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A book review of Hard Time

Posted by Elena del Valle on May 4, 2011

Hard Time Life with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in America’s Toughest Jail
A book review by Luisa Fournier-Padró

Luisa M. Fournier-Padró

Luisa M. Fournier-Padró

Photos: Luisa M. Fournier-Padró, Skyhorse Publishing Publicity

A British young man leading a structured life he planned would lead him in a VIP limousine straight to Wall Street took a wrong turn, made a poor choice and it led him straight to prison, to an inferno. Caught in the midst of uncertainty, disorder, jumble, bewilderment or mistaken values of life he delivered himself to a nightmare. In the 304 pages of Hard Time A Brit in America’s Toughest Jail (Mainstream Publishing, $13.73) Shaun Attwood recounts his struggle with and life under terrible circumstances at Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s prison in Tucson, Arizona.

According to the book, in this setup and much talked about prison atmosphere, Attwood was able to maintain his sanity and rational behavior through daily meditation of his past actions and dedication to physical and intellectual stimulation plus a strong desire to regain his life back.

In Hard Time, he depicts how the undercurrent of a frenzied style of life, very glamorous to youngsters, can bring so much heartache after short-lived trance of rave parties high on drugs and acid music. To the reader whose knowledge of these words -rave, acid house and music- seems foreign it takes just a moment to search its meaning and background. The term rave most often is used to describe high in energy music, including some forms of trance music that features loops and synthesizers. Also, less intense forms that include ambient music and chill out music played at chill rooms that provide place for ravers to rest and relax from the intense dancing plus, get what pushers offer youngsters.

Hard Time Life with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in America's Toughest Jail

Hard Time Life with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in America’s Toughest Jail book cover

The rave wave started in mid-to-late 1980s where psychedelic and other electronic dance music emerged, caught on in clubs and everywhere around Manchester and later London. This rave bug brought by Attwood, his British accent plus his maneuvering style to promote and sell made him sort of a hero among those who needed extra stimuli to enjoy life.

Attwood claims in this story he was, “raised by good parents in a loving home in North West England, excelled at school, popular with girls at college, had no urge to run away from home; in fact, enjoyed living there so much ‘I chose’ the nearest university, Liverpool.”

“Locked in a Crown Victoria…cuffed, cramped, sweaty and wondering…How did I end up here…were his thoughts when detained in 2002 at his apartment in Tucson, Arizona, for drug use, distribution and raving parties.” No drugs had been found or any other evidence to be detained, except a trail of raving parties and exactly the wrong kind of low grade companions. Unknowingly, he had been under observance by the law for quite some time.

Setting his career sight on finance, he followed the stock market from the age of 14 and by 16 had already doubled his grandmother´s money in British Telecom. A business degree from Liverpool University in 1991 gave him a feeling the world was his; however job interviews were not coming his way. Being at an age when boys turn into young adults with minds full of dreams of a great future combined with moments of disappointments led Attwood to think of migrating to the United States with his Aunt Sue, an insurance adjuster, in Phoenix, Arizona. His parents supported his decision and waved him off Runcorn train station to conquer Wall Street that same year.

Some dishonest bluffing about status at job interviews got him a stockbroker commission, only job with a set up to work from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. which left him very little to survive. He succeeded by stealing client account statements from garbage bags dumped by a rival securities company. Within five years he claims he “was top producer grossing more than $500,000 a year” but felt burn out and stressed.

Shaun Attwood, author, Hard Time

The drug bug won. He tried Ecstasy and the rest was a wild life of rave parties, drug enabling, and more. He was “English Shaun” and “The Bank of England,” considered one of the wealthiest people in Arizona´s rave scene but also one surrounded by security guards with tattooed bodies, Mexican Mafia and gangsters.

How many youngsters were induced down to their lowest degradation? This is the point at which this interesting book needs to be translated into several languages, films produced and more in order for important lessons to reach as many children, young adults and parents as possible. This is just an excerpt and summary of Attwood´s beginning of his decline and fall into the miserable world of drug and filth of Sheriff Arpaio´s prison, as he depicts or describes it.

Arrested during a SWAT-team dawn raid, he was accused of being the alleged head of an organization involved in a club-drug conspiracy. His social milieu was overturned and lifestyle changed dramatically. No more fancy European clothes, it was now a black and white striped jumpsuit. His new abode was a very small cell room with a toilet-no-lid to share with two more mates for their needs, many times without water. They were given old and rotten food provided in so called “Ladmo bags”, spent their time in cells where the walls were covered with cockroaches, the shower floors were full of filth and body secretions, their nights sleeping on dirty mattresses that passed on from prisoner to prisoner and much more or, should it be said much less of life´s comforts.

The names of his mates changed to nicknames forced by their abilities to perform: Wild Man, Maximum Ted, Troll, Outlaw, Silver Fox, Busta Beatz, Joey Crack, Little Italy, Magoo, Big Wood, and Gravedigger; all according to drug use and distribution, stealing, killing, sex and different types of violence.

Daily life in this prison was like a much disorganized dirty school with no classes to enrich their minds, where foul language and content was the tone. Racial discrimination (Aryan, Mexican, Italian, Blacks) was common in an environment where the strongest groups commanded weaker ones or those with impediments and set the pace for a fight, rape and kill. Life was filled with moments when prison “observers” looked the other way until it was too late and a body of a man had to be carried away, never again to return to his cell.

A loving woman stood by him for some time but weakened out due to the life sentence he was facing and a lengthy legal battle. His family stood by him and so did his Aunt Sue who made it possible to smuggle notes and letters back and forth to give birth to an anonymous blog by his parents and a media that started to attract worldwide attention. It was named Jon´s Jail Journal.

There is much more in this book where Attwood has admitted his weakness, wrong doing, guilt, repentance and desire to tell the young world that criminal behavior does not pay.

Released in 2007 he keeps his Jon´s Jail Journal alive with stories of other prisoners, their families and concerned readers. Attwood´s redemption is probably working while spends time speaking to younger adult’s audiences about the consequences of wrong choices, lifestyles and drug use plus autographing Hard Time.

The Hard Time story is worth reading and being discussed everywhere youngsters meet, even with the strong content, and description of language and acts.

Luisa Fournier-Padró has worked as writer, copywriter, translator, ghost writer, researcher and editor.