The Little Book of Prison by Frankie Owens

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The Little Book of Prison by Frankie Owens

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A survival guide to prison - a bit on the brief side but entertaining and easy to read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Waterside Press
ISBN: 978-1904380832

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It’s probably pretty safe to assume that the sort of prisons shown on TV, and their portrayals of life inside, bear as much resemblance to real jails as the doctors in Grey’s Anatomy or House do to their NHS counterparts. That’s why Frankie has written this book: to provide a guide to what life inside is really like and how best to survive it with your sanity, and body, intact.

The first thing you notice about the Little Book of Prison is that it is indeed a little book, more of a pocket sized booklet than a typical tome, both in dimensions and number of pages. Inside it’s a little different too and one of my pet peeves is realized as exclamation points are used like they’re going out of style!!!!!! It’s bad enough when this happens online in blogs but in a book it’s really annoying!!!! As is the absence of a couple of apostrophes (one on the back cover, no less)!!!!! Frankie goes out of his way to tell us that he is an educated man with a senior job, a Masters degree and aspirations of doing a (now publicly-funded) PhD (though alas his sentence isn’t long enough to facilitate this) but it’s not really the impression you get while reading this book. Perhaps it’s down to the editing, perhaps he’s written it more to his target audience (with a considerable percentage of the prison population lacking even basic literacy skills) than to the rest of us, but it comes across as almost childish in places, like a school leaver’s attempt at book writing rather than the real thing.

Style and presentation aside, if we look purely at the content it’s actually quite a readable book. Frankie is not a first time offender, but this is his first spell inside and he starts writing the LBP during his baptism of fire, to help prevent others going through what he’s had to endure. Hot tips are backed up with anecdotes that help flesh out the image of life behind bars, and from how to get more money to how to get more gym time, what to do with your socks at night, and why letter writing is a lost art, it covers a lot of ground. It’s entertaining and easy to plough through – think hours, not days – and while it didn’t elicit much sympathy in me, it also didn’t leave me brimming with disdain of him and his compatriots.

Some of the descriptions are crude, certainly, and repetition only emphasizes this (his bum going 20p, 50p is an image that was brutally engraved in my mind after the first mention and every follow up appearance only made the scratches deeper and harder to shake). Some of the lingo takes a little getting used to, and I would have found a glossary helpful, but for the most part it’s easy enough to keep up with what’s going on. Because it’s a helpful guide rather than a specific recollection of his time in a particular HMP, the book bounces around a bit, following a random train of thought that seems to involve Frankie getting all his tips and ideas out as they occur to him, but this isn’t as disruptive as it might have been.

The book is designed to help, guide and support first time offenders who don’t know the system. For this Frankie is being praised, though the cynic in me half wonders whether time wouldn’t be better spent helping people avoid being in that situation in the first place. But, for those for whom that help would be too little too late, I can see the benefit of this book. It’s easy to read but it has important stuff to say, like a big brother telling you the way the world works based on his own experience, so you can avoid the less obvious pitfalls.

I had read positive reviews of this book but when it arrived I feared that it had been over sold for its novelty factor. I was pleasantly surprised in the end because it was funny and educational, in a tongue in cheek kind of way, and has a much wider appeal than you might think. Look past the !!!!!!! at what the words in between are saying, and you’ll almost certainly learn a little something about a place that might be interesting to visit… but you wouldn’t want to live there.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

Everything I knew about prison before this, I learned from.... Jodi Picoult. Change of Heart tells it like it is, or at least how it could be. You really ought to read this as well.

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Buy The Little Book of Prison by Frankie Owens at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Little Book of Prison by Frankie Owens at


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