How to start a prison diary. Step 1 – Get yourself a ticket to the bad house, preferably a return then follow these steps to literary fame.
That’s right, this how-to is going to show you how to start a prison diary. And, I speak from experience. Yes, your very own editor in chief has been stupid enough to get himself sent to HMP Wandsworth in his life. For those outside of the UK, it’s not a great place to go.
I’ve actually written fairly extensively on the topic, as it seems to be something I can discuss that many others can’t. Here’s my recent Quora, on what life is like in a UK prison:
1. Starting your prison diary
So as I mentioned, you will want to find yourself a nice location to really capture the mood. Here’s my old home, deep in the heart of South West London.
HMP Wandsworth is a real man’s jailCharles Bronson – Britain’s most notorious prisoner
A flattering and concise review from the man who tried to poison another inmate while residing within the walls of this 1500 strong Victorian relic of justice. Charles Bronson speaks highly of it, so it seems like this may be a perfect starting point for learning how to start a prison diary.
I’ll take 2 years please….
For this step in the process, you will need the following:
- A conviction or in-fact just a vague assumption of guilt and a foreign name.
- Some time on your hands.
- Stationary including pens and paper.
- A copy of Jeffrey Archer’s Prison Diaries for competitor analysis.
- For the really ambitious a camera phone and lead-lined yet spacious anal cavity.
The latter is really a matter of personal choice, but it can help capture moments that a pen doesn’t do justice.
2. Understanding what makes a good prison diary
So, start by reading the competition. Former MP Lord Jeffrey Archer, a famous novelist was sent to prison in 2001 for perjury. A prolific writer, he penned a fantastic book describing life inside some of the UK’s prisons. But, that was 2 decades ago and when I released my own publication: “Not Another Prison Diary”, I knew there was an angle for a different take.
You see, when you write a book, screenplay or even just record a podcast, there needs to be an ultimate for the audience. What I mean by this is, that there needs to be some resolution. Some form of ‘ohhhhh’.
For Archer, it was about the treatment of him being a world away from what you expect of ‘privileged’ prisoners. For me, it was to show the futility of how the system doesn’t work.
What will be yours?
And that takes us on to step 3
3. How to start a prison diary without being attacked?
You might worry that being ‘bookish’ will leave you vulnerable, but in truth most people just want to get their time done. This means you’ll largely be left alone.
In the UK, if you pull your door closed there is no reason for unwelcome entrants to your cell. Not unless you owe people money or are just an obvious dick.
Don’t be a dick and you’ll be golden.
Prison is a suprising mixture of opposites at time. You will experience those with absolutely zero social skills, but others who GET manners.
- Entering someone else’s cell without being invited, is bad manners.
- 80% of prisoners cannot read or write, that means the leader figures tend to feel a bit bored with their minions.
- Being able to read and write tends to mark you out as a useful person and not a threat.
During my time at Wandsworth I had an eclectic social circle of safe-crackers, senior members of organised crime families, drug traffickers, ‘Top Boys’ of gangbangers and a Submarine officer. Those gangs that sell crack or mug others in streets, have a boss. Those bosses see themselves as a rank above their gang members and would enjoy the company of someone they say as an intellectual peer.
This makes for fantastic opportunities to learn stories but also to get insight into what makes people of all walks, tick.
Write about everything you see, hear, smell and laugh about. With an emphasis on the dark humour. We are immensely proficient as humans at adapting to our surroundings. These stories or jokes you laugh at now, will make great material for your diary later.
Writing will keep you busy, out of trouble and make the days seem less like they drag.
Ok, well they will still drag, but just not as much.
4. How to write and record your diary
Now you will find that material comes easy in the early days and becomes a little harder in time.
That’s normal, the real stuff that everyone cares about is the first period. No -one really wants to know about your gardening job at an open prison.
Number every page you write, and date them too. You will thank me when you get released.
By the end of my release I had written 120,000 + words in my first 4 or 5 months and had I not numbered them, piecing it all together would have been game-over.
You do not want to have to do a second stint behind bars, simply to get it right.
The next step once you have taken the time to write your daily scribbles and numbered them, is to send it home.
Find someone you trust to take care of it and stick it in a folder.
When you get home you will be able to begin writing it up using google docs or word etc, without having to find the right order.
Sending it home means it doesn’t get lost during a shake down as well. Or just getting lost in a move. Again, you don’t want a second stint here to re-write those experiences.
5. What do I do with the journal when I’m released?
Okay maybe we hold off on that just yet. Instead there’s several things you will want to do first.
- Type it up
- Wait a day or two before reading what you have typed
- Find a blog platform to record it with
First thing you want to do is take this precious written artefact and stick it into an electronic format. When typing it up you will also spot bits you can improve on or bin.
By waiting a day or two to re-read that which you type up, you will spot more clearly crap bits of text. You can’t proofread the same day. It never works well.
Imagine you are back in prison and it’s day 1 – record your diary in a blog just the same way.
This means you have days and days of post content and will help you in getting search engines to notice the regularity of your uploads. Also, your work will be entirely unique, which is another win for SEO.
No how to start a prison diary guide would be complete without a super quick explanation of SEO.
It means search engine optimisation and is all about making sure it’s written in a way that Google likes. If Google likes – you may get web traffic.
Other’s prefer to go the route of self-publishing an ebook or audiobook instead and that’s fine. There is a host of ‘how to write an ebook’ resources online. To get you started here’s a great one:
But either route you take, there is a range of options on how you can turn those hard times into hard cash.
My own blog – The Disgraced Banker – got up to 100,000 hits in a month within 4 months of writing it. It was insane and my first introduction to how a pen and paper can lead to opportunity.
On that blog, I added a link to a book I once wrote, and it became a free marketing system for selling my work.
That is how to start a prison diary and in that vein…