"Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails" by David Leslie sets out a series of true life stories about life behind bars in six of England's most notorious prisons: Durham, Wandsworth, Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs, Dartmoor and Holloway.
There is something about prisons that inspires the popular imagination. They are places (relatively) few of us have ever been to, whether voluntarily or otherwise, yet they exert a fascination which means that stories of life behind bars, both fictional and factual, have long been a staple of books, films and TV programmes. Perhaps the fascination we feel results from the sense that prisons represent an extreme in our society: the places where those who cannot or will not conform to the rules we live by are placed for a while, and in an ideal world perhaps reformed. Though anyone who truly believes that to be a common outcome has not read or seen many of those books, films or TV programmes.
There are plenty of books about life in prison to choose from. What makes "Banged Up" stand out is the quality of the research that has clearly gone into its production and, especially, the quality of the writing. David Leslie was a journalist with the News of the World for over forty years, most recently as Scottish crime editor. You would expect him to be able to tell a good story in a way that is both accessible and, as far as the subject matter permits, entertaining, and he certainly doesn't disappoint.
What you find between the covers are thirty-four chapters averaging about 8-9 pages each. Each tells the story of an individual prisoner or of a group who were imprisoned or otherwise associated with the prisons. Notable individuals include WWII spy Josef Jacobs, codenamed "Snow"; Oswald Mosely; Dr Crippen; Ruth Ellis and the man who shot Martin Luther King Jr. Among the more thematic chapters are those dealing with executioners, suffragettes and Fenians