The hell that is endometriosis

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54513072

Mine is a familiar story. I was in total agony every time I had a period. In my teen years and twenties, I always knew at least 2 days of the month would be spent curled in a ball, weeping, puking, trying to breathe my way through the worst pain in the world. I had days off school. I walked out of classrooms and exams because I needed to vomit. (Nobody ever suggested I retook one A level that was completely messed up by my period and me walking out after only half an hour.) Nobody ever said being so sick wasn’t ok; hot water bottle, ibuprofen and bed was the only thing on offer. It didn’t touch the pain which was an endurance to get through. Now we have people like Professor John Guilleaud (University College, London) saying menstrual pain for some is as bad as having a heart attack. Back then I was told I had a low pain tolerance. I thought everyone suffered as I did but I was weak. (Hollow laugh.)

It was a matter of knowing it would end. That day one was worse than day two. I just had to keep breathing. Work was tricky. I knew I’d be ill once a month so I could never afford to have any other sick leave. I only had a small window once my period started before I began vomiting, so travelling home from the centre of London was nerve wracking. I have puked in a lot of public places. It just added to the humiliation.

It ruined holidays, parties, romantic encounters, fun, work, play.

A gynaecologist told me I was perfectly healthy and would get better after I gave birth. She was wrong!

On the ward after my emergency caesarean, I didn’t ask for pain relief and a nurse asked why. The truth was the pain was nowhere near the pain I endured every damn month – it was a breeze in comparison. After the boys were born, contrary to what I’d been told, it got far worse and I was in excruciating pain for 3 weeks out of 4. I was dismissed by the doctors, told I was neurotic. Despite me insisting the pain was all related to my menstrual cycle, I was told it was probably IBS. It’s hard to keep going when professionals tell you there’s nothing much wrong with you and your body insists otherwise. It took eight years before I had a laparoscopy which showed I was chock full of endometriosis. Bits of my insides were glued to each other. It was such a relief to be told that I would have a simple operation – “a spring clean” – and all would be well.

Of course, all was not well. There is no cure for endometriosis. With my first period post surgery, back came the pain.

No treatment is perfect. No treatment cures. They dampen symptoms but produce their own side effects. Mine lists the following: abdominal/pelvic pain, ovarian cysts, back pain, headache/migraine, nervousness, dizziness, nausea, bloating, breast pain, weight gain, acne, depression, changes in mood, loss of interest in sex, itching/skin rash, and puffiness in the face, hands, ankles, or feet. Such fun!

People don’t know what endo is, or they think they do and imagine it’s a bad crampy period. There’s no recognition of how debilitating it is. How destructive. How it ruins lives.

I sometimes wonder what I could have achieved if I wasn’t derailed by this damn condition so often. I know there’s no point on dwelling on what-ifs though and bumble on as best I can, but it niggles at me. Just when I make headway on a project along comes the endo to fell me. Everything I do has to be done when I can manage it and everything is stop-start.

That things still haven’t improved in the decades I have suffered says much about the lack of importance afforded to women’s issues. It’s heartening to see #endometriosis trending on twitter, but watching this video is heartbreaking.

Hell yes, endometriosis care needs urgent improvement.

I just found this drawing of me aged 17 in the midst of a period. Drawn by my best pal then and now, Lisa Bailey.

Smash Lits with Sean Tanner

I published a great little flash at The Forge today – Mams Being Mams by Sean Tanner. It packs quite the punch and you should go and read it here: https://forgelitmag.com/2020/10/12/mams-being-mams/

I also interviewed Sean and just as Susannah did he also chose Alf Stewart as his fave Neighbours character despite Alf not being in Neighbours. (I wish he was though.)

1) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

Excellent question. I would say something like the yin and yang symbol, or a snake eating its own head, or two pac men eating each other. I’m thinking eggshell white for a background with garish primary colours bordering the symbols to create a sort of auric effect.

2) What was your favourite book as a child?

My Dad used to read us a chapter of Shadow the Sheepdog by Enid Blyton every night before bed and we loved it. There was also Run With the Wind by Tom McCaughren.

3) Who is/was your unlikely crush?

Agent Scully.

4) Who is your favourite Sesame Street character?

Never really watched it to be honest, but it’s that guy who lives in the bin if it’s anybody. Probably the answer every writer will give.

5) What colour is Tuesday? 

Beige.

6) Have you ever had a nickname?

