Radio 4

I had a brief spot on BBC Radio 4 talking about the concept of waiting in the context of prison. My audio starts approximately 12 minutes into this recording.

Here are my upcoming public talks for the next three months. There are two in London and one in Warrington.

Shaun Attwood

Hard Time 2nd Edition Chapter 1

Here is the entire Chapter 1 from the soon to be published 2nd Edition of Hard Time:

Sleep deprived and scanning for danger, I enter a dark cell on the second floor of the maximum-security Madison Street jail in Phoenix, Arizona, where guards and gang members are murdering inmates. It’s 2 a.m. Behind me, the metal door slams heavily. Light slants into the cell through oblong gaps in the door, illuminating a prisoner cocooned in a white sheet, snoring lightly on the top bunk about two thirds of the way up the back wall. Relieved there is no immediate threat, I place my mattress on the grimy floor. Desperate to rest, I notice movement on the cement-block walls. Am I hallucinating? I blink several times. Still movement. Stepping closer, I see the wall is alive with insects. I flinch. So many are swarming, I wonder if they’re a colony of ants on the move. To get a better look, I put my eyes right up to them. They are mostly the size of almonds and have antennae. American cockroaches. I’ve seen them in the holding cells downstairs in smaller numbers, but nothing like this. A chill spreads over my body. I back away. Something alive falls from the ceiling and bounces off the base of my neck. I jump. With my night vision improving, I look up at the cockroaches weaving in and out of the base of the fluorescent strip light. Every so often one drops onto the concrete and resumes crawling. Examining the bottom bunk, I realise why my cellmate is sleeping at a higher elevation: cockroaches are pouring from gaps in the decrepit wall at the level of the bunk. The area is thick with them. Placing my mattress on the bottom bunk scatters them. I walk towards the toilet, crunching a few under my shower sandals. I urinate and grab the toilet roll. A cockroach darts from the centre of the roll onto my hand, tickling my fingers. My arm jerks as if it has a mind of its own, losing the cockroach and the toilet roll.

Using a towel, I wipe the bulk of them off the bottom bunk, stopping only to shake the odd one off my hand. I unroll my mattress. They begin to regroup and harass my mattress. My adrenaline is pumping so much, I lose my fatigue. Nauseated, I sit on a tiny metal stool bolted to the wall. How will I sleep? How’s my cellmate sleeping through the infestation and my arrival? Copying his technique, I cocoon myself in a sheet and lie down, crushing more cockroaches. The only way they can access me now is through the breathing hole I’ve left in the sheet by the lower half of my face. Inhaling their strange musty odour, I close my eyes. I can’t sleep. I feel them crawling on the sheet around my feet. Am I imagining things? Frightened of them infiltrating my breathing hole, I keep opening my eyes. Cramps cause me to rotate onto my other side. Facing the wall, I’m repulsed by so many of them just inches away. I return to my original side. The sheet traps the heat of the Sonoran Desert to my body, soaking me in sweat. Sweat tickles my body, tricking my mind into thinking the cockroaches are infiltrating and crawling on me. The trapped heat aggravates my bleeding and itching skin infections and bedsores. I want to scratch myself, but I know better. The outer layers of my skin have turned soggy from sweating constantly in this concrete oven. Squirming on the bunk fails to stop the relentless itchiness of my skin. Eventually, I scratch myself. Clumps of moist skin detach under my nails. Every now and then I become so uncomfortable, I have to open my cocoon to waft the heat out. It takes hours to drift to sleep. I only manage a few hours. I awake stuck to the soaked sheet, disgusted by the cockroach carcasses compressed against the mattress.

The cockroaches plague my new home until dawn appears at the dots in the metal grid over a begrimed strip of four-inch-thick bullet-proof glass at the top of the back wall – the cell’s only source of outdoor light. They disappear into the cracks in the walls, like vampire mist retreating from sunlight. But not all of them. There were so many on the night shift that even their vastly reduced number is too many to dispose of. And they act like they know it. They roam around my feet with attitude, as if to make it clear that I’m trespassing on their turf.

My next set of challenges will arise not from the insect world, but from my neighbours. I’m the new arrival, subject to scrutiny about my charges just like when I’d run into the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang on my first day at the medium-security Towers jail a year ago. I wish my cellmate would wake up, brief me on the mood of the locals and introduce me to the head of the white gang. No such luck. Chow is announced over a speaker system in a crackly robotic voice, but he doesn’t stir.

I emerge into the day room for breakfast. Prisoners in black-and-white bee-striped uniforms gather under the metal-grid stairs and tip dead cockroaches into a trash bin from plastic peanut-butter containers they set as traps during the night. All eyes are on me in the chow line. Watching who sits where, I hold my head up, put on a solid stare and pretend to be as at home in this environment as the cockroaches. It’s all an act. I’m lonely and afraid. I loathe having to explain myself to the head of the white race, who I assume is the toughest murderer. I’ve been in jail long enough to know that taking my breakfast to my cell will imply that I have something to hide.

