LIVE: Guardian columnist tells of prison ordeal after murder conviction

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By Alex Miller

Guardian columnist and Inside Time editor Erwin James has described how he thought he would ‘never live again’ after his conviction for murder.

Erwin, whose life got off to a tragic start when his mother died at the age of seven, found himself living on the streets by the age of 10 and fell into a life of crime, culminating into the murders of two men in 1982.

He told students at Leeds Trinity’s Journalism Week how he fled to join the French Foreign Legion, but was jailed three years later on his return.

Erwin described how, if the death penalty was still in place, he’d have been killed.

He said: “I wouldn’t have minded as I’d hit rock bottom, I felt my life was over anyway.”

He was never somebody who read newspapers – they weren’t written for “people like him”.

However, in jail that changed, he started to think about society, especially when, after one year, his cellmate hanged himself.

He entered prison illiterate and unable to count but joined an English class.

He said:”Within four lessons was top of the class – not too difficult in jail!

“Sixty per cent of people in jails today can’t read or write. I became the bloke who could write a letter – this meant I became more giving, I would start doing things for somebody else for the first time ever.

“I started to begin to think of myself as a brighter bloke.”

Erwin was invited to write a column for the Guardian 15 years into his incarceration – A Life Inside.

He said he never expected to be somebody standing in front of an audience of ambitious young professionals.

 

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