I tried to get my family to call me ‘waffles’ for a while (because I loved waffles) but it never caught on.

7) What is the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe?

Swimming trunks I found on cape clear island, back when I was campsite warden there circa 2010 maybe 2011. They’ve faded from black to grey but have taken on sentimental value for reasons I can’t entirely fathom.

8) Do you have a favourite pen?

I tried the whole ‘good pen’ thing for a while, but I lost it several times and then they stopped making the refills for it, and while I enjoy the idea of a companion pen that I can somehow imbue with supercharged creativity, perhaps give it a pet name, and carry it everywhere for luck, it’s just not practical. Now all my relationships with pens are casual. I use them up and throw them away. I’m careful never to get too attached.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

Oh, I believe all sorts, spontaneous combustion is the least of it.

10) What’s your most vivid childhood memory?

My memory is terrible, I think I’ve killed that part of my brain. Some things persist I guess, certain songs on the radio as we drove off to do the weekly shop, the smell of my mother’s perfume, the sound of her voice on the phone. Perhaps my mother comes to mind because it’s memories of her that I most often try to recall since she passed away.

11) Do you actually have a Jesus clock?

Just a regular one, but I would rather have none. I’d rather throw my watch in the dirt like that scene from Easy Rider.

12) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

Alf from Home and Away.

13) What’s your favourite sweet?

I wouldn’t deign to raise one sweet above the others lest the other sweets feel left out. I love them all equally.

14) You hold a dinner party and can only invite writers. Who do you invite?

I don’t really know any writers, and the idea of a party full of them is nightmarish. Not sure why the idea is off putting for me, maybe it’s the fact that I’d have to cook?

15) Do you have any writing rituals?

Just a good strong cup of tea with a spoon of honey.

16) What would your karaoke song be?

Oooft, so many to choose from. I like the sound of nights in white satin coming out from deep inside my belly after four to six beers.

17) What was your first concert?

Moby? Or maybe Bryan Adams. Again the memory is not great.

18) What was the last gift you gave to someone?

Marrow by Robert Reed to my sister in law. Great book.

19) What is your phone screensaver?

My son arsing about in the front of my van.

20) What question should I have asked you?

The answer to life, the universe and everything.

Smash Lits with Susannah Rickards

I recently published a gorgeous nonfiction piece by Susannah, https://forgelitmag.com/2020/09/14/hartlepool-beach-extras/. I read it as not only being a memory of a very particular time, but also a meditation on the importance of creativity in a life whether or not anyone else is there to see it. I also interviewed Susannah about the really important stuff; biscuits, drinks and Airwick, amongst other things:

1) How do you organise your bookshelves?

No need—my husband does it. He’s like a librarian—all alphabetised and by subject. He’ll be adding little dewey decimal stickers soon and I’ll get fined for leaving towers of them under the bed.

2) What is your favourite biscuit?

At the risk of sounding utterly pretentious…there’s a little biscuit factory on the road to Mont St Michel in Normandy. I used to be a tour guide and we used to stop there on the way back from the monastery. They sell sablés. Grainy, chunky discs of butter and sugar. I’m glad they are so far away.

3) What is your default pub drink?

Nothing beats a pint of Kronenburg after a long hot walk. Otherwise I’m a middle-aged cliché: prosecco.

4) Do you have a poster/picture on your wall? Describe it.

The house is full of prints and paintings as my parents are artists. But I don’t have any in my writing room. Instead, I have two very shabby felt teddy bears, hand sewn by my twins when they were five. They are glue-stained and wall-eyed and spilling stuffing. I have them to remind me that the liveliest and most interesting creativity isn’t always pretty and tidy.

5) Do you have any phobias? What?

Daddylonglegs aka Craneflies. It’s hard to love a flying spider that swoops at you. I try and fail. Not reached that ‘fail again, fail better’ stage with daddylonglegses yet.

(And it’s the season – arrrggghhh.)

6) Can you make up a poem about an Airwick?

The category of those who make me breathless subdivides into a) ay-ay! rhapsodic beauties of flesh, fur, foliage and b) ack-ack! snatching for my blue inhaler. Don’t take it personally, but, Airwick, love, you’re b.) You’re down there with Lynx.

7) Have you ever had a nickname? 

Spuggy. It’s the Geordie word for sparrow. I grew up in Newcastle. My family all still call me Spuggy. But no one else does or should.

