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Guardian: Life in America's toughest jail

1st September 2010

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, calls himself "America's toughest sheriff". His fame – or his infamy – comes from his tough stance on crime and criminals, to whom he gives no quarter. He does not flinch from putting women prisoners in chain gangs, for example, and humiliates male prisoners by forcing them to wear pink underpants under their black-and-white-striped jail garb. One man who has experienced Sheriff Joe's brand of justice at first hand is Shaun Attwood.

Attwood, originally from Cheshire, has just published his first book, Hard Time: A Brit in America's Toughest Jail. It chronicles his journey from highly paid stockbroker in Phoenix, Arizona to drug dealer - before he fell into the clutches of the Arizona prison system. Attwood began his writing career whilst he was in prison where he started to chronicle the abuse that he and his fellow prisoners were subjected to. The articles were then smuggled out of prison by his parents, who posted them on the internet under the mantle of Jon's Jail Journal. It was the first ever blog by a serving prisoner and attracted international attention.

Released in 2007, Attwood was deported back to the UK, where he tried to develop his writing career. His efforts were going nowhere until he won first prize in a short story competition. As a result of his win, he was assigned an author who travelled from Scotland to mentor him at the British Library. This has resulted in a burgeoning writing career. 

Attwood says that going to jail has changed his life for the better, but only because of his own determination. I guess Sheriff Joe Arpaio would say, "There you go – my prisons work," Attwood says, smiling. "It's about survive and thrive."

Read more:

  • Erwin James' article in the Guardian
  • Shaun Attwood's blog
viewed here