The gang punishes criminals with certain charges. The most serious are sex offenders, who are KOS: Kill On Sight. Other charges are punishable by SOS – Smash On Sight – such as drive-by shootings because women and kids sometimes get killed. It’s called convict justice. Gang members are constantly looking for people to beat up because that’s how they earn their reputations and tattoos. The most serious acts of violence earn the highest-ranking tattoos. To be a full gang member requires murder. I’ve observed the techniques well-received inmates have employed to integrate, and seen numerous failed attempts. I’ve grown familiar with the sound a head makes when cracked against a toilet. I’ve seen prisoners being extracted on stretchers who looked dead – one had yellow fluid leaking from his head. The constant violence gives me nightmares, but I put myself in here, so it’s part of my punishment.

It’s time to apply my knowledge. With a self-assured stride, I take my breakfast bag to the table of white inmates covered in neo-Nazi tattoos, allowing them to question me.
“Mind if I sit with you guys?” I ask, glad exhaustion has deepened my voice.
“These seats are taken. But you can stand at the corner of the table.”
The man who answered is probably the head of the gang. I size him up. Cropped brown hair. A dangerous glint in Nordic-blue eyes. Tiny pupils indicating he’s on heroin. Weightlifter-type veins bulging from a sturdy neck. Political ink and serious scars on his arms. About the same age as me, 33.
“Thanks. I’m Shaun from England.” I volunteer my origin to show I’m different from them but not in a way that might get me smashed.
“I’m Bullet, the head of the whites.” He offers me his fist to bump. “Where you roll in from, wood?”
Addressing me as wood is a good sign. It’s what white gang members on a friendly basis call each other.
“Towers jail. They increased my bond and re-classed me to max.”
 “What’s your bond at?”
 “I’ve got two $750,000 bonds,” I say in a monotone. This is no place to brag about bonds.
“How many people you kill, brother?” His eyes drill into mine, checking whether my body language supports my story. My body language so far is spot on.
“None. I threw rave parties. They got us talking about drugs on wiretaps.” Discussing drugs on the phone does not warrant a $1.5 million bond. I know and beat him to his next question. “Here’s my charges.” I show him my charge sheet, which includes conspiracy and leading a crime syndicate – both from running an Ecstasy ring.
 Bullet snatches the paper and scrutinises it. Attempting to pre-empt his verdict, the other whites study his face. On edge, I wait for him to respond. Whatever he says next will determine whether I’ll be accepted or victimised.
“Are you some kind of jailhouse attorney?” Bullet asks. “I want someone to read through my case paperwork.” During our few minutes of conversation, Bullet has seen through my act and concluded that I’m educated – a possible resource to him.
 I appreciate that he’ll accept me if I take the time to read his case. “I’m no jailhouse attorney, but I’ll look through it and help you however I can.”
 “Good. I’ll stop by your cell later on, wood.”

After breakfast, I seal as many of the cracks in the walls as I can with toothpaste. The cell smells minty, but the cockroaches still find their way in. Their day shift appears to be collecting information on the brown paper bags under my bunk, containing a few items of food that I purchased from the commissary. Bags that I’ve tied off with rubber bands in the hope of keeping the cockroaches out. Relentlessly, the cockroaches explore the bags for entry points, pausing over and probing the most worn and vulnerable regions. Will the nightly swarm eat right through the paper? I read all morning, wondering whether my cellmate has died in his cocoon, his occasional breathing sounds reassuring me.

 Bullet stops by late afternoon and drops his case paperwork off. He’s been charged with class 3 felonies and less, not serious crimes, but is facing a double-digit sentence because of his prior convictions and Security Threat Group status in the prison system. The proposed sentencing range seemed disproportionate. I decide to advise him to reject the plea bargain – on the assumption he already knows to do so, but is just seeking the comfort of a second opinion like many un-sentenced inmates. When he returns for his paperwork, our conversation disturbs my cellmate – the cocoon shuffles – so we go upstairs to his cell. I tell Bullet what I think. He is excitable, a different man from earlier, his pupils almost non-existent.
“This case ain’t shit. But my prosecutor knows I done other shit, heavy shit, all kinds of heavy shit, but can’t prove it. I’d do anything to get that sorry bitch off my fucking ass. She’s asking for something bad to happen to her. Man, if I ever get bonded out, I’m gonna chop that bitch into pieces. Kill her slowly though. Like to work her over with a blowtorch.”
Such talk can get us both charged with conspiring to murder a prosecutor, so I try to steer him elsewhere. “It’s crazy how they can catch you doing one thing, yet try to sentence you for all of the things they think you’ve ever done.”
 “Done plenty. Shot some dude in the stomach once. Rolled him up in a blanket and threw him in a dumpster.”
Discussing past murders is as unsettling as future ones. “So what’s all your tattoos mean, Bullet? Like that eagle on your chest?”
 “Why you wanna know?” Bullet’s eyes probe mine.
 My eyes hold their ground. “Just curious. I’ve never been to prison.”
 “It’s a war bird. The AB patch.”
 “AB patch?”
 “What the Aryan Brotherhood gives you when you’ve put enough work in.”
 “How long does it take to earn a patch?”
 “Depends how quickly you put your work in. You have to earn your lightning bolts first.”
 “Why you got red and black lightning bolts?”
 “You get SS bolts for beating someone down or for being an enforcer for the family. Red lightning bolts for killing someone. I was sent down as a youngster. They gave me steel and told me who to handle and I handled it. You don’t ask questions. You just get blood on your steel. Dudes who get these tats without putting work in are told to cover them up or leave the yard.”
 “What if they refuse?”
 “They’re held down and we carve the ink off them.”
Imagining them carving a chunk of flesh to remove a tattoo, I cringe. He’s really enjoying telling me this now. His volatile nature is clear and frightening. He’s accepted me too much. He’s trying to impress me before making demands.

