‘Doing time‘ it‘s called and there‘s no more graphic euphemism.

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Moments become minutes. minutes ; hours. hours days. weeks months. . . ;

James Campbell gives Alan Taylor the inside story on his latest book.

a stretch. And when it finally evaporates. and time‘s been killed. then come the jitters. There‘s a phrase for that too: gate fever. Woods knows what it means. The resuscitation ofan ancient. long forgotten crime. An unpaid fine lots are which. with only £27.50 subsistence in his pocket. had to remain unpaid. He was back inside before he had more than a whiff of freedom. But any hiccup would have sufficed. A bureaucratic cock up. A prison officers‘ strike. When all you want is out. something‘s sure to crop up to keep you in.

This is the theme ofJames Campbell‘s (iate Fever (Weidenfeld £10.95). published fortuitously. in one sense. to coincide with the prison officers‘ strike at the end of April which unleashed a night of violence. damage and arson in seventeen of Britain‘s prisons. including Lewes in Sussex where Campbell spent four months gathering material for his book.

No-one with any savvy about the state ofour prisons was surprised by the trouble. ‘Uncivilised. unhygienic and degrading‘ was the Chief Inspector of Prison‘s verdict on conditions in 1984. Campbell. the 35 year old Glasgow—born former editor of New Edinburgh Review was ‘quite surprised‘ at what happened at Lewes. where a more liberal regime is in power. but the riot took place in the remand wing where prisoners awaiting trial are kept. deprived of the ‘luxuries‘ books. records. educational activities which make prison life bearable. In other wings. there was likely to be ‘a lot of conservative reaction‘ to the baHyhoo.

Campbell spent from 9am until lock-up at 8.30pm based in a 14‘ by 7‘ room. meeting prisoners. making friends. building confidence. He would have preferred a Scottish prison. but their officials ‘didn‘t entertain me in the slightest‘. Here. the prison population is actually declining and now stands at around four and a half thousand. over a thousand of whom could be classified as long term. Most prisons were built in the late nineteenth century. facilities are poor. over-crowding inevitable. as are long hours spent in confinement because of staff shortages.

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In such circumstances anything which alleviates boredom is seized eagerly. Use ofhash is widespread and tolerated by ‘screws‘ who. according to James Campbell. know ‘exactly how it is being smuggled in and how to prevent it. But it‘s less harmful than the hooch potato beer which is lethal stuff.‘ Then. incongruously. there's rampant homosexuality and the Open University and other extra-mural ' educational activities. not to mention regular visitors like social workers and the chaplain. And authors working on a books?

‘They were very curious. Some came the first afternoon. But it took time to gain credibility. They‘re accustomed to people coming in and out.‘ Campbell‘s aim was not to produce a sociological book but ‘to capture the atmosphere. the climate.

it. "ml of life in prison.‘ He wasn‘t surprised by what he foundz‘it was no holiday camp, but who expects it to be?‘

Among the many inmates Campbell met there were few he felt would be friends with ‘on the outside‘. Many talk fantastically of their hopes on release women. big spending, high-powered crime. The reality tends more towards the pitiful. Prison officers warned him about congenital liars. but James Campbell doesn‘t think he was duped. ‘How do you know they‘re telling the truth? Whether a guy was married to Jayne Mansfield or not'." An air of healthy scepticism pervades Gate Fever though a deep concern with individuals. state-bred criminals. stands out. in a novel. remain in the mind long after the book has been put aside; young Henry,

released with ambitions ofa

plumbing partnership returns after only eleven days free on a burglary charge; Andrew, self-styled ‘Valley to the Captain' ofthe QE ll, othographically awry but a con-man par excellence. and Colin Wallace. the former army information officer in Northern Ireland. imprisoned on a charge. ofmanslaughtcr. plausibly protesting his innocence. Men clinging to dreams, hope, beliefin justice. But James Campbell is no ringer for Ludovic Kennedy. though he admits to believing in ‘Colin‘s innocence. but (I) knew that no-one could be certain, finally, that he did not kill Jonathan Lewis.‘

When his stint at Lewes was up. Campbell. unpossessed by ‘gate fever’. went back for a year. he still has his pass and he knows five hundred chaps who wouldn‘t mind borrowing it for a while.


Alan Taylor meets a man with time on his


Reviews of what’s best between covers


Late Places to see and be seen


Mexico beyond the football pitch


Eating Mexican; World Cup flavour at home

The List 16— 29 May 41