A searing indictment of the controversial penal tactics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio - who revels in the title of 'America's Toughest Sheriff' -- BBC News
A tale of brutality and a lesson in behind-bars etiquette -- Manchester Evening News
A gripping account of Attwood's time among lethal gangsters -- City AM
Most people are happily ignorant of the difference between the term 'jail' and 'prison.' And since you don't learn the difference until after you've been arrested, ignorance is indeed bliss. Jail is where prisoners are held while their cases are pending. If convicted, prisoners are sentenced and shipped off to prison, where they serve out their time.
By Sue Vogan, writer and author
Very few books can make the hair stand up on the back of my neck or make me wonder if I will be able to keep my wholesome lunch down. However, Hard Time went further than that with nights of picturing the viciousness and stench and utter loneliness in my dreams. If I could reel from just reading about the experience, imagine actually living it – or through it.
Hard Time is not for the faint of heart or the weak stomached. There is no reason under the sun anyone, no matter what, should have to endure what Shaun Attwood experienced being detained in what they determine to be a jail – a detention center for those awaiting a hearing on criminal charges. Sheriff Joe Arpaio might want to reside a minimum of 30-days in the filthy, pest-infested cubicles he forces those pending charges to survive in – if they are fortunate to survive, at all. In fact, he might want to eat Red Death (a slop concocted of who knows what), have no commissary or fresh air, have access to water only every three to four days a week, and wear used pink boxer shorts. He might want to personally experience the lift, bend and spread of the strip search technique, and receive no medical attention. And maybe he would like to try out the thin mattresses that do not prevent bed sores, but do reek of urine, semen, feces, sweat, and other bodily fluids.
If you haven’t lived any of this, you cannot fully appreciate the despicable living conditions created by Sheriff Arpaio – that is until “Hard Time.”
How did Shaun go from a stable family and good job to an over-crowded, stinking tomb? The simple answer is he chose to relieve his stress from his stockbroker position by throwing rave parties and using and dispensing illegal drugs to his friends. The Tempe, Arizona police burst in through his front door, terrifying Shaun and his girlfriend, arrested them and hauled them off to face charges of running an “Evil Empire.”
Shaun’s girlfriend was released, but Shaun’s bail was unheard of at $750,000.00 – for a first time offender with a non-violent list of charges. The Tempe police department, it appeared, was hungry to lock Shaun up and to kyster the key. To make matters worse, just before a bond reduction hearing, the prosecutor added additional charges in what seemed like an attempt to make it impossible for Shaun to be released on bail – also adding an additional $750,000.00 bond.
The judicial system in Arizona, according to Attwood, leaves a great deal to be desired – unless you are a District Attorney looking to move up the food chain. For those looking for a fair shake there, don’t! Sly tricks, slippery maneuvers, and sneaky behavior are what you can expect if the next position in the food chain for those looking to further their careers is only the next big win in the newspapers. Shaun learned this the hard way – by waiting almost two years for his day in court.
Inside the jail, Shaun witnessed only things we read about. There were fights, where the thuds of body parts hitting floors and walls were clearly heard; blood and oozing yellow stuff from the physical damages; rape; racial power struggles; and ignored medical issues. The heat caused men to collapse and top that off with no access to water --the place reeked of foul body odor, urine, feces, and more. How does someone get away with treating human beings like this? “Arpaio does what he wants. The old fogeys in Sun City keep voting him back in ‘cause he’s out doing tough-on-crime PR stunts every week.”
Does this Sheriff know there are more drugs in the jail than on most Arizona streets (and that staff and visitors are smuggling it in)? Does he know that there are reasons the food manufacturers put “use by” dates on food – and those he hires to feed those only accused of crimes are being fed this trash (saving a few pennies at the expense of someone’s health)? Does he know that the walls literally come alive with cockroaches and the spiders deliver bites that are unattended by the medical staff – where the wounds are left to fill with pus as the skin deteriorates (medical staff puts EKG leads on legs to get a heart reading -- where does he find these people)? Does he care that the only rehabilitation in his jail is gang-led (perhaps this is his idea of keeping the streets safe once these people are released back into the public)? And from the looks of things, he doesn’t care about those he employs or he would not allow them to work in a facility that is smelly, pest-infested, and teaming with people who need medical care from contagious diseases.
