The memoirs of an English prison
warden, pure and simple. The author joined Her Majesty’s Prison Service in 1983
and served for 25 years in a number of establishments before taking early
The title of the book is
interesting in itself. ‘Turnkey’ is an archaic word for jailer, from the days
that a prisoner was afforded little or nothing in the way of consideration or
care until – if they were lucky, they were freed. Throughout his book the
author considers the balance necessary between secure custody of the inmate as
required by law and the level of empathy and dignity which makes life bearable
for both jailer and jailed.
The story is straightforward. The
author’s application to join the Service is only semi-serious as is his
attitude to the training period when he is unexpectedly selected. Throughout
his career he sees himself as something of a maverick, speaking his mind to the
consternation of his superiors , not one to toe the party line. Nonetheless he
is conscientious and determined that he will always do a professional job.
As might be expected the author
paints a picture of the daily routine of a prison officer – checks, counts,
recounts, paperwork all done with military precision. However all involved are
human and there are any number of anecdotes to spice up the monotony. He starts
at Pentonville Prison in London and the distinctive stink of the place, though
he becomes accustomed to it, he never forgets. Overtime rackets, sick leave
rackets, they’re all here.
From time to time the author
half-heartedly seeks promotion, for the money rather than any real wish for
recognition. He experiences different establishments and different categories
of prisoners. Throughout he displays genuine empathy for those under his care
and custody, comradeship with his peers but often a certain contempt for his
superiors who, in turn, treat him with suspicion.
Finally, with the Service
changing rapidly, and not to his liking, the author takers early retirement.
This is a good and entertaining
read and it will, I’m sure, be read by many of his fellow officers and
hopefully by members of the public, most of whom will have a knowledge of
prison life received only from what they might have seen on television or at
And, by the standard of some
independently published books, this one is well edited and proofed so much so
that the very few errors jump out. The end of Chapter 20 has a section which
should have been removed in place of an edit appearing just before it; the word
‘nepotism’ is wrongly used; and there is no excuse for a Spurs fan mis-spelling
Gary Lineker! But I nitpick to show that you can never have enough proofreads.
Good luck to Tony Levy with this
Link to their site http://masqueradecrew.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-good-and-entertaining-read-turnkey-or.html