Prison works: Conrad Black becomes a liberal

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Holed up in his Palm Beach mansion, an unrepentant Conrad Black has broken his silence for the first time since his release from prison with a paean to the virtues of fine wine, his wife, Barbara Amiel, and the pleasures of "pristine quiet, free of loudspeakers, screamed argument, and the snoring of a hundred men".

The disgraced media mogul, freed on bail last month after almost two-and-a-half years in prison, also used a comment piece for Canada's National Post to announce (like so many other famous conservatives who end up behind bars) that he has become a convert to the cause of penal reform.

The former proprietor of The Daily Telegraph – once a paid-up member of the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade – explained that his time among the 1,800 residents of Coleman Low Security Prison in Florida has convinced him of "the fallibility of American justice, which does convict many people, who, like me, would never dream of committing a crime in a thousand years".

The article was his first public comment on his circumstances since the US Supreme Court ordered a fresh look at his three fraud convictions for illegally skimming money from his newspaper businesses. His time inside, Black says, has "been an interesting experience, from which I developed a much greater practical knowledge than I had ever had before of those who had drawn a short straw from the system; of the realities of street level American race relations; of the pathology of incorrigible criminals; and of the wasted opportunities for the reintegration of many of these people into society".

Black – who is preparing to appear before an appeals court which will consider whether to uphold or quash his convictions – also appears to have been inspired to take up a surprisingly liberal position in relation to the legalisation of recreational drugs.

"I saw at close range the failure of the US war on drugs," he said, "with absurd sentences, including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42 per cent of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California."