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A Bit of a Stretch

The Diaries of a Prisoner
Narrated by: Chris Atkins
Length: 9 hrs and 31 mins
5 out of 5 stars (130 ratings)

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Summary

Where can a tin of tuna buy you clean clothes? Which British education system struggles with 50 percent illiteracy? Where do teetotal Muslims attend AA meetings? Where is it easier to get 'spice' than paracetamol? Where does self-harm barely raise an eyebrow?

Welcome to Her Majesty's Prison Service, a creaking and surreal world that has been left to rot for decades in the shadows of polite society. Like most people, documentary-maker Chris Atkins didn't spend much time thinking about prisons. But after becoming embroiled in a dodgy scheme to fund his latest film, he was sent down for five years.

His new home would be HMP Wandsworth, one of the oldest, largest and most dysfunctional prisons in Europe. Horrifying, moving and darkly funny, this is the unvarnished depiction of what he found. With a cast of characters ranging from wily drug dealers to corrupt screws to senior officials bent on endless (and fruitless) reform, this is the reality behind the locked gates. Full of incredible and hilarious stories, A Bit of a Stretch reveals the true scale of our prison crisis and why it is costing us all.

Includes exclusive bonus chapter, available only from Audible.

©2020 Chris Atkins (P)2020 Audible, Ltd

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Annoying music at random intervals - beware

I seriously don't know if I can continue with this audiobook and I've only listened to Chapter 1 and two minutes of Chapter 2. The author reads it well as you would expect of an Oxford educated film-maker. The content is fascinating and certainly puts you off going to prison!

But there are strange episodes of music every few minutes or so! Sometimes it is a background to the narration and sometimes the narration stops and there's just this weird music instead.

There's no pattern to it, for example it doesn't herald the beginning or end of a chapter or anything. It is almost as though it is being used as a crude editing method, with music replacing something he has decided he shouldn't have said.

Whatever the reason - it is spoiling my enjoyment of the book and I'm considering returning it for that reason. I'll persevere a bit longer in case it stops after this chapter but if not I'm exchanging it. What a shame. I'd read extracts in the newspaper and was really looking forward to it.

28 people found this helpful

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Wonderful Books with Silly Mistakes

Firstly, to anyone considering this book then do buy it. It's a fantastically written book: clever, insightful, laugh out loud funny and at the same time, shocking and frustrating. It opened my eyes to the prison system and humanized the people so often cast aside by society.

Chris is a superb narrator who seems to effortlessly bring his own story to life. He calls himself out when needed and speaks about the reality of his situation without falling into 'woe is me'.

That said... the editing on this book seems unfinished and has clearly not been checked Other reviewers mention the music. I admit this threw me at first as it's uncommon in audio books. I think they put in the background of certain bits as a way to highlight when Chris breaks from the main narrative to give context or explanations. It's fine but unnecessary. Music is also used to separate the chapters, again this is fine but the music goes on for an oddly long time. I believe there are also editing mistakes with music start times and volume. It feels like and afterthought.

Lastly, is a rookie mistake. When recording audio books, if the reader makes a mistake they won't stop the recording instead he or she will go back to the beginning of the line and get it right. The mistake will then be edited out. Unfortunately there are multiple times throughout the whole book where the mistake has been left in. Yes, in the grand scheme of things this is tiny but it does disrupt the story and it's meant to be a final, finished product.

Would any of the above issues stop me buying the book? No. Did they detract from my enjoyment of the book? No. It's well worth it even with the mistakes but please re-upload with the fixes audible!

10 people found this helpful

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Very interesting, rough around the edges

I was keen to start listening having enjoyed reading extracts in the Times. The content is great, and is performed well though with a jollier tone than I had picked up from the extracts. The decision to quote every prisoner as though they have a lisp is a bit odd.

It is let down by the editing. As another reviewer points out, there are bizarre musical interludes, sometimes barely detectable in the background and at one point completely replacing the narration. It feels a bit like you've been put on hold. There are also multiple times where the narrator gets half way through a sentence only for it to cut off, before being repeated with slightly different intonation. It clearly wasn't proof-read (proof-listened?) which is a real shame.

7 people found this helpful

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A truly inspirational listen.

I can only thank Chris for writing this book and putting it into an audio format. The book is unbelievably engaging, informative and eye opening whilst incorporating wonderful wit and sensitivity. The audiobook provides the listener with not only a descriptive narrative that places you in Wandsworth with Chris but also gives the listener additional chapters not included in the written format. I have yet to listen to or read anything as inspirational as this. It is definitely a book that I will repeatedly revisit.

5 people found this helpful

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Interesting listen

I really enjoyed this book and liked the author narrating it himself. The music in random places was odd (I was looking around my house trying to work out where it was coming from the first time it happened) apart from that I highly recommend

4 people found this helpful

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A remarkable insight into a depressing prison system.

A “page turning” listen into the pathetic prison system that is forever being asked to do more with less and shows the system failed years ago and is in desperate need of true leadership from the top.
I would give Atkins the job..... and let him replace the imbeciles pretending to run it at the moment.

3 people found this helpful

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Funny, sad and an outstanding insight

Told in a somewhat light hearted way, this book provides a facinating understanding of the UK prison system.

2 people found this helpful

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Forget the music, story is fascinating and funny

I've always wondered how I would cope if I ever went to prison and this book gave me a real insight into what it would be like - the things that would be most difficult might be things that I'd never even considered before. I couldn't put this audiobook down, it was so interesting and engaging.

Although Chris reveals that many aspects of prison life are more shockingly difficult and frustrating than I imagined (particularly the many senseless computer-says-no systems and processes), his story also illustrates how adaptable you can be, even if you are ill-equipped for prison life, and that was reassuring. The book gives an excellent insight into the UK prison system and the detrimental impact of recent political interventions, it also humanises the prisoners and is regularly punctuated by moments that are laugh out loud funny.

I see that some reviews complain about random music in the background, but the use of background music is explained at the start of the book and is not random; it's used to denote "fact box" type notes that were not part of the original diaries and were added later, or to denote the end of a chapter. I agree that it takes a bit of getting used to, and it goes on a bit too long at the end of the chapters, but that's not really a big deal.

I've also seen criticisms of the speed of narration and the editing. It's true that the narration keeps going at a fair clip and I did have to rewind a couple of times, but then I do that with pretty much everything I listen to and I did it no more than usual with this book. I did also notice a couple of mistakes and repetitions, but they were quickly over and did not spoil my overall enjoyment. Both criticisms are, for me, far outweighed by Chris's engaging delivery, which really puts you into the experience in Wandsworth Prison.

2 people found this helpful

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Terrible editing

Good story well told and well read. Awful editing- lots of errors and no pauses to let paragraphs breathe. Such a pity.

2 people found this helpful

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Candid and unpretentious

I was surprised to find how “enjoyable” this book was. It covers a wide array of humanity inside prison in a balanced way without being judgemental or sensationalist. I felt the author was sincere about his emotional journey and also the personal growth he gained from doing his stretch. He really brought the personalities of people he’d spent time with to life. The description of the management (or lack of it) of prisons and the handling of them by politicians is rational and sensible and packed with interesting facts. Well worth a listen.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Marianne Nelson
  • 09-02-20

Could not put it down

Interesting, not a dull moment of life behind bars. It was also great that the author was the reader.