Erwin James’s remarkable writings about life in prison, A Life Inside and The Home Stretch, have established themselves as classics of the genre.

“Prison writing doesn’t come any better than this…” Jonathan Aitken



Born in Somerset in 1957 to itinerant Scottish parents, Erwin James lost his mother when he was seven. Shipped from home to home and subject to the whims of various caregivers after his father turned to alcohol and violence, he committed his first crime of breaking and entering when he was ten. His teenage and early adult years were spent drifting, and his petty crime turned increasingly violent, culminating in the terrible events for which he was jailed for life in 1984.

Entering prison at 27, James struggled to come to terms with the enormity of his crimes and a future without purpose or hope. Then he met Joan, a prison psychologist, who helped him to confront the painful truth of his past, and to understand how it had shaped him from such a young age. Her sessions transformed his life. Encouraged to read and to educate himself, over the next twenty years Erwin James would go on to receive a BA in History, and become a regular columnist for the Guardian.

Speaking to the very heart of the human condition, this is a book that offers no excuses - only the need to understand how we become who we become, and shows that no matter how far a person may fall, redemption is possible with the right kind of help. It is an important and timely memoir.

Publisher Bloomsbury Paperbacks
ISBN No: 978-1408849323


The Home Stretch

In this sequel to A Life Inside, Erwin James begins his final year of incarceration and contemplates life as a free man.

Like his previous prison notebook, A Life Inside, James writes without self-pity but with humanity and honesty. He tries to imagine what his life on the outside will be like and how the world will have changed since he began his long sentence almost twenty years earlier.

What does it say about a man who had done almost twenty years in prison that his writing should be marked by such humanity, compassion and wisdom? Never pleading for himself or pitching for our pity, Erwin James’s account of life inside is fascinating not just for its portrait of a harsh and secret world but because in the author we are introduced to a man of rare self awareness, strength and intelligence.’ Ronan Bennett

‘A witty and clever meditation on freedom…’ The British Council

‘This is real life in an unreal environment, frankly and powerfully rendered”
Book of the Week – Time Out

Publisher Guardian Books
ISBN No: 978-1843544388


A Life Inside

A Life Inside is the story of a journey from vicious and dysfunctional youth to reformed middle age. It does not glorify crime, nor does it seek to make excuses for its author’s past. But Erwin James’s account of his incarcerated life is a dramatic human story that no reader will readily forget.

‘ Compelling and intelligent prose about life inside.’ Daily Telegraph

‘An extraordinary portrayal of life in a British prison.’ Daily Mail

‘A powerful and illuminating description of real life behind bars that stays in your mind long after you put the book down.’ Daily Express

‘James has transformed our view of what it means to be inside.’ The Scotsman

Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN No: 978 1 90380 998 3



“Erwin is a passionate advocate of rehabilitation policies. He praises the army of teachers, trainers, facilitators and counsellors trying to help break the cycle of offending and imprisonment.” David Lammy MP

Since his release from prison in August 2004 writer and journalist Erwin James has endeavoured to inform the debate on how our society uses imprisonment through his writing and as a motivational speaker in seminars and conferences in a variety of spheres including business and education as well as criminal justice. James believes that a prison is a valuable community resource, “As valuable as a school or a hospital.” He believes society’s failure to acknowledge this is the main reason that prison fails to serve victims of crime well, and fails to bring the rewards that society has a right to expect from its massive investment in the prison system both in financial and human terms. In his presentations James challenges the stereotypical image of the people who inhabit our prisons and in doing so provides inspirational testimony to the untapped potential that the effective use of imprisonment can offer.

Erwin has given presentations to organisations, associations and schools in the UK, Europe and Australia, including the Royal Society in Edinburgh, the European Prison Education Association in Dublin and in Norway, the Prisons and Probation Union at the Danish parliament in Copenhagen and the Sydney Opera House.

Delivering Keynote Speech for the Greater Manchester Probation Trust Conference

“Opportunity for Change”
Manchester United Football Ground

“Really excellent and exactly what I wanted! Your story and delivery were captivating”
Chris Noah Deputy Chief Executive GMPT

Literary Events

“My favourite Forum presenter was Erwin James. I found his story so inspiring that I bought his book.
If he managed to work at passing his exams in prison, then there is no way I should quit…” Student

“Thanks for arranging the fantastic talk of Erwin’s.” Teacher

“We are so lucky to have people like Erwin James spreading a bit of sense around…” Student

“The honesty and power with which he spoke about his experience kept the audience spellbound and compelled them to confront some difficult but important issues. It was one of the best talks we have had all year and, for some, will be an abiding memory of school.” Teacher

“I would like to thank you for teaching me to be determined for what I want and to follow what I am good at. Thank you.” Student letter       

If you would like Erwin James to speak at/Chair your event please complete the contact form to discuss further.