The purpose of the legal system, according to Gandhi, is “to change men’s hearts.” The jail (and the judicial system in “Hard Time”) is clearly a business and can only change men into animals – animals that somehow survive and are forever traumatized or die trying.
It is a disgrace to permit any human being to treat another in the shameful way those being held for hearings at the “Hard Time” jail are being treated under Sheriff Arpaio. Many of those he is responsible for housing are there because they have been only been accused, arrested and detained for a hearing for causing injury or harm to another. According to “Hard Time,” isn’t Sheriff Arpaio causing injury or harm to others by knowingly allowing these atrocities to take place in a facility he is responsible for?
It is justifiable under the law to take away the freedom of someone for a crime they are found guilty of. However, it is against all that is civilized and humane to permit brutality and maltreatment, such as described in “Hard Time,” to happen to any human being, under any circumstances, and even more so to those that have yet to be convicted of a crime. If this is allowed to continue, Americans have no foundation to call this country “civilized.”
From the prosecutors who want to move up, to the detectives who want their names in the media, to the lawyers who just want to get paid and move on to another case, to the inhumane living conditions you must endure while waiting on the empty promise of a fair trial, you would think in a civilized society this would not be happening. But, it is.
In December 2007, Shaun was released and sent back to England. I can only imagine the jails are less atrocious and his talks “to audiences of young people about the perils of drugs and the horrors of prison” are doing some good – for him and the community he speaks to.
By Stephen Lemons at the Phoenix New Times, August 26, 2010
Dead rats in the evening slop. Cells so full of cockroaches that you sleep in a mass of them. No air-conditioning. Overcrowding. A lack of guards to watch the inmates. Violence and mayhem. White supremacists. And enough drugs to slake the appetites of Hermann Goering and Aleister Crowley, were they still alive.
If you've figured that I'm talking about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails, you've figured correctly, amigos. In that sense, Shaun Attwood's book Hard Time: A Brit in America's Toughest Jail will not undulate the eyebrows of those familiar with Arpaio's Amnesty International-condemned gulag archipelago.
Still, Attwood's hair-raising and oddly hilarious account of his two years in county stir is a reminder of the conditions that caused the deaths of Scott Norberg, Brian Crenshaw, Charles Agster, and numerous others, resulting in Arpaio being America's most sued sheriff and costing Maricopa County taxpayers more than $43 million in settlements and awards, at last count.
In Hard Time, those who don't toe the line of one of the race-based gangs that run the MCSO clink can expect to be beat down, or "smashed," in the parlance of the slammer. Brutal cage-match-type fights are commonplace. The loser often ends up carted away on a stretcher.
The detention officers get their licks in, too, usually when the place is put on lockdown and a beefy goon squad is dispatched to pummel someone into pudding. But Attwood makes the point that not all the bulls are beasts.
"Some of them were brutal," Attwood, now 41, said of the guards, "and some of them would talk to us and tell us that they didn't like Arpaio."
As for the cruelty of some of his fellow inmates, Attwood told me it took a while before he became inured to it.
"The violence was so constant, I couldn't possibly put it all in the book," he said. "You have to get used to heads getting bashed against toilets and bodies getting thrown around."
Particularly menacing are the neo-Nazi thugs who usually head up the "woods," the Caucasian gang that all whites must belong to in the jails — or else.
Anyone who doubts Attwood's accounts of such violence need only look as far as the 2008 death of MCSO prisoner Robert Cotton, the video of which was first shown on KPHO. In it, Cotton's assailant, Pete Van Winkle, stomps on Cotton for 20 minutes before detention officers arrive.
Van Winkle eventually was convicted of first-degree murder. The county ended up settling with Cotton's family for $500,000.
Perhaps more disturbing than the bloodletting Attwood encounters is the fact that Arpaio's jails are awash in every kind of illicit drug imaginable, "keistered" in by the prisoners via their rectums.
The inmates are high all the time. One of Attwood's bunkmates openly deals meth and samples generously from his own supply. Prisoners pass needles around to shoot up heroin, and end up giving each other hepatitis C.
