Erwin James (writer and columnist for ‘The Guardian’) became the third speaker of our series on Wednesday 9th May with his talk entitled ‘My Truth about Prison’. James recalled the years he spent as a homeless and dysfunctional youth drawn into a life of crime, eventually being convicted for murder for which he spent twenty years in prison.
Now patron for the charities ‘CREATE’ and ‘The Reader Organisation’, James emphasised the transformative power of education and the importance of being given opportunities to develop what you’re interested in (for him – English – which was a secret passion of his at school). James spoke of how developing his writing skills in prison through educational schemes allowed him to complete an Open University degree in history and enter a career in journalism, finally becoming part of a society he’d always felt excluded from as a teenager.
During questions and answers, James denied that he had been ‘rehabilitated’ during his time in prison. What prisoners need, he said, is a civilising experience in prison, and it is the attitude of society that denies individuals such a vital education. Addressing broader issues such a reoffending rates and the relationship between prisoners and guards, James acknowledged the value of the prison service in maintaining public safety but pointed towards the need of reform in the way prisoners carried out their time if they were going to be successfully reintroduced to society.