8) You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?

Shakespeare when he was writing Macbeth or Lear or Merchant of Venice. I’d love the visceral experience of being in his body and mind when that poetry is pouring onto the page. I want to know how he arrived at it, whether he knew how good it was, or was just hacking it out in time for rehearsals.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

I believe absolutely anything is possible, so yes.

10) Have you ever written an angry letter to a magazine or newspaper?

Yes, as a self-righteous teen.  Never since.

11) Have you ever read someone else’s diary?

Oh, Lord, I so wanted to lie in this answer. But yes. Once. A famous actress was lodging in my parents’ house when we were the only two people in the house. I idolised her, so I snuck into her room and read a couple of pages. She must have realised because she hid from me. I never even got a glimpse of her. Never again. I feel very guilty about that. It’s just wrong. Diaries are not meant from public consumption and they are not, I believe, even true reflections of how people feel—they are steam release. I’ve had my diary read too. Horrible experience.

12) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

Alf Stewart in Home and Away.  I had a very niche crush on him when I was younger.

(To be fair, I agree and still kinda do although I think I might want him to be my dad.)

13) What’s your favourite sweet?

Nougat with almonds.

14) Have you ever seen a ghost?

Apparently. In primary school I was walking to the public baths for our weekly swimming lesson in a crocodile with my friends and we passed a house where an old woman was waving at us through the window, so I stopped and waved back, making the crocodile back up. My friends said, ‘What you doing?’ and I said, ‘Waving at that woman.’ They all said, ‘What woman?’ We all stared at the window. I could see her. They said they couldn’t. And then a girl who lived in that street told me the house was empty and an old woman had died there earlier that week.

15) What is the most over-rated novel?

I can’t pick one but I do think all those pompous, misogynistic, middle-aged white men we were forced to take seriously in the Seventies, who think they have the right to bore on page after page about their groin aches and if you dislike it, you don’t appreciate high art, well they’ve aged pretty badly, haven’t you Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow?

16) Who is your writer crush?

Graham Greene makes me cry. I want to write as well as him so much it hurts. Same is true of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. Recently I snaffled up everything Deborah Levy has ever written and my jaw is on the floor at Michaela Coel’s script for I May Destroy You. I wish it was a novel so I could keep rereading it.

17) What’s your favourite swear?

My husband says arse-biscuits. I have borrowed it from him. It’s very satisfying but breaks a sweat in genteel Surrey where we live now.

18) What would your karaoke song be?

I absolutely can’t sing. The right notes sound in my head, clear and perfect, but an entirely uncontrolled elephantine grunt comes out of my mouth. But if I could sing…ooh… Nope. The idea of singing in public is so appalling to me that my mind has blanked. Can’t even think it.

19) Write me a question for the next Smash Lits interview I do.

Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever written?

20) What question should I have asked you? 

What else do you do with books besides read them?

Flash Fiction competitions and why they sometimes suck and why ours doesn’t.

I hate how it often feels as if the writing world is only opened up by having money. If you can afford to pay for an MA, a writing retreat, a workshop, then you not only pay for the knowledge you gain but also the connections you make. The internet is a leveller. I joined a brilliant online writing group and have learned heaps from other writers, for free. However, if I want to submit my work to competitions there is usually a fee. I moan about this to anyone who will listen. Who will win a flash fiction competition that charges £9 to enter? A writer who can afford it. Someone kindly suggested on twitter I could email competitions and ask if they have reduced entry fees for those with a restricted income. It’s a terrific idea to offer such places. The truth is I can pay a £9 entry fee if I really want to, but I choose not to. I want the playing field I am on to be as open as possible.

I’m the Managing Editor of The Forge and we pay writers thanks to the generosity of John and Yosh Haggerty and the writers who submit using our $3 tip jar option. I know it’s unusual to have this private backing and it’s a privilege. I understand the need to charge money to make the prize fund. But… £9 for 300 words?

We are holding our annual flash competition this September and the prize is $500, publication, and, a 2-year subscription to Duotrope (thanks Duotrope). It is free to enter until we hit our Submittable limit of 300. There is also a tip jar option. Our tagline is “Literary excellence is our only criteria.” And it’s true. We are looking for stunning writing and that’s it. We are open to all voices with any background, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual and personal identity. I’m very proud of what we offer and would be grateful if you spread the word. Because it is rare to offer something for nothing I expect we will be inundated so to be sure of free entry get ready to sub asap. I know the writer tendency is to wait for the deadline (September 14th) and then fling something in just before midnight in a last-second scramble but we open on September 1st.