Observing all this had an ironic effect on Attwood, the former ecstasy kingpin.
"During my party years," he writes in the memoir, "I believed drugs were glamorous. But the constant exposure in the jail to round-the-clock drug users crushed that viewpoint out of me. I swore never to do drugs again and still haven't to this day."
The grotesque food — Ladmo bags filled with moldy bread and viridescent bologna, and an evening meal of mystery meat called "Red Death," which occasionally contained rats that had fallen into the mix — turned the former stockbroker and drug dealer into a veg-head.
He took up yoga, began reading widely, and — most significantly — began blogging by smuggling out posts with the help of an aunt who visited him frequently.
The result was "Jon's Jail Journal," a blog he wrote under a pseudonym to expose the conditions he was witnessing. So far, the blog has received around a million page views. Portions of it were run in the UK paper The Guardian.
the book is not without a dark sense of humor. Attwood draws on a number of picaresque vignettes from his county detention that would make perfect fodder for an HBO series — like Oz crossed with some Alex Cox flick.
Some of the most memorable entries involve a Mexican American kid named Busta Beatz, who keeps a cricket as a pet and tortures mosquitoes.
Then there's a passage involving a guy called Joey Crack who gives his manhood a "Prince Albert" piercing, then gets other prisoners to slam a door on it to bend the metal properly.
And in a scene that could've been right out of Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, Attwood's co-defendant and onetime enforcer in his drug empire, Peter "Wild Man" Mahoney, lobs a communion wafer, Frisbee-style, at a priest holding mass for the inmates.
At the end of the book, Attwood thanks Sheriff Joe for "creating such an interesting place to write about." Attwood even sent Arpaio an autographed copy of his memoir. Arpaio recently tweeted that he'd received the book and is reading it.
Attwood admitted to me that he was essentially "scared straight" by the experience but noted that he's the exception to the rule.
"I just saw the youngsters come in," he said. "They get recruited by the gangs, they earn these tattoos — swastikas, lightening bolts, war eagles, stuff like that [for beating people up] — and they would get out and they would just be enemies of society."
What would he say to the Joe supporters who would assert that he earned all the cruelty he could soak up?
"America was good to me," he replied. "I knowingly broke numerous drug laws. And I put myself in Arpaio's jail. I take full responsibility."
But that doesn't let Arpaio off, he insisted.
"Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a legal responsibility to provide minimum conditions under the guidelines set in the federal court system," he said. "He's flagrantly violated those laws for years. I broke the law and he's breaking the law too. He should be held accountable."
By Stephen Rodgers at The Week In, July 29, 2010
A justice system where police lock people away without trial while they build a case against them, a prison regime where inmates are fed rancid food with dead rats and where gangs decide who lives and dies. A Third World setting for John Grisham's latest blockbuster perhaps? No, this is the true story of Widnes born Shaun Attwood after he falls foul of the law in the state of Arizona in America, land of the free!
Shaun was in Bristol recently when he spoke to students from Sir Bernard Lovell School in Oldland Common as part of a tour to warn of the dangers of drug use, something he has thrown his weight into since returning from his ordeal at the hands of the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County Jail system.
During his 26 month stay 'at Sheriff Joe's pleasure' he started 'Jon's Jail Journal' and his blogs began to lift the lid on the conditions inside the jail where inmates are forced to wear pink underwear, women work on chain gangs and more is spent on feeding the dogs than the prisoners.
Shaun Attwood moved to Phoenix in the 1990's and quickly found success as a stockbroker. A fan of the rave scene which was taking off just as he left Manchester, he set about bringing it to Arizona. Success led to money, friends and inevitably drugs - both using and supplying. The hedonistic lifestyle came to an abrupt end in 2002 when a SWAT team broke the door down and he found himself on remand in Maricopa Jail with a $750,000 cash bond and all his assets seized. The nightmare was only just beginning as Shaun was to find himself submerged in a world where all normal rules of society are turned on their head. Rival gangs vied for control, crystal meth was more freely available than it was outside, slops and mouldy bread were the staple diet and falling foul of house rules could result in anything from a beating to death. Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails had the highest death rate in the US.
