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I first met Vicky Pryce at a dinner party in May 2010, a couple of weeks after her husband, Chris Huhne, left her for his former aide Carina Trimingham. She wept throughout, telling me one minute how much they loved each other, the next how vile he was for leaving her. She asked if we could meet for coffee and I agreed. It was a routine we kept up for months. She wept while I listened.  

A year later, a Sunday newspaper revealed that Vicky had taken her now ex-husband's penalty points for speeding so he didn't lose his driving licence. She was charged with perverting the course of justice and served two months of an eight-month prison sentence. This comprised four days in Holloway and just over eight weeks in East Sutton Park open prison for women in Kent.  

I have a particular interest in prisons as I spend much of my spare time as a lay monitor at a London men's prison trying to ensure that prisoners are treated fairly, so I was particularly interested in Vicky's book. I was disappointed that it contained nothing about her guilt or remorse. "This book will not dwell on the case or what went before it," she states firmly. Nor are there any personal revelations or signs of self-awareness.  

The book doesn't work as a narrative or an analysis of women in prison. The chapter on her first day at Holloway, which could be a real eye-opener for a smart, respected economist like herself, offers little about the prison except that she learnt how to use "freely provided tampons to block draughts on the grilles" before we are whisked away to her speciality, the world of economics, her work on the financial crisis in Cyprus and an "inordinate amount of time in the Overseas Development Administration providing an economic recovery plan...for Zanzibar".  This information is included, she tells us, because it is evidence of how she knew she would cope in jail. She lost me there. 

On her second day, she received 20 letters. "An officer said that in all his time at Holloway he had never seen anyone receive so much post in one day...the girls (prisoners) all came to my cell to marvel at the number of letters on my bed." At East Sutton Park, she is given the job of cleaning the dining room after breakfast and lunch, which she tackles efficiently and well. In one or other prison she meets a "lovely South American girl", "a lovely Caribbean girl", "a lovely South African girl", "a lovely Italian girl" and a "convert Muslim vegetarian with a heart of gold who was in prison for the fourth time". 

She relates how the prisoners were all "lovely, kind and helpful" and rushed around getting her "a soft pillow, a duvet, a duvet cover". She makes them sound more like girls from an Enid Blyton jolly-hockey-sticks boarding school with Vicky the most popular girl in the class rather than the mentally unwell, addicts and damaged individuals I've come across in ten years of volunteering in a prison.     

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Malcolm McLean
December 8th, 2013
2:12 PM
"Treating fairly" doesn't mean "supporting the prisoner in her every attempt to shift moral culpability to someone else, even milk the prison experience for publicity and personal advantage". I do have my doubts about betraying the coffee conversations, however. If it was understood that these were confidential, then Ms Levin should have said it was inappropriate for her to act as reviewer.

Kate Parrick
December 4th, 2013
3:12 AM
This review was written by a lay volunteer who gives her time so prisoners will be treated fairly? Is the irony lost on anyone else? The unfair assumptions and stereotypes of the prison experience are layered like gauze. And the reviewer is not above excoriating the author through revelations of their earlier personal relationship. Why have coffee with someone if you dislike and disrespect them so much? All this review tells me is that the reviewer is an angry resentful know-it-all who cannot be trusted in to keep confidence social settings and is two faced. I'm more likely to buy the book now !

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