Streetwise - stories from an Irish prison, edited by Neville ThompsonEver been in prison? No? Well, neither had Neville Thompson until 2000 when he began teaching in them as part of an outreach program.

This book is a collection of stories written by Irish prison inmates and edited by Neville Thompson. The proceeds go to charity and the stories within are, for the most part, fascinating.

“Write what you know,” a professor once told me. Well, the stories in Streetwise may not be autobiographical – some are blatant fantasies, some are touching, but all are surprisingly well-written crime stories by people who know criminal subject matter better than anyone: the criminals themselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection. The interesting theme of how one gets involved in crime is played out repeatedly here – through boredom, desperation or circumstance, but once in, well, prison is where you go when you get caught. The Irish twist on these stories is really what makes this book extraordinary.

How likely are any of us to visit a prison as a tourist (I mean a working prison, not somewhere like Alcatraz)? This book is a fascinating voyeuristic look into the criminal world of Ireland.

Should we expect good writing from people like this? The editor addresses this in his introduction, saying,

“The common perceptio of prisoners is that they are low life: uneducated wasters who all have a huge chip on their shoulders. Although there are a lot of prisoners who fit that description perfectly, there are a lot of people on the outside who fit that description perfectly too.”

Streetwise is definately a good read.