Chris Atkins: A Bit Of A Stretch

This review is written with thanks to Pigeonhole for the opportunity to read and review A Bit Of A Stretch.


Funny, shocking and powerful.’ The Secret Barrister
‘Fabulous. A must-read insight into why prison doesn’t work.’ Jon Snow

Where can a tin of tuna buy you clean clothes? Where is it easier to get ‘spice’ than paracetamol? Where does self-harm barely raise an eyebrow?

Welcome to Her Majesty’s Prison Service. Like most people, documentary-maker Chris Atkins didn’t spend much time thinking about prisons. But after becoming embroiled in a dodgy scheme to fund his latest film, he was sent down for five years. His new home would be HMP Wandsworth, one of the largest and most dysfunctional prisons in Europe.

With a cast of characters ranging from wily drug dealers to senior officials bent on endless reform, this powerful memoir uncovers the horrifying reality behind the locked gates. Filled with dark humour and shocking stories, A Bit of a Stretch reveals why our creaking prison system is sorely costing us all.

Review :

I have experience of visiting someone in prison, but I had no idea how the prison system worked from a prisoner’s viewpoint and I was definitely unaware of how ineffective and difficult to navigate the system can be. Atkins was a relatively unusual prisoner in that he is well educated and has no mental health issues, but his many prison jobs allowed him to make observations of the problems some of these prisoners encountered, and these were incredibly eye opening and I found each stave really interesting. Atkins describes several incidents of self harm and suicide so at times, the book is difficult to read, but I was glad he did not shy away from the reality of prison life.

Among the difficult moments, there are some moments of humour as Atkins comes to terms with his situation. I laughed at the unusual ways of acquiring electrical appliances, extra food and access to the telephone. It was also heartwarming to read of some of the friendships he shared with his cell mates, despite their differences in the face of adversity.

A Bit Of A Stretch is available from Amazon.


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