“Strangeways: A Prison Officer’s Story” by Neil Samworth

This book isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you enjoyed shows like “Prison Break” or “Orange Is the New Black” and even the classical “The Shawshank Redemption”, don’t think you know what to expect from “Strangeways: A Prison Officer’s Story” by Neil Samworth.

It’s a memoir, and as such, it doesn’t follow any rules set for fiction. The book is an honest account of the decade the author spent working as a prison officer in the Manchester prison. The book is raw, and the author doesn’t spare the details, which, for the most part, are unsettling and terrifying, but at times, outright disgusting.

To Neil Samworth, applying for a position at Strangeways – the prison with a certain reputation – seemed a good idea. He wasn’t what one would call a perspective youth. On the contrary, he was rather, let’s say, confused about what to do with his life. So, after a successful experience working in a different field of social services, the author applied for a job in prison.

A regular income and a steady job did straighten the course of the author’s life. Still, the difficulties he encountered working in a place where the concentration of the most dangerous criminals is at its highest were overwhelming. After more than a decade in the system, having gone through bureaucratic obstacles that complicated prison staff’s work, and having seen the ugliest sides of human nature and behaviour, the author was suffering from PTSD and risking losing his family.

I read this book last year as a part of the “get-into-the-mood” process for the manuscript that since then I’ve already completed. “Strangeways: A Prison Officer’s Story” was exactly the type of read I hoped it would be, and even apart from my research, I’m glad I read it.

The most important thing about Neil Samworth’s memoir, in my opinion, is the eye-opening moment we are led to forget by the glamour poured on us from social media, tv,  etc. It is very simple: there are truly horrible things that are impossible to mask. They are a part of life. It seems we can’t get rid of cruelty, crime, deceit, and other atrocities that poison life. It doesn’t mean we have to avert our eyes and hearts and pretend these things don’t exist. We must do something. But the initiative should come from those who actually have the power to change something. Responsibility is an integral part of authority after all.

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