I’m looking forward to reading your work.
(I’m posting this on my personal blog because these are my personal views and I don’t speak for any other member of The Forge.)

Weather by Jenny Offill

This is one of those deceptively slight books – it is packed with meaning. Offill writes bitesize witticisms (perfect for these tweety doom days) as we spend time with Lizzie the college librarian, a woman who feels so familiar to me, only way smarter and funnier than anyone I actually know.

“I remind myself (as I often do) never to become so addicted to drugs or alcohol that I’m not allowed to use them.”

Unsurprisingly for a book called Weather, Lizzie is deeply concerned with climate change but Offill has a light touch. Her pithy paragraphs contain wit, science and fun and carry the weight easily. Her brother is an addict, her husband works in IT, she has a young son, she works in a library where she is a research goddess, and she spends time answering emails about climate change sent to a podcast.

Honestly, this is my book of the year so far. I love how the fragments and thoughts and tips build and build and become a portrait of a woman looking at the end of the world. It feels honest and frightening but also beautifully human and hopeful.

Of course, my favourite line is, “How do you know all this?” “I’m a fucking librarian.”

(I’ve recommended this to a ton of people already and all of them have loved it too. Do it!)

Smash Lits with Jennifer Todhunter

The Levitation is a brilliant one-sentence story by Jennifer Todhunter – do read it. Jennifer also took part in one of my Smash Lits interviews. (I so agree about the peanuts and chocolate thing.)

1) What is your favourite cheese?

Cambazola.

2) Bacon VS Tofu—who wins? Why?

Bacon-wrapped tofu. They’re both winners in my book.

3) What colour is Thursday? 

Sort of a see-through/shimmery colour, like everything in the Night on Earth documentary.

4) You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?

Alice Munro because she’s a short story master and because Munro’s Books is in my hometown.

5) Do you believe human beings can levitate?

I believe human beings want to believe they can levitate.

6) Buffy or Veronica Mars?

Fiona Gallagher.

7) What’s your favourite thing from childhood that you’ve still got?

Fossils I found in the clay banks outside the pub my parents owned. A snail, in particular.

8) How do you stop procrastinating and get on with writing?

Insomnia and sporadic workshops.

9) Do you have any recurring dreams?

When I was a kid, I dreamed about my house burning down while I watched from the driveway a lot. I remember knowing what was coming and not being able to wake up, which was the worst.

10) What’s your favourite sweet?

I’m down with any peanut butter/chocolate combo. A friend told me he ate peanut butter + nutella today and that sounded like the best. I might actually try that now.

11) Do you have a fave meme? What? 

I don’t, I’m sorry. I’m a pop culture idiot.

12) Did you have an invisible friend when you were younger?

His name was Casey. He lived next door which apparently confused our neighbour.

13) What did you do last Saturday night?

It was mellow. There was a bonfire and sweet tunes, so the best kind of mellow. Best kind of night, really.

14) Who is your writer crush?

Currently, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Samantha Irby. I can’t pick one, their work kills me in different ways.

15) What are your windows like?

Dirty and wide-open.

16) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Jenny Offill?

I’m more of a soup person, and I feel like Jenny Offill might be too? I’d bring tortilla soup with all the toppings: tortillas, avocado, sriracha, cojita, cilantro, lime. The soup would be spicy enough to make the insides of your eardrums itch and would leave you wanting more. Speaking of wanting more, peanut butter + nutella = heaven on a spoon.

17) What question should I have asked you?

Late nights or early mornings? (Both.)

18) What’s your favourite swear?

I love a good fuck.

19) What word or words make you cringe? 

I have three cringe-worthy words, I recently told my kids what they were, they won’t stop saying them, so you’d better believe I’m not telling the interwebz.

20) Write me a question for the next Smash List interview I do.

Favourite-all-time-forever-never-let-you-down song? (Blind Love by Tom Waits.)

Prison stories.

