When Jeffrey Archer was sent to prison for perjury you might have thought we’d be spared any more of his colourful life and anaemic prose for at least a while. But of course in prison there isn’t much else to do but write and Archer’s churning out trademark tales of his prison life faster than his new publishers can package them. Three hardened volumes are planned already and, if he gets on the wrong side of Her Majesty’s Prisons much more, he’ll have plenty of time to indulge in further volumes. In Not the Archer Prison Diary Tim Dowling follows an alternative account of what happens when a familiar disgraced politician with a vivid fantasy life descends without warning upon innocent and unsuspecting criminals.
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Tim Dowling was born in Connecticut in 1963. As a journalist and columnist he has written for the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday, The Guardian, the Spectator, GQ and various other magazines. He lives in London with his wife and three sons. He is the author of The Inventor of Disposable Culture: King Camp Gillette.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
‘I sentence you to four years,’ says the judge, his hoarse voice thick with bias. Normally when this happens, it is my signal to face the audience to receive a thunderous standing ovation, but this is no ordinary packed matinee performance of my hit play The Accused. This is a real life courtroom drama, and only a few people are clapping. The judge orders me to be taken down to the cells.
An overweight security guard leads me downstairs, into the bowels of the building and down a dark, dank, magnolia-coloured corridor. At the end of this bleak, beige ‘hellway’ is a large steel door, which my companion unlocks with a key. I estimate the door to be approximately seven feet high and three and a half feet wide, as I am 5'11" and a trim 175 pounds and I fit through with ease. We approach a court official, who could also afford to skip a few meals, seated at a small desk. Then the cruel, pitiless form filling begins.
‘What’s that in kilograms?’ I tell him I have never used kilograms in my life and don’t intend to start now. He breaks into a broad, overweight grin.
Then the first ‘screw’ returns and takes me to a small room, ten feet by three feet, nothing but four bare walls, a ceiling, a narrow bench and a floor. He ushers me inside before departing. When he is finally gone and I dare to approach the large, cold steel door, my worst suspicions are immediately confirmed. I am locked in.
After almost a quarter of an hour of being ‘banged up’, I am allowed out to speak briefly with my ‘brief’, who has come to brief me on what is to happen next. Nick, who is not only my QC but also my best friend in the world, confirms that I am in custody, and that under the circumstances it is extremely unlikely that I will be allowed to keep my 8:30 table at Le Caprice. He tells me that I am to be sent to Hellmarsh, Britain’s worst ever jail, renowned for its bad food and loud noises. I put on a brave face, but when my QC leaves I feel the first tinges of apprehension. I now believe this is going to be my most difficult undercover assignment yet.
I am sent back to my cell, which is still bare, with no clock or recent magazines. There is nothing to do but stare at the graffiti desecrating the four flesh-toned walls: ‘This sucks’; ‘Kill All Judges’ (one concedes the point) and ‘Kevin Jones is inocent’. I pass the time by counting my heartbeats out loud, which is probably the only thing that keeps me sane. It is not long before I am well past 500. And as I keep myself fit with daily sessions in my own private gym, my heart rate is rarely more than 62 beats per minute. You do the maths.
The burly guard finally reappears, opens the door and escorts me back down the same bleak peachcoloured corridor. Already I feel myself settling into prison’s dull, dispiriting routine. The burly guard motions to his beefy colleague, who takes away my money and the £900 Montblanc Solitaire fountain pen given to me by Gandhi, who, I suddenly recall, was also wrongly imprisoned for his beliefs. The officer holds the pen in his fleshy fingers and eyes it suspiciously. ‘I have a receipt for that at home,’ I say, risking a knowing smirk. But the beefy guard does not return my smirk. Instead he handcuffs me to an immense female officer who in turn leads me to a white, thickly set van. Flashbulbs explode as we exit the underground car park. As the van winds through the rain-wetted streets of London, I glimpse an Evening Standard placard, which has already been updated with the latest bombshell: ARCHER SENT TO JAIL. The clear implication, that I was wrongly convicted in a stunning instance of grotesque injustice, is obvious from the outraged hand- writing. I am grateful for the support, and manage a smile for the first time in many minutes.
After what seems an eternity, the van turns down a side street past yet another phalanx of press photographers, and I get my first glimpse of what is to be my new residence. Hellmarsh certainly lives up to its name, and by that I do not mean that it is a marsh, although it is in a low, marshy area. I mean that it is like Hell in prison form.
Once inside the prison I am taken to a waiting area, where I wait. ‘Archer!’ calls a gruff voice. I enter another room. By now I am used to the soul-destroying routine. ‘Name, age, height, weight,’ the officer demands.
‘Archer, 59, 6 ft 1, 165 lbs.’
Then I am told to take off all my clothes. The officer reads out the labels as I go: ‘Aquascutum, Hilditch & Key, YSL, Church’s, Speedo...is this a swimming costume, Archer?’
‘It is,’ I reply. As a precaution I had worn my trunks under my clothes, in the event that the prison swimming pool lacked suitable changing facilities. I had hoped for an acquittal, of course, but it made sense to go to court prepared for the worst.
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