Erwin James: My journey from condemned prisoner to The Guardian

By Henry Valantine

Most modern-day journalists tend to get involved in the industry by organising unpaid work experience while studying for a degree, but Journalism Week speaker Erwin James got in via an unconventional route.

Erwin was serving 20 years of a life sentence in prison for two murders when The Guardian were looking for a prisoner to contribute a column detailing experiences from prison life.

Despite protestations from the prison governor at the time, Erwin took up the challenge of writing for a national newspaper, while also studying for an Open University degree during his sentence.

On his upcoming talk, he said: “You can expect to find out how I became a journalist, especially the chances of someone like me becoming a journalist? It’s unbelievable, and I’m going to share that journey with you, and I hope you can all gain something from that.”

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Erwin has just released his third book, following on from the successes of his first two novels written inside prison walls.

“When you go to prison, the whole world condemns us, very few of us become writers, and I was one of the lucky ones to be able to become a writer.

“I’ve been able to leave my story behind, and our society has been able to give me a second chance, and I’m going to do the best I can with it.”

 Erwin was released from prison in 2004, and was last year appointed as editor of Inside Time, a publication written by and for prisoners, achieving great success with 200,000 hits per month and a sizeable Twitter following.

 Prison Reform Trust patron Erwin takes pride in the website’s lack of bias when it comes to content production, saying: “It’s the most authentic and true newspaper in the country. There are no politics, no angles, and when you’re in jail it sometimes feels like you live in an alternate reality.

“My mission is to try and use my experience to bring to a greater understanding to wider society about prisoners and how we can benefit from that.”

Erwin is due to speak on Wednesday November 16 at 2pm.

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