I’ve been working in a prison library and teaching creative writing there for a few years now. I’m fortunate to do a job I love and find meaningful and I spend a lot of time talking to prisoners about their lives. It’s pretty impossible to take part in a creative writing group without revealing something of yourself (although at least one person has managed) and I see it as a privilege to be part of a process that helps people open up and explore their creativity. I think that’s one of the reasons I stayed away from writing any prison based fiction for so long. I want to be respectful and would hate to be exploitative. I try to encourage the men to write their own stories. (Saying that there are a few guys whose stories I would love to write. I do have a little fantasy of doing a Three Women kinda thing where I could follow up on their lives for 10 years or so – it’d be fascinating – before and after prison. I’m fairly sure the prison wouldn’t agree though.)

When you spend time in a place it inevitably seeps into your writing and I have begun a series of short prison stories. They are fiction and aren’t based on anyone real. I am, however, grateful to some of the guys for their assistance with details about kettle cooking and help with language. I learnt some stuff. Apparently, nobody would ever call another prisoner a dude unless they were a “middle class, middle aged wanker from Cornwall.” Also, if you need to know how to jam a kettle switch to make it a hotplate, I’m your gal.

Thanks to The Mechanics’ Institute Review for publishing my story, Doing Time.

http://mironline.org/doingtime/

Smash Lits with Sam Asher

I published a terrific story by Sam Asher this week. It’s called Fish Food and you can read it at The Forge. I also had the pleasure of interviewing him. Seriously, his answer re: his phobia is still making me smile.

1) What is your favourite fish?

My instinct was to look for some kind of obscure, exotic, masterwork-given-gils of a fish and pretend I’ve always been fond of one of those, but the truth is I’m exceedingly fond of the goldfish. They’re wonderfully unpretentious, and excellent listeners. My parents had one for over a decade, and we gave him a decent burial. He was a good fish.

2) Have you ever had your fortune told?

Nope

3) What is your worst habit?

Putting my boots on the couch.

4) Who is your favourite TV detective?

I’m not at all sure I know any.

5) You are wallpaper—what is your pattern?

He-Man.

6) What is your default pub/bar drink?

I’m an alcoholic in recovery. Typically I’ll just order a soda, but the further I get into sobriety the farther my waistband seems to expand. That in mind, I’ve been trying to stick to water. Yes, a party with me is exceptionally muted and depressing. I did recently discover cream soda with lime juice, which tastes a little like an old holiday cocktail my dad would make us.

7) What colour is Thursday?

Mauve.

8) What picture do you have on your wall? 

Atop the mirror that hangs over my wife’s dresser is a painting of a tiny penguin carrying a turkey baster. His motives, surely, are nefarious.

9) What is your favourite fairytale?

Trickle down economics.

10) What words make you cringe?

The verb ‘get’ (or any of its variations) is a garbage verb for garbage people.

11) What is the last thing you googled?

Toy stores in Soho.

12) What’s your favourite swear?

Fuck. Absolutely. No other word contains such a wealth of meaning based on such tiny variations in intonation. I could write ‘fuck’ five times and each time it could signify something altogether different, or even opposite to, the ‘fuck’ previous.

13) What was your first gig?

It was the Reading Festival in 2005. The first band on the line-up was Goldie Lookin’ Chain, so their classic hymn to acceptance ,‘Your Mother’s Got a Penis’ will be a tune I never forget.

14) Do you have any writing rituals?

Trying not to suck.

15) Do you have any phobias?

Turtles. I don’t trust any creature that can hide its face inside of its torso. And they walk so deliberately, at such a slow pace. Where to, I ask? Where are you going, turtle? Why are you taking so long to get there? Is your time somehow infinite? Are you immortal? Are you just lazy? What are you hiding inside that shell? Is it money? Is it gifts? Is it my childhood? Reveal yourself, cruel amphibian.

16) What was your favourite book as a child?

I was actually taught to read with an illustrated children’s bible, and despite my avowed, and occasionally dispiritingly militant atheism, I still think kindly of it. In terms of narrative, I stole a copy of Little Wolf’s Diary of Amazing Deeds from school when I was 6 or so, and read it a dozen times. I kept the same copy until last year, when a combination of mental illness and residual, twenty-five-year-old-guilt at my first foray into theft led me to donate it to a local LGBTQ charity store.

17) What instrument did you play at school?

Air drums.

18) Write me a question for the next Smash Lit interview I do.

Assuming ghosts don’t currently exist, if I gave you the power to do so, would you will them into reality?

19) Who is your writer crush?

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

20) Bacon VS Tofu—who wins and why? 

I’m a vegetarian, but tofu is brewed in a vat of spavined farts, so I suppose bacon, as a concept, but tofu as a meal. Pigs also, did you know, are smarter than Republicans? Eat a Republican instead.