 At night, I’m unable to sleep. Cocooned in heat, surrounded by cockroaches, I hear the swamp-cooler vent – a metal grid at the top of a wall – hissing out tepid air. I give up on sleep and put my earphones on. I tune into classical music on National Public Radio. Listening to a Vivaldi violin concerto, I close my eyes and press my tailbone down to straighten my back as if I’m doing a yogic relaxation. The playful allegro thrills me, lifting my spirits, but the wistful adagio brings sad emotions and tears to the surface. Due to lack of sleep, I start hallucinating and hearing voices whispering threats. I’m at breaking point. Although I committed crimes and deserve to be punished, no one should have to live like this. I’m furious at myself for making the series of reckless decisions that put me in here and for losing absolutely everything. I remember what my life used to be like.

Shaun Attwood

Hard Time 2nd Edition

The 2nd edition of Hard Time is about to be published, streamlined in the present tense and 20% longer than the 1st edition. Here is the opening scene. Your feedback, criticism and suggested improvements are all welcome:

Deprived of sleep and scanning for danger, I enter a dark cell on the second floor of the maximum-security Madison Street jail in Phoenix, Arizona, where guards and gang members are murdering prisoners. It’s 2am. Behind me, the metal door slams heavily. Light slants into the cell through oblong gaps in the door, illuminating a prisoner cocooned in a white sheet, snoring lightly on the top bunk about two thirds of the way up the back wall. Relieved there is no immediate threat, I place my mattress on the grimy floor. Desperate to rest, I notice movement on the cement-block walls. Am I hallucinating? I blink several times. Still movement. Stepping closer, I see the wall is alive with insects. I flinch. So many are swarming, I wonder if they’re a colony of ants on the move. To get a better look, I put my eyes right up to them. They are mostly the size of almonds and have antennae. American cockroaches. I’ve seen them in the holding cells downstairs in smaller numbers, but nothing like this. A chill spreads over my body. I back away. Something alive falls from the ceiling and bounces off the base of my neck. I jump. With my night vision improving, I look up and spot cockroaches weaving in and out of the base of the fluorescent strip light. Every so often one drops onto the concrete and resumes crawling. Examining the bottom bunk, I realise why my cellmate is sleeping at a higher elevation: cockroaches are pouring from gaps in the decrepit wall at the level of the bunk. The area is thick with them. Placing my mattress on the bottom bunk scatters them. I walk towards the toilet, crunching a few under my shower sandals. I urinate and grab the toilet roll. A cockroach darts from the centre of the roll onto my hand, tickling my fingers. My arm jerks as if it has a mind of its own, losing the cockroach and the toilet roll.

Using a towel, I wipe the bulk of them off the bottom bunk, stopping only to shake the odd one off my hand. I unroll my mattress. They begin to regroup and harass my mattress. My adrenaline is pumping so much, I lose my fatigue. Nauseated, I sit on a tiny metal stool bolted to the wall. How will I sleep? How’s my cellmate sleeping through the infestation and my arrival? Copying his technique, I cocoon myself in a sheet and lie down, crushing more cockroaches. The only way they can access me now is through the breathing hole I’ve left in the sheet by the lower half of my face. Inhaling their strange musty odour, I close my eyes. I can’t sleep. I feel them crawling on the sheet around my feet. Am I imagining things? Frightened of them infiltrating my breathing hole, I keep opening my eyes. Cramps cause me to rotate onto my other side. Facing the wall, I’m repulsed by so many of them just inches away. I return to my original side. The sheet traps the heat of the Sonoran Desert to my body, soaking me in sweat. Sweat tickles my body, tricking my mind into thinking the cockroaches are infiltrating and crawling on me. The trapped heat aggravates my bleeding and itching skin infections and bedsores. I want to scratch myself, but I know better. The outer layers of my skin have turned soggy from sweating constantly in this concrete oven. Squirming on the bunk fails to stop the relentless itchiness of my skin. Eventually, I scratch myself. Clumps of moist skin detach under my nails. Every now and then I become so uncomfortable, I have to open my cocoon to waft the heat out. It takes hours to drift to sleep. I only manage a few hours. I awake stuck to the soaked sheet, disgusted by the cockroach carcasses compressed against the mattress.

