prison.
Until he was 7, James (A Life Inside: A Prisoner's Notebook, 2005, etc.) lived in a poor but loving family. But then both his parents were involved in a tragic car accident that killed his mother and injured his father, Erwin Sr., who began drinking heavily as his body healed. The elder James took up with a series of women afterward; each time he did, the family experienced some stability. Inevitably, however, Erwin Sr. fell into a pattern of drunken violence, which he took out on each of his children’s new mothers and also caused him to get arrested for public brawling. Meanwhile, the shy and ever anxious James ran wild and turned into a criminal. He began to rack up charges against him for increasingly more daring thefts and discovered the “lovely calm sense of peace” that alcohol seemed to offer, all while watching his home life deteriorate. When he was not staying with his father and his latest girlfriend, James was living either with other relatives or in homes for delinquent boys. By the time he entered his 20s, he had become a drifter and pub fighter who, over the course of his many muggings and robberies, killed two people. James escaped into the French Foreign Legion before turning himself in to the British police. Prison became his salvation: while incarcerated, he earned a university degree, began writing columns for the Guardian about prison life, and met a psychologist who helped him work through his traumatic childhood and adolescence. The author’s unsparing descriptions of the abuse he suffered and then inflicted on others is often difficult to read, but his book offers hope that no matter the nature of a criminal’s actions, “it [does] not define all of who that person [is].”
A brutally candid but always humane memoir of redemption.