UPDATED: Erwin James says writing gave him a second chance after murder sentence


img_1704By Henry Valantine

Guardian columnist Erwin James shared his message of redemption, as finding a career in journalism helped him ‘massively’ in adjusting to the outside world after his release from prison.

He first started writing the A Life Inside feature for The Guardian while still behind bars in 1995, after they had approached prisoners wanting them to write about life in jail.

Erwin was released in 2004, having served 20 years after being convicted of two murders, and is now also editor of Inside Time, a publication written by and for prisoners that attracts an online audience of 200,000 per month.

On perceptions of him after his release, he said: “When you get out of jail in this country, people don’t want to know you. You get out of prison after 20 years, and people especially don’t want to know you.

The Guardian gave me a chance to prove that I would be able to do this, and, in a way, that insulated me from a general social opprobrium that we inflict on people coming out of prison.

“I write for The Guardian but I’m freelance, I edit Inside Time, and I’m an author. I just live the best I can, make a contribution and I’m grateful I live in a country that is prepared to give someone like me a second chance.”

While Erwin admitted to the packed audience at Leeds Trinity Journalism Week that he holds no specific journalism qualification, he shares the same enthusiasm the packed auditorium feels whenever their work is published.

“A good article always includes narrative, description and dialogue,” he said, “I’d count every word. If I wrote 806, I’d start all over again until I got exactly 800 words. I wanted it to be perfect.

“But more important than the article was the by-line, thousands of people were reading my work and I found it exhilarating.

“When you achieve something, don’t ever keep your achievements to yourself, jump up and shout about them.”



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