Friday 1 April 2022

Review by Jon Wilkins of "The Life Inside: A Memoir of Prison, Family and Philosophy" by Andy West

Andy West is a teacher of philosophy in prisons. 

Whenever  Andy West steps into a jail, he is faced with a multitude of thoughts. He has diverse conversations with the people inside about their lives, their ideas and their feelings. As he listens to the men and women he works with, trying to find new ways for them to face their situation, he also comes to terms with his own world and his own guilt as we find that his father, uncle and brother all spent time in prison.

He chose a different path and has built a totally different life for himself, but he still worries that their fate will become his, as if it is a foregone conclusion that all their lives will take the same route. He asks what is prison for, to punish? To rehabilitate? Should we ever forgive a person who has done time? And what lasting impact does prison have on a person? Do they feel shame? Should we, the public forgive them? Is it in our remit to even think about doing this? What right do we have to do this? 

A fundamental question he asks is: can someone in prison ever be more free than someone outside? With this thought in mind, West goes on a journey looking for his own freedom in the wider world and wonders how these ideas reconcile with each other.

This is a beautifully written book, an intelligent exploration of life inside and outside of prison. Often amusing, often sad, it shows us all that is wrong with society, both behind bars and outside in our supposedly free world. We are what we make ourselves and this book tells us as much. This is truly an un-put-downable book, one that gives us a real insight to a series of different worlds and different lives.

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is sixty-six. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years.  He has always loved books and reading. His website is here

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