Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

PEOPLE sometimes ask me whether I am not frightened to work in the prison. I tell them that I am much safer there than on the streets, because on the streets I cannot easily call on men built like steam locomotives to protect me. You're much safer in prison than in, say, the local post office.

I am also sometimes asked why I work in the prison. After all, it lends me little glory and the pay is poor, at least by comparison with what I might otherwise be doing with my time. I suppose it is the opportunity to learn something of human nature, or at least of human conduct, which draws me there.

But is there anything new to learn of human nature other than what everyone already knows, namely that Man is a scoundrel? Perhaps not; but it is the infinite variation of his wrongdoing which is so deeply impressive. Decency is dull by comparison with malfeasance.

Prison is like Africa: from prison, always something new. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that I have heard everything, but I am always proved wrong. Yesterday, for example, I had a little chat in his cell with a man who seemed always to be listening to rap music.

`Why are you in prison?' I asked him. He closed one eye and searched the ceiling as if the charge sheet were printed on it.

`Section 47,' he said at length. `But I never done nothing wrong.'

`What is it alleged that you did?'

`Well, I went into a shop where my ex worked. She was my baby mother.'

`You mean, the mother of your baby?'

`Yeah. …

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