The cockroaches plague my new home until dawn appears at the dots in the metal grid over a begrimed strip of four-inch-thick bullet-proof glass at the top of the back wall – the cell’s only source of outdoor light. They disappear into the cracks in the walls, like vampire mist retreating from sunlight. But not all of them. There were so many on the night shift that even their vastly reduced number is too many to dispose of. And they act like they know it. They roam around my feet with attitude, as if to make it clear that I’m trespassing on their turf.

 Here's the professional editorial advice I received for writing the 2nd edition of Hard Time:

 (1) Increasing the role the blog (and resistance in general) plays in the story

 I've talked about this one a fair amount already, but so you have all of the arguments in one place: US readers love stories of underdogs fighting back against injustice -- and in a memoir, the reader needs to be rooting for the narrator to overcome his demons and obstacles. You do a marvelous job depicting your change of heart over time vis-à-vis your demons, and an astounding job showing how you learned the ropes in jail, but for an American audience, the most memorable part of the story, believe it or not, is going to be what you did to try to change the appalling situation, rather than how you survived it.

 Actually, judging from your publisher's press release for the book and the BBC article, it's arguably the most memorable aspect of your story over there, too. That's an important selling point for this revision: you want to tweak the story to emphasize what journalists and other readers have identified as a central issue for the book. In theory, this should make the book easier to market.

 There's another reason that this revision would be a good idea for a US release. There are quite a few prison stories over here (probably because since the so-called War on Drugs began, an appallingly high percentage of our population has been incarcerated), so it's important to make it plain how yours is different than all the others. Yes, the Arpaio angle is one way, and Arizona's startlingly unconstitutional treatment of prisoners is another, but with the blog, you've literally done something unique.

 It was a creative way to deal with a set of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and, importantly for the dramatic arc of your story, it both grew out of the character change the reader sees throughout the book and set the tone for your post-prison life, right? It also -- and this will make a difference to many American readers -- would show you as more active more often, an incredibly difficult thing to depict in a situation predicated on others having virtually complete control over every aspect of your day-to-day existence.

 And -- dare I say it? -- focusing more on your proactive steps, rather than just your reactions, would make it a better redemption story. As we discussed a bit on the phone, in recent years, there actually haven't been that many present-day accounts of rehabilitation more complicated than here are all of the reasons I did drugs. Here I am doing drugs. Here I am participating in the event that got me to stop using drugs. Here I am afterward: ta da!

 There's nothing wrong with that storyline, of course, but it's been done an awful lot, at least over here. (It's also, not entirely coincidentally, a story arc shared by many, many people who have been through AA or NA.) One of the refreshing things about your memoir is that it doesn't fall into that mold -- so I would vote for tweaking the narrative to make that difference a trifle more apparent.

 Then, too, to be purely practical, emphasizing resistance would make the book more filmic. From an exterior perspective (as opposed to the introspection you do so well in the book), the blog is the most tangible evidence that your focus moved over the course of the story from purely on yourself onto the others around you. As the book stands now, your changing relationship with your family carries most of the brunt of illustrating this change. That’s good, but beefing up your larger-scale efforts would increase the reader's (and, potentially, film viewer's) sense of just how profound that personality change was.

 So much for reasoning; on to practicalities.

 Emphasizing resistance need not entail much re-writing -- mostly, it would involve expanding the idea of getting the word out to the larger world to earlier in the book. As it stands, the blog's role is really limited to a single chapter; it doesn't enter the story even as concept until p. 276, and while Ch. 36 is compelling and exciting, neither your fears surrounding what might happen as a result of starting the blog nor your hopes for what it might achieve seem to spill over much into the subsequent story.

 If the reader saw your twin desires to ameliorate awful conditions and alert the outside world to what was going on emerge and build earlier, I think this part of the story would be stronger. You've already got the seeds in the book: throughout, there are a number of points where you show yourself actively trying to improve the world around you. (I'm thinking especially of the point where you started the English class -- that was a very interesting, positive thing to do. But what happened to your students? You mention how the white leaders reacted to the class, but how did the students themselves respond? How did the Mexican nationals gang feel about it? And so forth.)

 Basically, the idea would be to make starting the blog come across as the last (and most subversive) step in a progression of small attempts to improve your situation not just for yourself (necessarily the primary focus of the first half of the book) but for others as well. The set-up of the gradual enlarging of your generosity is stymied a bit by the move into protective custody, true, but there are elements of this tendency in that section, too. (Your feelings about the disabled prisoner, for instance.)

