Our Modern-Day Prison-Reformers

One of the most distinguished of these is Jonathan Aitken, who was kind enough to invite me to his home and share with me his extensive knowledge of prison-reform and prisoner-rehab. We already had a connection in that we’re both clients of the Literary Agency, Curtis Brown, and I’d recently read Porridge and Passion, Jonathan’s account of his own time in custody. Since his release, he has personally mentored fourteen ex-prisoners and is currently trustee, director or patron of eleven different prisoner-rehabilitation charities, so, when he gave me a copy of his publication, Meaningful Mentoring, I knew it would be based on long, in-depth experience. Even when still inside, he did his best to help illiterate inmates by writing their letters for them or teaching them to read, and now, many years on, he sees his rehabilitation work as a personal vocation and part of his new-found faith.

Jonathan clearly believes in redemption, as does the Catholic writer, Peter Stanford, a friend and fellow-author, who, as Director of the Longford Trust, also works in the field of prison-reform. Both men are motivated by the desire to give ex-offenders a second chance and the opportunity to rebuild their lives. The Longford Trust does this directly by funding scholarships for those keen to extend their education, and by bankrolling the Frank Awards, which offer grants for serving prisoners to study for Open University degrees.

I knew from the start that some element of redemption would be crucial in The Tender Murderer, since Anthony has moved from a position of smug superiority to a realization that he has to make amends for the serious wrong he has done.  As a concept central to Catholicism, and perhaps essential to society, redemption has figured in my work from the earliest days, although rarely in a strictly religious sense. I’d describe it more as the workings of grace in sometimes wild, promiscuous characters, who are out of control or living on a knife-edge. I’ve always found it easier to depict “bad girls”, rather than the goodies –  perhaps due to my reputation as the black sheep in the family!

In the novel, Darren and Mary also feel prompted to leave their “crimes” behind and make a new start in life, so I needed to work out for each of them a credible and satisfying denouement. I’ve never been one for standard happy endings – walking hand-in-hand into the sunset just doesn’t ring true for me – but I don’t expect readers to reach the end of a book without some sense of hope and change.

However, although ideas for Mary and Darren’s future paths came relatively easily, it took some time to decide exactly what form Anthony’s “redemption” would take. He’s never been a bleeding heart, so it was extremely unlikely he’d follow Jonathan Aitken’s example, working exclusively for others, with little concern for his own personal profit or sense of achievement. He’s still basically an entrepreneur, his ambition and desire for self-determination still as strong as ever, although now focused in a new direction. Having eventually come up with an idea for this next stage in his life, I was riddled with doubt as to whether it could work out for him in practice, or was simply pie in the sky. Then, through sheer serendipity, I met a man, Michael Corrigan, who had brought into real-life existence the rather shaky notion I’d been pondering for my novel. Like Anthony, Michael is both an entrepreneur and an ex-offender, and even had much the same background as Anthony, having worked for ten years for Deloittes and had wide experience in financial services.

After his release from Belmarsh and Brixton, he set up Prosper4, a company devoted to finding employment for ex-prisoners, whilst also making money for its founder and co-workers. Indeed, Prosper4 is now a flourishing concern, working with many leading UK businesses to secure sustainable jobs for marginalized people. In recent years, Michael has added many refinements, such as entrepreneurship courses for ex-offenders, computer-training, peer-to-peer mentoring, and CV-preparation. When I finally met him, Michael was a delight – balding, bearded, exuberant, and highly energetic and motivated. Over a couple of pub lunches, he solidified and verified my until-then nebulous notion of Anthony setting up a similar enterprise.

I began to feel (totally irrationally) that certain people were being steered in my direction to help tie up a number of loose ends in the book and to bolster my confidence that I was on the right lines. These included not just Michael himself, but the Egyptian Mau breeder, and two high-powered accountants who helped me get to grips with the details of Anthony’s job in Corporate Finance – challenging for this author with only O-level maths to her name. Last but very much not least were the men I met – again serendipitously – at HMP Coldingley, as part of the crime-prevention scheme, KEEPOUT.

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