Blogging behind bars (by Jonathan Gilbert of The Courant newspaper in Preston) 

Shaun Attwood, who is in Preston signing copies of his book Hard Time this weekend, moved from Widnes to Arizona to make his fortune. He ended up doing time in the state’s infamous jail. Jonathan Gilbert reports

Shaun Attwood survived the USA’s worst
jail, but the horrific experiences he lived
through still give him nightmares today.
Attwood is from Widnes, Cheshire,
but he ended up in Arizona’s maximum
security Madison Street jail, run by
“America’s toughest sheriff” Joe Arpaio,
after a SWAT team raided his Phoenix
home in 2002.

The 42-year-old told The Courant: “I
have flashbacks night after night of the
cockroaches trying to get into my ears
and nightmares which mix the real world
with my time inside.”

Attwood moved to Phoenix after
graduating from Liverpool University to
work as a stockbroker, and quickly
amassed a small fortune trading.
But he was leading a double life. Atwood,
who had been a regular on the
Manchester rave scene in the 1990s, was
heading an organisation that threw raves
and dealt club drugs.

He was held for two years in appalling
conditions before being convicted
of money laundering and drugs
offences and sentenced to nine-and-ahalf
years in prison. He served nearly six.
Attwood grabbed the world’s attention
when he began writing one of the
first prison blogs chronicling Arpaio’s
disgusting treatment of inmates.
“One of the guards told me that no
one on the outside had any idea of the
conditions we were living in and that it
would cause outrage,” he said.
Attwood would give his scrawled
memoirs to his aunt Ann, who visited
him often, by hiding them in legal paperwork.
Guards would only search the
documents for contraband and he was
never caught.

Jon’s Jail Journal grew so popular it
was partly responsible for the closure of
Madison Street a few years ago.
“I started in Arpaio’s Towers jail and
then spent 12 months in Madison
Street,” Attwood says. “I thought it
couldn’t get worse than Towers. It did.
“The violence was constant. It was
raw survival. My heart was beating so
fast it kept me awake. I didn’t sleep for
the first few days.”
Arpaio is known as the “Angel of
Death” for the peculiarly high death rate
in his jails and because he promoted
guards found to have killed inmates.
Attwood says he has paid tens of millions
of dollars in damages to the families of
prisoners who have died.

In Attwood’s first blog post, from
February 2004, he says he had no running
water for three days and tells of
sleeping next to a toilet full of sewage.
He has also spoken about the plague
of cockroaches that infested his cell.
“They would line up in cracks in the
wall waiting for the lights to go off. Then
they’d crawl all over me.”
Attwood became so traumatised he
had a nervous breakdown.

He told The Courant: “Jail was a
dangerous, illegal environment where
gang members dictated who lived and
died. The food was unfit for humans and
sometimes had dead rats in it.
“We had constant skin infections. It
was 50°C and we would sweat day after
day. Your skin would have a soggy outer
layer and clumps would come off from
under your fingernails.”

Through a combination of making
the right connections and a strong personality,
Attwood managed to avoid the
dangers of becoming affiliated to a gang.
“I kept out of trouble. Wild Man,
one of my security men at the raves, was
also inside. He could fight and looked
after me.”

But it was the relationship that
Attwood struck up with Two Tonys, a
mafia boss who murdered rival gang
members and left a trail of bodies from
Arizona to Alaska, that had the greatest
“We grew close and I wrote his life
story. I would sneak into his cell. We
would talk about philosophy and that
would help us.
“He died recently and his daughter
emailed me to say that I had really made
a difference in his life.”

Attwood was released in 2007 and
deported back to the UK. He now lives
in Guildford, near London. Meeting
people he would never have encountered
otherwise and surviving such extreme
conditions have changed him forever.

“I was emotionally immature when I
went in, but being forced to learn from
prisoners was the best education in
human nature and psychology I could
have had.
“Though they were maniacs and
drug offenders, when I found out their
background – the broken homes and violence
– I understood how they got there
and it humanised them.”

Attwood read around 1,000 books
in prison and was inspired by the classic
works of Marcus Aurelius, Cervantes and
“They shaped my way of thinking.
My old belief systems fell away and I
learned to be free in my mind.”

Despite the trauma of jail and his
desire to expose sheriff Arpaio, Attwood
does not regret what happened to him.
“I don’t want to sound like a moaning
prisoner. I accept that I deserved to
be in there for the crimes I committed.
“I was mentally strengthened from
the suffering and I credit the system for
sending me in a new direction. I have a
thirst for life now. I wake up with a smile
on my face.
“The only thing I regret is the pain I
caused to my parents and family. My
mum had a nervous breakdown and my
sister needed counselling. But they’re
proud of me now.”

A reformed Attwood gives talks in
schools to discourage children from
drugs and crime and is delighted with
how well received they are.
He also continues with Jon’s Jail Journal
and has been writing the prequel to
Hard Time, which he hopes will be finished
by the end of the year.

But Attwood’s biggest challenge is to
bring about a change in Arizona. His
book comes out in the US at the beginning
of May and he hopes it will cause
such a stir that charges are brought
against sheriff Arpaio.
“I’ve been on a mission to expose
this since 2004,” he says. “But Arpaio is
an elected official in a right-wing state.
The big question is whether the book
will have an impact. I really hope it

Shaun Attwood will be signing
copies of his book Hard
Time: A Brit in America’s
Toughest Jail in Waterstone’s, Preston
on Fishergate this
Saturday from 11am –4pm.

Click here for more details of the upcoming book signings.


Anonymous said...

Good luck today!!! Hope it goes really well x


Johnny Exchange said...

The jail and prison industry in the United States is a $50-60 billion industry. With 2.4 million people in one of the 8,906 facilities on any given day, and over one million people directly and indirectly employed in the industry it's massive. We lead the world by incarcerating 750+ of every 100,000 people on a given day. Russia and China can't come even close. Jon's blogging and his book give the personal side of this multiply that by 2.4 million and you wonder why America is in trouble.