 You could also bolster the impression of the blog's importance in your life by beefing up its presence in the part of the book following its introduction. Even the addition of a few sentences here and there could make a big difference. What would have happened, for instance, had the prosecutor or judge found out about the blog before the judge accepted the plea bargain? How long did it take for rumors about it to leak back to the jail? When you were considering the possibility of going to trial, did you think you would have to stop the blog?

 And so forth. If you treat the blog and smaller acts of resistance as life-changing risks that you chose to take -- which, as I understand it, they genuinely were -- the reader will respond to them as such.

 (2) Add a brief prologue at the very beginning of the book showing yourself arriving in the Main Street jail, then jump back in time to your arrest.
 I understand why you chose to tell the story almost entirely in chronological order -- a huge part of what was going on was your sharp learning curve and adapting to increasingly stunning conditions. That's a smart choice overall for the book. However, it does mean that (a) the most damning indictment of Arpaio's system doesn't come until over halfway through the book, (b) a reader familiar with prison memoirs (like, say, a reviewer) might not be shocked by much in the first chapter as it currently stands (unfortunate but true), and (c) in order to get into the story, the reader has to care enough about a guy who is not sure why he is getting arrested to want to find out why it is happening.

 All you would really need to do to overcome these problems is to add a short -- perhaps even as little as 3-8 pages -- scene at the very beginning of the book that threw the reader directly into hell, rather than introducing it to him gradually. That would be an awfully compelling opening for the book. Then, after you've given the reader a sense of the horror to come, you could end with a "How did I end up here?" cri de coeur.

 Section break -- and THEN you show your arrest. I defy any reader to put the book down after that opening. Or any journalist looking for material on Arpaio to miss the point.

 There's already a scene in the book that would be perfect: I'm specifically thinking of moving up the part on p. 206, where the conditions abruptly change from terrible to something that might drive a reasonable person insane. Obviously, this would involve changing the running order of the book, but it would be a minor one that packed a big punch. Emotionally, that scene is the lynchpin of the book.

 If you moved up all or part of that scene to page 1-- or, even easier on the revision front, wrote a shortened version of it, beginning with the second paragraph on p. 206 -- you would leave a first page-skimming reader absolutely no doubt of what the book was about. (You would also get to open with the cockroach imagery that Skyhorse is not going to let you use on the cover: no small advantage.)

 So much for the literary reasons to make the change. On to the marketing ones, which will probably carry more weight with your editor at this juncture.

 Currently, your lead is buried, as the journalists say: the part of the story that you already know most intrigues readers doesn't show up in the first third of the book. That's potentially a marketing problem, as journalists and interviewers, like Millicents, often skim background material QUICKLY. If you make them wait until mid-book to find what they most want, they might not always get there. Placing a representative piece of horror right up front tells them immediately that there is gold worth digging for in this book.

 There's another, even more market-based reason this change in the running order is a good idea (if I do say so myself.) This suggestion has less to do with how you chose to structure the book than in BIG differences in how readers in the US and the UK expect stories to open. It might be worth trekking to a well-stocked bookstore, grabbing a dozen or so award-winning novels from both sides of the Atlantic, and scanning their first couple of pages. Almost without exception, the main plot will start there for an originally US-published book; the UK equivalents will take pages, if not chapters, to ease the reader into the story.

 This is not to say there is anything wrong with the current pacing of the book -- quite the contrary, in fact. It really moves along. But for the fast-skimming US media market, it makes sense to think about what a potential reader (or journalist looking for an angle) would see first when picking up the book.

 (3) Clarify what's at stake with the plea bargain -- specifically, how long you could have served under the plea (not if you went to trial) if the judge had not chosen to give you the minimum.
 I was rather surprised by this omission, but the reader is never actually told what the possible range of sentences under the plea deal was. We know what the minimum is, as well as the maximum had you gone to trial, but currently, the narrative does not let us know what the agreed-upon sentencing range was under the plea deal.

 Since the most of the suspense in Ch. 39 rests not only upon whether the judge will accept the deal, including the deportation + time reduction clause, but whether he will decide to sentence you to the minimum time possible under the agreement, the maximum, or something in between, it's hard for the uninformed reader to join in the tension. The scene loses power as a result.

 This narrative choice also leaves the actual range of possibilities unclear -- not a good idea in a memoir. From what you say here, it does not seem as though the only two options the judge had were to sentence you to the minimum (with or without the Homeland Security option) or to reject the plea deal entirely, but in the absence of mention of other possibilities, many readers will leap to that conclusion -- and thus not quite understand the complexity of your fear in this chapter.

 Yes, the narrative already tells the reader repeatedly that if you went to trial and were convicted, you could have gotten 200 years. However, even a reader whose idea of how the US criminal justice system works came solely from television would be aware that the top possible number is primarily a threat, not a realistic possibility in a plea bargain.

