Review: Peterhead Porridge by James Crosbie (3.5/5)

Thursday 14 August 2014
There’s nothing much that’s funny about a long stretch in Peterhead Prison – or is there? Behind the bars of one of the UK’s toughest jails, you’ll find the drugs, riots and fighting which make the headlines but, as the cons go about their daily routine, there’s also humour and stories aplenty as some of the hardest and most violent men in British crime do their time. James Crosbie was Britain’s most wanted man in 1974. With a successful business and an enviable lifestyle, he seemed to have everything going for him – until he got bored with his life and turned to armed robbery. He ended up in Peterhead Prison, doing time with some of the hardest, and funniest, men in crime.

Peterhead Porridge is a remarkable account of the people he met. People like The Saughton Harrier who escaped from prison by dressing up as a runner, complete with running vest and number, and joining in as a race went by. And another escapee, Tweety Pie, was so-called because, when he flew the coop, he had a nasty case of jaundice. Then there’s Square Go, the prison warder who was always up for a fight. And discover the practical jokes that were the trademark of Glasgow’s Godfather Arthur Thompson and what really happened when someone poured their porridge over his head in the breakfast queue. Funny, sad and at times barely believable, Peterhead Porridge is a unique insight into the other side of prison life. 

People have long been fascinated with prison life, from books to the media to films and television there's no shortage of material about prisons. Whether in the form of comedy (Porridge), drama (Prisoner, Bad Girls) or the documentaries about notorious prisons it seems there's something for everybody. Touching on the comedic side of the life but at times quite serious James Crosbie takes us inside Scotland's most notorious prison and tells us some outrageous stories.

There's stories within the book that you could actually think were just coming out of someone's warped mind rather than an event that actually happened. With books like these you could fill a page listing favourite stories and anecdotes but I personally find that detracts from the enjoyment of the book and that first time feeling of discovering the stories for yourself. With short chapters you can power through the book in no time but I've been reading it on an off between reads, not because I wasn't enjoying it just because it's nice to have a book you can jump into casually between finishing and starting a new book.

If I'm honest I like books looking at the more brutal aspect of prison life as bad as it sounds and saying that this book does touch on that and there are some pretty disturbing scenes referred to. Still though an enjoyable read to pass a few hours and it will make you laugh whilst at the same time being incredibly grateful that you (hopefully) will never have to experience life in prison.

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