book review

So I just read A Bit of A Stretch by Chris Atkin and…

If you’ve been here for 30 seconds you know I love memoirs, I love to hear people’s real world experiences from things like working in the NHS, owning a bookshop or in this case serving time in prison. The comedy is dry and dark, leaving you with a ‘if I don’t laugh I’ll cry’ feeling. 

Chris Atkin, an award winning documentary maker, never thought he would see himself behind bars. But after a doggy scheme to fund one of his movies goes wrong he finds himself in the care of HMP Wandsworth, one of the oldest, largest, and most dysfunctional prisons in Europe. Sharing showers and a cell with a lot of… colourful characters. 

Atkin is such an interesting person and gave us such an interesting perspective on prison life. We’re normally stuck with what’s told to us about prisons on the news, normally ‘experts’ reading statistics off paper and edited statements from higher ups. So it was nice to have a first person view, to really know the truth of what goes on inside them walls. 

It was really well written, Atkin obviously knew what he was talking about and made a real effort to get it across to us. It was interesting and engaging the whole way through, heartbreaking in all the right places. He did a really good job at making parallels throughout the books, he talks about his own son and how hard it was to be away from him while also showing us how hard it was for everyone around him in different situations. 

It was really well written, I always like it when memoirs are written in a diary format like this as it allows you to keep track of what’s happening and have a good understanding of time passing. This is really helpful especially when he was talking about how long things took to get done. 

Near the end of the book Atkin talked about how COVID had affected the prisons. I remember the man being on the news near the beginning of the pandemic talking about how prisoners were unable to social distance and were still being asked to buy their own soap and this is something he reiterates in the book. This brings up the argument about how these are still people and they still deserve basic human rights at the least. 

This book is really interesting and I 100% think it’s worth a read. Prisons in the UK, much like the NHS and everything else, are under pressure and are failing, and this book does a good job at highlighting these issues. If the prime minister just sat down and read it he would see that this book is practically a checklist of things that need fixing and ways to fix them. 

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