 For the sake of both realism and factual accuracy, then, it would be a good idea to clarify this -- and it is going to be very, very difficult for your US editor to deny that this is a necessary revision. In fact, I strongly suspect that when she really takes a close look at this chapter, she will be astonished that your UK editor did not catch this significant narrative omission.

 You might want to open your list with this one, actually.

 Suggestions (1) - (3) are pretty straightforward; you could simply offer them by themselves, as they are all sensible enough revisions that it would be difficult to come up with a non-economic argument against allowing you to make them.

 Suggestion (4) is the one I think you are going to hate, so much so that I would understand completely if you rejected it out of hand. However, it would improve both the clarity and the emotional intensity of the middle of the narrative so much, even if you changed nothing else, that I feel I have to risk annoying you by bringing it up.

 And to take the further risk of urging you to consider including it on your list of revision requests. If you are willing to take this incredibly brave step, it will trumpet to even the most insensitive reader that you are committed to being as honest as humanly possible. In a memoir, that impression is incredibly valuable; in a political memoir -- which this is likely to be read as in the U.S. -- even more so.

 (4) Ask for permission to reprint relevant sections of the New Times article -- yes, THAT article -- in the book. Or even the whole thing.

 I fear that you're going to have a strong visceral reaction to the idea of reprinting lies about yourself, but please hear me out. Including excerpts of the actual article will not only clarify the narrative considerably -- it's likely to make readers MORE sympathetic to you, not less.

 Why? Four major reasons, one of which may come as a complete surprise.

 First, as the narrative currently stands, the reader is expected to react to the content of the article without having a clear idea of what it says or why (specifically, anyway) you were so angry about it. Yes, you say that what was in the article was largely not true, and you give a cursory summary, but blanket denial without actual comparative data falls a little flat on the page.

 That's inevitable, as long as the reader doesn't see any of the actual article. Remember, the reader does not hear much about your rave-era life in this book; most of the backward-looking sections in the book are about drug use and partying, not -- how to put this delicately? -- what you might have been doing at the time to support that lifestyle. I understand that there may still be legal reasons not to go into all that, and that you might also be saving some of it for the prequel, but think about it: given that level of incomplete knowledge, how will the average reader be able to guess either (a) what the article said or (b) which parts of it were exaggerations and which outright lies?

 As it stands, the reader can't reliably guess at either -- and that's a serious narrative problem, given how many times the article comes up in the book. It's hard to resent your narrator's being punched by a man without a face. The primary impressions left by your description of the article are that (a) it made a splash in Phoenix and (b) you were outraged by it at the time, but (c) in the long run, the article did you some good.

 The article is, in short, an important plot device, and as such, deserves more elucidation. Believe me, the narrator is likable enough by the point in the book where the article comes out that many readers will be as indignant about the exaggerations as you are.

 Second, that article is going to come up on the first page of any web search on your name. It already does. People are going to see it anyway. Especially interviewers, reporters, and the like. No US reporter with even basic journalistic credibility is going to talk to you without having done at least that much homework.

 In the US, one of the first rules of controlling a negative rumor, false or true, is for the subject of the rumor to be the one who makes the public announcement of it. That often diffuses the negative effect.

 Not to mention being potentially a good source of publicity for the US version's release. You think the New Times is NOT going to write fairly extensively about a memoir that features one of its articles? And if they refuse to grant you excerpt or reprint rights (which would surprise me very much; the price they ask of your publishers may be more than they want to pay, but there is no down side for the paper in allowing you to use excerpts), how is that NOT a publicity windfall for you?

 Third, as I mentioned, you will look astonishingly honest if you are willing to post your detractors' full opinion of you in their own words. (Not to mention that bizarre picture of you as a vampire.) You will blow your detractors away with your bravery. For that reason alone, if I were your US editor, I would ask for permission to reprint the article in its entirety in the book.

 Fourth -- and again, please remember that I am only bringing this up out of a desire to help you -- however much untruth the article may contain, your rave persona comes across as FASCINATING in it; at times, the tone even becomes begrudgingly approving of your organizational skills. It's also quite apparent that the reporter was told to write a blistering story about you, but could not dig up very much legitimate dirt. As a result, even to a reader brand-new to the story, the article is every bit as likely to give the impression that the case against you was thin as it was that you were a criminal mastermind.

 How do I know that? My blog has teenage and junior high school-age readers: of course, I did some background research before I asked you to guest-blog. The combination of that article and your blog posts were electrifying. It made me want to hear more of your side of the story, and the rest is history.

 Granted, given my upbringing and sympathies, my reaction might not be every reader's. However, between the time I received my review copy and when your book came out -- and again, please remember I have been trying to help you here -- I took the liberty of conducting a small experiment: I sent the book's blurb and a link to the article to thirty potential readers I thought might be interested in the book. 100% of them still wanted to read the book after scanning the article. In fact, most were MORE eager to read it.