Constellations: Reflections from Life by Sinéad Gleeson

This collection of essays by Sinéad Gleeson is superb. I’ll admit shallowness; it was the oh-so-beautiful cover that enticed me in, but I stayed for the words. Gleeson writes crystal clear prose on what it is to be a woman, a mother, to endure pain, illness, disability. She writes about loss and fear, grief and life, art, the church. Her words moved me, nourished me, chimed. Her essays about being a patient and losing self in a hospital are particularly striking, perhaps more now than ever as we face Coronavirus.

“And a fear, familiar as night, creeps in. That the implicit trust we put in the medical world has been misplaced.”

“The hospital is a place of necessary quarantine where control must be abdicated. Inside, there are risks. Of not waking up post-anaesthetic, infections, encounters with MRSA, the hail of germs from sneezing, tissue-less visitors. The overly solicitous chats from the stranger in the next bed.

The air. Can we talk about the air? The coagulation of smells. Other people, cleaning products, distant hot-plated food with no singular tang. The metallic, surgical dregs of something disappearing. Vomit. Inhale. Hand sanitiser. Breathe. Disinfectant. Exhale.”

A masterclass.

A Bit of a Stretch by Chris Atkins

I’ve just read A Bit of a Stretch by Chris Atkins. A successful journalist and documentary filmmaker, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for a tax fraud he became involved in when looking for ways to finance a project. As someone used to documenting events he kept a detailed diary about his time in Wandsworth. It’s an interesting look at what life “inside” is like. While the tabloid headlines continue to scream about “lags” living it up at the tax payer’s expense in “holiday camp” prisons, Atkins calmly pulls back the curtain and exposes the reality of how this country treats its prisoners.

Nothing I read was news to me because I work in a prison library in an open prison (which Atkins describes as being “like the Ritz in comparison”) and often prisoners tell me their stories; what they did, which prison they have been in and the things they’ve seen. Atkins worked the system as best he could, acknowledging that as a white, middle class, well-educated man he had many advantages most prisoners don’t. He quickly got himself on the “best” wing. He volunteered as a Listener – a prisoner trained by the Samaritans to provide assistance to other prisoners in crisis. He met with many desperate people, most of whom have mental health issues which make them incapable of the kind of conformity the prison regime demands. They are punished rather than treated. Men are locked up 23 hours a day. The ideal of rehabilitation via education, health and work followed by appropriate resettlement is unavailable. Teachers stand in empty classrooms because there aren’t enough officers to unlock the men. Healthcare appointments are missed for the same reason. 

I smiled at the publishing blurb which asks “Where can a tin of tuna buy you clean clothes?” One evening at work a prisoner asked me to photocopy something for him and to my surprise offered me a tin of tuna as an incentive. It was only when I mentioned it to one of the men who worked with me in the library I discovered it’s prison currency. It’s that familiarity with the narrative that made this book perhaps slightly less engaging to me as so much of it was like conversations I regularly have, however, I think anyone curious about what it’s like to be in prison will find this book fascinating. It’s important stuff too. Atkins balances darkness and desperation with much-needed humour through anecdotes and encounters with prisoners and officers. There’s camaraderie too; that essential and often unlikely bond between people in similar situations. And also, the heartbreak of being away from his young son. Every time someone is imprisoned there are other people who suffer; family and friends – the impact on children is huge. 

Prison reform is a tough subject because the public is resistant to spending money on those who commit crime. Why make life easier for people who have done the wrong thing? It comes way down on the wish list when you consider how all of our services are so stretched and underfunded. Who would choose funding prisons over education, healthcare, adult services etc? It’s no election winner. Atkins suggests most reasonable people agree everyone should be treated with at least minimum standards of decency and care, but for the throw away the key brigade he employs unarguable statistics: “Britain has the worst reoffending rate in Europe with 48% of ex-prisoners being reconvicted within one year of release. The cost of reoffending alone is estimated at £15 billion, more than three times the entire prison budget.” Atkins ends the book with his suggestions for improvement which are pretty compelling. For more information please look at the Prison Reform Trust which does sterling work in this field.

I do want to end by saying I have come across many people who work in prisons who are absolutely motivated to support and rehabilitate people so they leave prison in a better position than they went in. Breaking the cycle of offending is what we all want, surely? 

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