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Doing Time: A spiritual survival guide by Jonathan Aitken and Edward Smyth

14 April 2022

David Kirk Beedon on advice about life inside

FOR some people who are seeking spiritual support during a period of incarceration, this book will be a helpful resource. It is a small book and an easy read. The book is well structured, with nine chapters covering various aspects of incarcerated life, such as “The First Night” and “Drugs in Prison, and Other Temptations”. Each chapter provides reflections from each of the authors (who have both served time “at Her Majesty’s pleasure”), in which they testify how their Christian faith provided a resource for personal transformation amid the penal challenges that they faced. Each chapter concludes with a prayer, each of which I found appropriately accessible and well crafted.

The book is well priced, perhaps especially for prison chaplaincy departments, which, I know, are always on the lookout for suitable resources. Both authors are Anglican, which means that the book has a particular denominational slant. I am not sure how colleagues in multifaith chaplaincy departments would welcome the advice to new arrivals in prison which the book contains: if in doubt on your religious affiliation, “tick Church of England” on the form.

A concern that I have is that the book, to me, represents prison life as more Porridge (Ronnie Barker) than Time (Sean Bean). While prison would have undoubtedly been a shock to both authors, they served relatively short sentences and came into the system with more personal resources (educational, spiritual, financial, relational, etc.) than most life-wounded souls whom I encountered and served as a chaplain.

There are systemic issues barely touched on here. For example, in the context of publishing a book, according to the Prison Reform Trust, 62 per cent of people entering prison have a reading age of 11 or lower. I sincerely hope that this book provides a useful spiritual guide to some incarcerated souls. Church Times readers should, however, beware, if they are curious about the gritty reality of 21st-century incarceration. For that, I would recommend Carl Cattermole’s Prison: A survival guide (Penguin, 2019).

The Revd Dr David Kirk Beedon is a former prison chaplain and a researcher in practical theology, with an interest in criminal justice and mass incarceration.


Doing Time: A spiritual survival guide
Jonathan Aitken and Edward Smyth
Lion Books £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.29

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