When I read and reviewed Jonathan Robinson’s IN IT, the prison diary he released following his short jail sentence, I supposed that would be the last I would hear from this talented author on the HMPS front. I assumed incorrectly. He has carried on where he left off during his spell as a guest of her Majesty; carried on being a thorn in the side of his keepers.
IN IT was a fly on the wall documentary in written form on the experience of being justifiably incarcerated. Robinson was – and is – the first person to admit he needed a slap around the face. The clout he anticipated was not what he experienced. As his first volume’s pages attested – the Andy Dufresne battering (or worse) he feared never came his way. Instead, this educated ex-helicopter pilot took stock and noticed that he was not encompassed by terror – but fellow inmates with great character – and humour, some of the events logged within IN IT are side-splittingly funny. Robinson fully exploited the full bodied camaraderie that is to be found in all our jails in attempt to raise awareness of the potential of some prisoners. IN IT – without doubt – undeniably made full-use of what was on offer on the landings.
Having had his eyes opened on the warehousing as he relentlessly penned (he left prison after 17 weeks having scribed 320,000 words) Robinson attempted to put something back in, after acknowledging that he perhaps was of a slightly higher degree in the pecking order of matters past-education. In his closed conditions prison the author was trained – by the system – to tutor Toe by Toe – the proven to reduce reoffending literary scheme where literate prisoner ‘A’ teaches illiterate prisoner ‘B’ to read.
Readers of IN IT will recollect that he got shunted to an open – resettlement – prison; Hollesley Bay, early into his sentence and full of enthusiasm, fully accustomed to inmates needing help, was encouraged by staff to teach two adult prisoners to learn to read. The pages fizz at that point – the author clearly over the moon to be able to do something constructive. Something purposeful.
Then September 1 happened. The sparkle went flat. For Robinson was ordered by the on-site Head of Education of a private company earning £7, 751, 340, 00 to ‘deliver’ prison education to “scrub” Toe by Toe. Robinson thus spent the majority of his remaining time sunbathing.
Jonathan left prison – on a tag – under curfew and got typing. Jeffrey Archer had advised him to write to literary agents. The first one who read the manuscript of IN IT signed him. Not bad for a first time author, nor a newly released ex-prisoner. Robinson hoped that off-the-wall events within-the-walls related in his pages would make management of our revolving door prison system sit up and take notice of all that is not occurring on rehabilitation in jail. As IN IT launched the author started knocking on doors… Westminster doors…
And that’s where ON IT comes into play. Robinson has written his second book – in a completely different style to his first – which with an alarmingly shocking gait, reveals the ‘looking the other way’ by those with power of our prison system. I don’t want to spoil for you events that ON IT describe, other than the fact that you are going to be shocked. Robinson is articulate, a fine writer, with a sharp sense of humour. I previously dubbed him a penal Adrian Mole and my view has not changed.
When I reviewed IN IT, I said Robinson had surveyed the prison system with an eye that saw more in a few months than many a con I knew spied in decades. He has taken his keen sight and sharp tongue into the corridors of power.
Toe by Toe is now part of the core working day in public sector prisons, but the apathy which prevented Robinson teaching others still reigns in many establishments. Those charged with leading the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ (which now incorporates the banning of books, sent from outside, by the way) ignore Robinson at their peril. He is clearly not going away.