For the next 26 months, 'English Shaun' had to navigate the various gang protocols, keep off drugs and remain sane in an inferno while suffering postponement after postponement of court hearings and a doubling of his bond. With a state prosecutor out to make a name for herself but little hard
evidence, the twists and turns in the legal process keep adding to the sense of hopelessness of Shaun's 'Through the Looking Glass' world. The story is skillfully told through first person accounts and letters written to his fiancÃ©e and his family back in England and often, just when you think things can't get any worse, they invariably do.
Probably the most significant effect of Hard Time, is that you have to keep reminding yourself this is not Shaun Attwood's first novel, it's his autobiography! Neither is this a simple story of injustice, the false imprisonment of an innocent man. Shaun makes no attempt to disguise the fact he had been heavily involved in the supply of drugs during his time in Arizona. Whether that justifies being held in a remand system while police and prosecutors force witnesses to testify against him is another matter. Especially as it becomes clear that the vast majority of the other inmates are being held using similar tactics.
If there is a happy ending to the story, it is of a man who has confronted his own version of hell and come away stronger for the experience. At the denouement of his case he tells the judge that Mahatma Gandhi once said that the law should be used to change men's hearts. Shaun Attwood's heart is certainly in a good place now. The jury is still out on Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A harrowing tale nevertheless.
By Nathaniel Tapley at Hackney Hive, August 4, 2010
The shadow of Sheriff Joe Arpaio hangs heavy over this book. As head of the Maricopa County jail system in Arizona, he has instituted programmes in which prisoners are fed ‘expired’ meat; are triple-bunked to house 800 in a facility originally meant for 360; and he boasts that it costs less to feed the inmates than the prison dogs. It was in this jail that Englishman Shaun Attwood lived for two years.
Attwood moved to America from Widnes in the early 1990s, and became a successful stockbroker who organised raves and dealt Ecstasy as a sideline. A large sideline. By the time he was arrested, Attwood had stopped dealing drugs, and was trying to rebuild his life with a new girlfriend. In Hard Time, he tells of his two years on remand inside the Maricopa County Jail, and the things he saw.
What he describes is truly awful. There is a cockroach infestation so bad Attwood has to mummify himself in a sheet when he wants to sleep. The jail’s toothpaste is contaminated with a solvent found in antifreeze. Attwood has to unblock an overflowing toilet with his hand, in a cell without running water with which to wash it afterwards. It’s a cocktail of racial and homophobic violence, in which a single misstep can lead to being ‘smashed’.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the men and women in this prison have not been convicted of any crime. In the eyes of the law they are still innocent, and yet they are forced into a system of casual brutality, which is recorded in faithful detail in Hard Time.
Attwood is a welcoming narrator, with a fast-paced, easy style. Although stylistically pedestrian at times, the things he describes are so fascinating and horrible that it is difficult to look away. Certain images will linger, such as Attwood on the phone to a girlfriend who is telling him about how she carries around “your sweaty T-shirt and Floppy [the Bear]” as a child molester is stomped into a coma behind him.
Despite the bizarre and frightening events, one cannot help but warm to Attwood, who took the opportunity of being in jail to read a lot, and to change the way in which he lived his life. His love for his fiancee and real shame at the trouble he caused his family shine through, and the violent and touching often nestle close to one another. Not many books can boast the line: “I’m going to have to mix the anti-fungal cream into my sweat… You drive me wild with your amazing beauty.”
A minor criticism would be that, as the book progresses, larger chunks of it are taken directly from Attwood’s letters at the time, and repeat things he has already told us, or refer to things he has not. The end also seems sudden, without any real appraisal of his experience or hints as to what is to happen to him once he is moved from jail to prison after sentencing.
However, that aside, it is a moving account of institutional savagery, and a penal system that has become more of an industry, with inmates being exploited for profit, and kept inside for as long as possible to maximise that profit. Although Attwood is admirably measured in his response, everything he records is a blistering indictment on the system created by “the worst sheriff in America” and raises questions about how we deal with our own prisoners. This is a good read, and a valuable book.