 Again, it's completely, utterly understandable that you would resent the article, enough so not to be willing to include even short excerpts. But narratively, sympathetically, in terms of plot development, and as a matter of marketing, that reluctance may not be serving your best interests.

 Just consider it, please? And do read on, if you're still speaking to me.

 These four revision possibilities are the most important, in my opinion. Those that follow would all strengthen the narrative, but are geared more toward increasing the US readership's enjoyment and understanding of your story arc, rather than rendering the book easier to market. As a result, they are probably going to be harder to sell to your editor.

 It's probably worth offering one or two as sacrificial lambs, so to speak, in your initial list of suggestions, so she can feel in control by rejecting or accepting them. If she says yes in principle to any revisions at all, you could always suggest any of the rest later.

 (5) Show the reader more of what was happening to your body as a result of those appalling conditions

 You've done an incredible job showing the effects of your environment on your mind and feelings, as well as depicting the positive effects of yoga and working out. However, as a reader, I had a hard time believing that living on Snickers bars for so many months, combined with the overwhelming, constant stress, was not taking a tangible toll on your body. Or that the red death, green baloney, etc. were not affecting the health of the prisoners whom you show were eating them with such gusto.

 Surely, someone got food poisoning at least once? Or was visibly suffering from malnutrition? Showing the direct results of the terrible food quality will only strengthen your case against Sheriff Joe. (Remember, not all of your potential readers will already be aware of his prisoner-feeding policies. In most of this country, he's known primarily for his mistreatment of illegal immigrants.)

 Currently, most of the details of how the food affected even you are contained in the letters home -- where, as you have already told the reader, you were deliberately softening your accounts in order to worry your loved ones less. But the reader is viewing the jail through the lens of your body: the more physical detail in the narrative, the better.

 Yes, I know: you've already included quite a bit of distasteful detail about the food, and that's great. But the jail was systematically poisoning its prisoners. U.S. readers need to know not just how it was done (which you have shown beautifully), but the short- and long-term effects.

 In practical terms, adding more discussion about physical effects in this volume is going to make your life easier over the course of writing the trilogy, too. The bad food and stress must have taken its toll for years afterward; perhaps they still are. Trust me, readers who have never known anyone who has suffered from malnutrition will have absolutely no idea of what the possible long-term effects are.

 By the way, I think you did a spectacular job of showing the cumulative mental and psychological effects of that increasingly abusive environment. It's astounding how often your account resembles the memoirs of prisoners of war. Just heartbreaking -- and monumentally important for the US audience accustomed to hearing little or nothing about the long-term effects of incarceration.

 (6) Dwelling a bit more on constitutional and human rights violations
 One HUGE difference in how readers in the US and the UK might respond to this story: quite a bit of what you describe here is, as I'm sure you're already aware, blatantly unconstitutional. Enough so that even more poorly-educated American readers might well have a visceral negative reaction to it.

 You could play up those elements -- from a US perspective, they are as damning of Arpaio as the rotten food and overcrowding. Yet from the offhand manner in which the narrative handles some of these matters, I kept wondering if your UK editor was aware just how seriously constitutional rights are taken over here.

 For instance, in Ch. 17, you mention in passing that only ten inmates from each unit were allowed to attend Catholic mass. Ten people out of forty-five, in a state that's over 2/3rds Roman Catholic -- and in a jail population that had not yet been convicted or was serving sub-felony sentences.

 To an American unfamiliar with the prison system, that's spit-out-the-coffee-you-just-sipped-before-reading-it shocking. Yes, really. Enough so that you might want to consider writing an article for a religious magazine about how prisoners' religious rights were routinely being denied.

 Everyone over here is at least vaguely aware that many of felons' constitutional rights are curtailed after conviction, but the dominant narrative of how the United States was founded involves a few English people seeking a place to exercise their religion. (Actually, the profit-minded settlers of Virginia got here before the ultra-religious Pilgrims, but that tends to be downplayed in the history books.) We think of ourselves first and foremost as protectors of religious liberty. (That, and as owners of guns.)

 That's why there's such outrage over the right-wingers currently protesting building a mosque near the site of the 9/11 bombings: the very notion that someone could not build a church, any church, on private property in the United States is appalling to most of the population. Seriously, even in the most conservative polls, while 60% thought building the mosque there (actually, it's not a mosque, and it's being built two very long blocks away, but that's another story) was a bad idea, 75% still thought it should be built there, on general principle.

 THAT's how seriously we take the right to exercise one's religion here. And Arpaio dictates that only 22% of his jail's inmates can go to Catholic mass?

 Getting the picture?

 The obvious other constitutional issue to beef up in the text is freedom of expression. Over and above the fact that you had not only to smuggle your writing out of jail AND have it posted online in another country AND do it under an assumed name, in your book, you and others seem routinely denied the right to speak, the right to communicate with loved ones, even the right to read. I think many American readers will find the extent of those restrictions pretty astonishing.

