Prisoner CB9298's PR machine releases a letter

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THE REHABILITATION of prisoner number CB9298 continued apace yesterday with the publication of a letter from Jonathan Aitken saying how much he was enjoying life in jail.

Just days after an article appeared in a Roman Catholic journal quoting the former cabinet minister on his desire to repent, the Mail on Sunday printed a letter Aitken wrote to his mother detailing the positive aspects of prison life. "Darling Mamma, Hail from de jail!" Aitken starts his unlikely correspondence. "I have just woken from a good night's sleep and had a beautiful prayer in the stillness of this cobalt-blue dawn, which looks all the more stunning when seen through cell bars."

In the handwritten letter penned from Belmarsh high- security prison in south London and dated 9 June, Aitken tells how he has been helping other inmates to fill in housing benefit forms and eviction notices.

"It was just like being back in my constituency surgery in Ramsgate," says Aitken, going on to claim that he has "mysteriously acquired" an Afro-Caribbean fan club as a result of his "advice bureau" work.

Aitken - sentenced last week by an Old Bailey judge to 18 months' imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice - says that being forbidden access to newspapers and television has given him a real sense of freedom.

He even manages to make a half-hearted joke: "With prisoners who are far better company than the paparazzi and guards who are much kinder than The Guardian, I am in good spirits."

Aitken says he is spending about 22 or 23 hours a day locked up in his cell - time he fills by reading, writing, praying and meditating. He is also learning New Testament Greek. He says he will make the entire prison experience positive and productive.

"There is a great sense of relief and peace in me. The nightmare is over. Once the 18-month price has been paid, a new life can begin. So onwards, upwards," says Aitken.

Elsewhere in the letter Aitken says: "I am absolutely fine here. I would describe the regime as spartan, strict and full of silly rules, but perfectly humane. In fact it's better than that because there's masses of human warmth, good humour and friendliness flowing my way. Whenever I walk down a corridor there are lots of shouts of `Hi, Jonofan' or `Good luck, Jonofan' or `Good luck, mate'."

The letter comes just days after The Tablet printed an article written by Aitken before he was sentenced in which he talked of his apparent repentance. It also comes as Department of Trade and Industry investigators prepare to examine alleged links between Aitken and two companies set up in the name of his two daughters.

Yesterday Aitken's mother, Lady Aitken, declined to say whether she had sold her son's letter to the Mail on Sunday."This is the end of a ghastly week," she said yesterday. "What business is it of yours how the letter came to be printed? It has been printed and I think it is a very nice letter."