8 Surrey Advertiser 6th August 2010

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Harsh lesson... Shaun Attwood during his time in the Maricopa County jail.

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‘My years in Arizona’s notorious Maricopa jail’
by Melanie Hall
COCKROACHES crawling into his ears, sweltering heat and murderers knocking heads against the toilet bowl – all were part of daily life for a Briton who made a million and then ended up in one of America’s deadliest prisons. Stockbroker turned drug-dealer Shaun Attwood, 41, now living in Guildford, wound up in the notorious Maricopa County jail in Arizona after police busted his drugs operation in 2002. Spending almost six years in a jail which has the highest death rate of any prison in the USA, and where inmates hold more power than the guards, Shaun puts his survival down to his ‘Englishness’. The prison’s stark racial divide saw inmates beaten up for sitting with other races, or smashed in the face for not taking showers. “I was thankful for all things English at that point,” said Shaun. “I would tell them that as I’m British, I’m the head of my own race, and that would get a laugh. “It helped tremendously. They look at us, and call us ‘Goddamn limey cousins’. A lot of them were very interested to hear about England. It was a talking point. “I had a lot of friendships with people who would look out for me.” To avoid the infighting, Shaun would stay in his cell reading. He kept out of prison politics, where murder was a way of rising through the ranks. “There was a phrase ‘Putting work in to earn their political ink’,” recalled Shaun. “The more serious the violence, the higher up the ranks they got. “You saw people getting taken out on stretchers all the time. The violence was constant.” At the beginning of his time, Shaun was on the phone to his girlfriend in the toilets when skinhead prisoners kicked a sex offender into a coma. “There was a look of shock that was on my face, and someone told me to wipe it off, or else I’d get victimised,” said Shaun. “It’s one thing watching it for a couple of hours on the Shawshank Redemption, quite another having it every day.” One year in, Shaun saw the same look on a new inmate’s face, and was shocked to discover that he had become immune. It was a far cry from his early years graduating from Liverpool University with a business degree. Originally from Cheshire, he emigrated to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1991 to work in finance, and became a highly successful stockbroker, later a millionaire daytrader during the dot-com bubble. Shaun brought with him his love of the Manchester rave scene, and vowed to recreate it in Phoenix. By the late 1990s, he was the head of an organisation involved in staging raves and distributing club drugs, including Ecstasy, and was making $500,000 a year. However, the party came to an abrupt end when he was arrested and spent more than two years on remand in jail. Gang violence, murders and cockroaches became a part of his day-to-day life. Sean has now recounted his experiences in his book, Hard Time: A Brit in America’s Toughest Jail. He first gained attention from his secret blogs from prison. He smuggled out his entries via his aunt, who then posted them online at Jon’s Jail Journal. His lowest point came a year into his stay in jail, overseen by the infamous sheriff Joe Arpaio. “I had just had a bail hearing and I thought I was going to get bailed for $750,000, but it got doubled so there was no chance,” he said. “I was moved from the medium security section to maximum security, and the conditions I was staying in made me suicidal. “I couldn’t sleep because of the cockroaches, and I got a skin infection which itched like crazy and which didn’t heal for ages because of the desert heat.” After two years on remand, Shaun pleaded guilty to money laundering and drugs offences, and was sentenced to more than nine years. After serving almost six, he was released from prison in December 2007. Now banned from the USA for life, he continues to highlight the experiences of friends still inside Arizona’s prisons, as well as other prisoners across the world via his blog. “A lot of these people were illiterate,” he says. “One guy I met was kidnapped as a child, given crystal meth, and repeatedly raped. Stuff like that, it made me realise the advantages I gave away. “I was extremely lucky to come from a loving home, go to university, have all the advantages in life, which makes me even more of a fool.” The book covers his 775 days on remand before agreeing a plea bargain in which he was convicted of drug dealing and money laundering. A second book will cover the period of his sentence. Despite his turbulent time in the States, Shaun said his only regret is the pain he caused his parents. “My mum had a nervous breakdown because of me, and they remortgaged their house to pay almost $100,000 for an attorney. “When I was over there, selfishly partying, I didn’t think about the repercussions for them, 2,000 miles away in the UK.” Now a reformed yoga-practising vegetarian, his lifestyle today couldn’t be further from his partying, drug-fuelled days abroad. He visits schools and talks to children about his experiences. “America was good to me,” he says. “I knowingly broke numerous drug laws, and take full responsibility for landing myself in Arpaio’s jail.” Hard Time: A Brit In America’s Toughest Jail is out this week, priced at £9.99.

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