Jonathan Aitken: What Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce can expect from prison - by a man who knows

In a column published in October 2011,  the former Tory MP, who was jailed for perjury, said prisons are humane and a good place to shed delusions

Share
Related Topics

+++

UPDATE: This article was originally published in The Independent on Saturday January 8th 2011, under the headline "I found kindness, camaraderie and humour in prison. I hope he [David Chaytor] does too". It is being republished digitally in light of the sentencing of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce.

+++

Shock

David Chaytor will find the start of his sentence a cultural and personal shock.

A high-profile inmate carrying the baggage of the parliamentary expenses scandal should be prepared for a bumpy ride from some of his fellow prisoners and from the media.

But the bumps should not be too serious, nor last too long – provided he keeps his head down, avoids being a tall poppy, and goes with the flow of life on the inside.

I make these predictions from my own difficult yet strangely encouraging experiences. When I arrived in HMP Belmarsh on 8 June 1999 the initial impact was disorienting. From the moment I entered "the cage" (the big communal reception cell) the cacophony of unfamiliar noise, the high-voltage emotions of anger and despair from just-sentenced men coming straight from court, and the unexpected rituals of reception all put me off balance.

Unsettling rituals

One saving grace, which will be shared by David Chaytor, was that I had pleaded guilty and was unsurprised by my sentence. So I did not join in the noisy protestations of innocence which seemed to be voiced by about half the prisoners in the cage along with much cursing of judges and juries.

The rituals of prison induction are unsettling. They include strip searching, mugshots, finger printing, the issue of ill-fitting uniforms and the confiscation of personal items (belts, shoe laces, notebooks with ring binders) that could possibly be used for self-harming.

Another oddity, which provided me with a rare moment of humour, was my interview with the prison psychiatrist, who had to assess whether I was a suicide risk. He inquired if anyone other than my immediate family knew I had been sent to prison. When I replied that I thought between 10 and 15 million people knew, the psychiatrist asked me a supplementary question in a tone which was kind, if not clinical: "Have you ever suffered from delusions?"

Prison is a good place for shedding delusions. Whether you're an ex-MP or an ex-rock star, you soon find there's no such thing as an important inmate. All are equal in prison uniform. Any attempt to suggest you think otherwise will be met with some aggressive verbals from your fellow cons.

Humanity behind bars

But if you fit in and join the fraternity of the fallen with quiet acceptance, the chemistry on the wing can start to feel friendly. Even among men who have done bad deeds, kindness, camaraderie and humour can prevail.

For all their problems, our prisons are on the whole run humanely. Prison officers deserve more credit than they get for working under constant pressure. If they bark at a high-profile inmate, as they occasionally did to me, they are doing you a favour by showing that there is no special treatment for public figures.

David Chaytor's life as a public figure is over, but if he does his bird quietly, accepts his mistakes and starts to think positively about a different life after release, he may find the road to rehabilitation less difficult than it feels on day one.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Teaching Assistant

£12000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Secondary Teaching ...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Science Teacher

£110 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: This sch...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: second languages, the secret of love and is it all right to call someone stupid?

John Rentoul
High and mighty: Edinburgh Castle and city skyline  

i Editor's Letter: We're coming to Edinburgh

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?