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Book Review: Nonfiction > Biography

Posted on Aug 29, 2017 |

Hard Time by Shaun Attwood


Nonfiction > Biography

The appalling pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio by President Trump was the reason this prison memoir jumped to the top of my To Be Read list. I knew how vile Arpaio was a long time ago despite not living in Arizona or knowing anyone in his jail. He’s notoriously bragged that it cost more to feed the prison dogs than the prisoners, who he fed moldy bread and green bologna to for two meals a day (40 cents a day) and the “red death” for the other meal each day. Naturally, for inmates who were indigent—meaning they had no one to put money on their commissary books to buy nuts, cookies, and crackers—chronic diarrhea was a constant companion.

The other constant companions were cockroaches and sweltering Arizona heat. Prisoners had perpetual heat rashes and bug bites that would become enflamed, but they wouldn’t get medical attention until one inmate’s thumb needed to be amputated, for example. If there were going to be inspections, suddenly the air conditioning would work again. As soon as the inspectors left, mysteriously the jail cells would once again be as hot as the Arizona sun could make it, which is why they had rashes that left them bloody, plus all the spider and cockroach bites. Some men died from heat exhaustion, especially men battling diabetes or other ailments. Some died from their beatings from other prisoners, which could inflicted for a variety of spurious reasons. Others died from suicide. These men were in jail, not prison, meaning they hadn’t been sentenced yet.

Many people in prison battle drug and alcohol addiction because they are self-medicating for the PTSD they have from the abuse they suffered as children or for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Mental illness can be treated, but a person needs the proper pharmaceutical cocktail, which means access to decent medical care. No one got such care in Arpaio’s prison.

The author Shaun Attwood came to Arizona from England. He was a successful stockbroker who relaxed by going to raves and doing ecstasy. He made so much money he no longer needed to work. Unfortunately, he used his good education and business mind to become a wildly successful dealer of ecstasy. He’d throw wild raves. However, by the time the police busted down his door, he was in a solid, healthy relationship with a woman who didn’t use drugs and had been clean and doing real work for a year. The police didn’t find any drugs in his place, but incarcerated him for two years without charges.

It’s important to note that most people who are incarcerated will return to society someday. “When a society treats its prisoners like animals some will behave like animals when they return to society.”

Attwood writes, “The media led me to believe that jails are full of serial killers and rapists, but they are only a small percentage of the population. The disproportionate amount of stories about killers and rapists keeps the public in fear of all prisoners and feed the lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key attitude. Most of the prisoners I’ve met need counseling, mental-health care, education and job skills.”

The other intriguing thing the book talks about is race relations in jail. Attwood is white, and when he was incarcerated he decided to learn Spanish, and the Mexicans and Mexican Americans (who are bitter enemies in jail), helped him learn in exchange for commissary, but this got him in trouble with other members of his race. He writes about the hierarchy of the Aryan Nation, and what the various tattoos mean. I wonder how many white people became Aryan Nation converts to survive incarceration and carry that hatred back with them on the outside, vs. how many started out as racists. Attwood is writes about “the saner whites” and “the saner guards.” (Meaning nonracist whites and guards that didn’t abuse prisoners for fun.)

“From what I’ve seen, the prisons are being packed with mostly petty drug offenders. That’s how the system stays in business, and the corrupt few like Sheriff Joe Arpaio enrich themselves.”

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