 While I'm on the subject, here's another set of factual omissions that surprised me: what would have happened to your aunt had she been caught smuggling your blog posts out of the jail? What could have happened if she had tried to start the blog here -- or if Arizona law enforcement officials had traced the blog back to you right away? Yes, it's all speculative, but most readers will want to know what you had reason to fear.

 (7) Giving a trifle more context for your supporters, especially Wild Man
 I read so many manuscripts in any given year that I'm an extremely difficult reader to surprise, especially when it comes to the activities of characters named things like Wild Man. I must admit, though, I was completely blindsided by your mother's Ch. 39 declaration that you had been trying to help Wild Man gain more control over his life by moving to the United States. Since it's literally the only explanation the reader is given for your relationship -- as he's depicted in the book, it's not apparent why the two of you were so close, other than because you had known each other for so long -- I suppose that the reader is expected to accept it as true.

 But if so, why is there no mention of this vital motivation until p. 292? And why, if a desire to help and protect him was a significant force in your ongoing relationship, does the narrative have your mother introduce it, rather than it being presented as the result of the narrator's reassessment of his life?

 In terms of narrative construction, this presentation is not very strong -- in fact, it reads almost as an afterthought. (Something an uncharitable reader might well think about several of the lengthy family statements in Ch. 39, by the way: while it's certainly understandable that you would want to include them, the reader doesn't really know enough about the people making these statements to be able to give them due weight.)
 As a reader, I would have liked to have seen Wild Man's character fleshed out more. His outrageous behavior, while frequently amusing, is so disruptive -- and at times, potentially disastrous for you -- that it's not at all clear why you would have liked the guy so much before you all got arrested. Ditto with Wild Woman: the story of her betrayal is poignant, but it would be more so if the reader had heard more about the positive aspects of your friendship with her prior to the arrest.

 In fact, I would have liked to see a trifle more character development for most of the characters on the outside. You do such a lovely job fleshing out the folks on the inside (the material about the white leader secretly married to a Hispanic woman and the peacekeeping efforts of the Italian group are especially nice) that it seems a touch disproportionate that your family tends to be described in such general terms.

 Since you show them being almost uniformly supportive of you throughout the book, up to and including tearfully defending you to the judge in Ch. 39, the expressed remorse about not having been supportive of them in return would ring truer if the narrative treated them a bit more as characters, rather than primarily in terms of their relationship to you. The two instances that cried out more for further examination: your mother's response to your arrest and your sister's anger.

 Yes, yes, I know: both are likely to be very painful for you to write about, but remember, the US reader is not only going to be unfamiliar with the real-life people; that reader may not have any idea of the society in which your family lives, what their upbringings would have been like, how they might be spending an average day, and so forth. So when a US-based reader learns, for instance, that your mother didn't tell anyone about what was going on with you until she absolutely could not stand it anymore, in the current narrative, the reader has no choice to respond to that as if it happened in the US -- a place where even TV characters are routinely lectured about not asking for necessary help as if it were selfish behavior. (Sorry, but it's true.) Further, since we hear of her silence and her breaking it simultaneously, the reader does not have a chance to worry about how she is going to keep it up. It reduces suspense about how she is going to handle it. Ultimately, it sells the story a bit short.

 Obviously, you need to balance how much of her story she wants told with the reader's desire to know, but ultimately, it's the writer's responsibility how characters come across on the page. Less revelation -- especially if that revelation comes primarily as summary, rather than in fleshed-out scenes where the characters can speak for themselves -- might actually serve your loved ones less than a fuller view. It bears some thinking about, at least.

 But seriously, as a reader, I feel very strongly that your family's characters deserved more fleshing out.

 I'm not talking about adding chapters, of course. Just a few personalized touches here and there would revolutionize the reader's conception of these people.

 (8) Let the reader know what your impressions of Arpaio and the jail were before you were arrested, for contrast.
 Again, I found this omission surprising. How much did you know about the guy when you were simply a resident of Phoenix? Did you already have some inkling that people were being abused in the jail, or did it come as a complete surprise? Hadn't you met anyone in the rave scene who had been in the Horseshoe?

 Etc., etc. Since part of what you're trying to do is raise public consciousness about the conditions, a before-and-after might prove very useful in nudging people to get the facts.

Shaun Attwood

From George/Jeeves (Letter 1)

George was my gay butler in prison. His letter refers to the time I had a bleeding scrotal mole, which soon healed.   

Dear Governor,

It was good to hear from you. I hope all is well with your family. Please tell mum that I am eating my veggies and willingly, not like someone I know! I am doing OK. I still partake in the scrotal mole counting. It is still fun. I remember our counts. Eleven soft. Twenty or so erect.

I still eat with Slingblade. He got parole, yet with no family or the VA helping, he still has no address to be released to. You should adopt him and have him be your gardener. On second thought, it might not be a good idea to let him have a hoe.

Please give mum a big hug from me.

Your forever Jeeves,

George 



Shaun Attwood