Having enough time on your hands to spend day after day engrossed in books may sound like a dream come true for a modern day bookworm, but standing before a judge accused of growing cannabis to pay for my wife’s cancer treatment, I was about to discover that the reality was far from the dream.
Prison life, for the most part, was pretty much what you’d expect from crime novels and TV detective shows. I was there, could do nothing to change the situation, so I quickly befriended the librarian and was prescribed an ongoing, daily course of literary anesthesia.
For a while this helped no end. One book faded into the next and the days sped by. I found myself exhausting the library’s collection of most of my favourite authors, delving into whichever available new realms and rereading past classics. That is, until the magic began to fade.
With such an intensive reading schedule and limited availability to branch out, I began to find that many books, especially from more prolific authors felt very familiar. Sure the character names were different, the locations and situations they found themselves in weren’t exactly the same, but I couldn’t deny the formulaic feel of the cut-and-paste construction. With nobody to vent these frustrations at other than whomever I happened to be sharing a cell with at the time, I began to open a dialogue.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to preach that the people I began to get to know were all good guys (once you got to know them), not at all. Many were despicable individuals that casually told tales that could make your blood run cold, but even they weren’t without their own shred of humanity. One particular sociopath I spent a week locked in a cell with, would switch from bloodcurdling reminiscence to the disposition of a placated child when Loose Women was on television. Others were more regular guys, the type you might have a brief conversation with at a supermarket, or a bookstore. Further investigation often led to discovering of outlandish circumstance, the type we read of in crime novels that led them to react and end up serving out long sentences.
I have to admit that this revelation intrigued me. Nowhere within the pages of my beloved books could I find such honest and forthright representation of these souls whom I now found myself getting to know. I had never written anything more than a shopping list since leaving school, but found myself begin to jot down thoughts and ideas. The conveyor belt of inmates continued. I got to know more of them, with tales as varied and despicable, heartwarming and tragic as those that had gone before. My ideas took root and plot lines began to grow from the pile of notepads I continued to fill.
The characters were already there, the situations they found themselves in were defined. My writing career was about to begin.
The Zombie Room by Richard Ronald, Book Guild Publishing, £17.99 hardback