He´s the former top politician whose career ended up in one of the toughest jails in Britain. Denis MacShane was sentenced last December to six months in prison after admitting that he had made fake expenses claims of more than €10,000. He was released in February from Brixton prison after serving six weeks of his sentence.
His new book, Prisons Diaries, tells the story of how this urbane, multi linguist who was appointed UK Europe Minister by Tony Blair came to find himself behind bars.
Two days before Christmas 2013, former MP Denis MacShane entered one of Europe s harshest prisons. Having pleaded guilty to false accounting at the Old Bailey, he had been sentenced to six months in jail.
Upon arrival at Belmarsh Prison, his books and personal possessions were confiscated and he was locked in a solitary cell for up to twenty-three hours a day. Denis was the latest MP condemned to serve as an example in the wake of the expenses scandal. Written with scavenged pens and scraps of paper, this diary is a compelling account of his extraordinary experiences in Belmarsh and, later, Brixton.
Recording the lives of his fellow prisoners, he discovers a humility and a willingness to admit mistakes that was conspicuously lacking in his former colleagues at the House of Commons.
He tells of “Sunday, bloody Sunday” being the longest day of the week, adding, “no visits, no gym, no work, no classes. Unlock late, lock up early.”
Monday, though, is the worst day because “it is the start of another week to get through.”
The bitterness of asking, and being refused, a request to shower before seeing his children for the first time since he was sent down, is all to clear.
Woven into the narrative are thought provoking reflections on a range of important topics, from the waning of public confidence in MPs – and the high-profile termination of his own political career – to the failings of the British judicial system.
MacShane expressed the hope that the book would help highlight the need for prison reform. “I regret that during my time in parliament, I didn’t pay any attention to prison reform,” he said today. “I now realise from personal experience why prison reform should be much higher up the public policy agenda, and hope that this book will help draw people’s attention to it.”
This is a compelling account of MacShane’s experience as well as revealing what life is like as a prisoner in Britain today.
In his own words, it really does deliver “a damning report on the state of the UK’s failing prisons”.
By Martin Banks