Penguin Books Reviewed in 2010
A Rusty Gun
Author: Noel Smith
Publication Date: 29th July 2010
Publisher's Title Information
As a gun-wielding bank robber, Noel 'Razor' Smith was top of the criminal tree, enjoying the excitement and benefits of a dangerous and adrenalin-filled career. But he'd also spent the greater part of his adult life in prison, an environment where respect and basic survival were guaranteed only to those prepared to use the most brutal violence. In his new book, Smith takes the story on from his highly acclaimed memoir A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun, and describes how he came to realize that the game wasn't worth the candle.
In his mid-forties he applied to enter Grendon, then the only prison in Britain offering intense therapeutic treatment to hardened criminals. He went from a brutal high-security prison, HMP Whitemoor, to an institution where he was encouraged to investigate just why his life had been given over to violence and crime. Smith paints an unforgettable portrait of the hardened and severely damaged inmates of Grendon, many of them guilty of famous crimes, and their attempts to turn round their lives. And in particular his own arduous five-year journey to re-enter society as a straight citizen.
Reviews to Date
An extraordinary book which thrills and chills in almost equal measure' Guardian 'The best crime memoir ever written by an actual criminal' James Frey
Noel Smith was born in London in 1960. He has fifty-eight criminal convictions, and has recently served eleven years of a life sentence for armed robbery. Whilst in prison he received an Honours Diploma from the London School of Journalism, took an AS level in Law and gained a number of Koestler Awards for his writing.
This is the second book by this author, in which he traces and explores his dawning awareness that crime was no longer for him, and his journey to enter Grendon, which was the only establishment in the prison system offering an intense course of treatment for hardened criminals. His first book - A few kind words and a loaded gun charts his life until this point. Having been born in London in 1960, he has fifty eight criminal convictions, and has recently served eleven years of a life sentence for armed robbery.
Others have written of Grendon's work and the therapeutic regime, but this is probably the first published account by an ex-inmate. Prisoners volunteer to go there, and have to go through a number of selection criteria to ensure that they get the most out of the experience.
The writer becomes one of the men of violence, having a long record of often violent crime, and seeking ways of addressing and reforming his thinking and lifestyle. In this book he charts his journey through the programme at Grendon, which takes five years , but also draw pen portraits of his fellow inmates, and their attitudes to, and how they benefit, or not, from the regime.
In the process, Noel not only faces up to his own past behaviour, and that of his fellow inmates, but also gives a telling account of the staff at Grendon, how much time they put in to helping those on the programme, and also an appreciation of the value of the Grendon group experience, over against the usual prison culture of containment with very little attempt to address past behaviour, but rather offering strategies for reform and rehabilitation.
He pulls no punches in describing how he was encouraged to confront his behaviour, his life of crime and violence, and in the process had to go back to his childhood and teenage years, and search his personality traits, and admit to them before other members of the group therapy programme.
This is all the more remarkable, given the fact that prison is not usually the place where prisoners are themselves, but rather the place where everyone, often including the staff, play out a series of roles and situations which reinforce their own view of themselves, and how others perceive them, and react to them. Grendon makes prisoners remove the mask, and begin to be themselves, and be honest about themselves, their past behaviour, and possibilities for the future.
This book ends with the writer finally reaching Blantyre House prison in Kent in May 2008, with no doubt more to follow to complete the journey back to life outside the criminal justice system - it should be well worth the wait.