Shaun Attwood


"Shaun's story is the Manchester rave scene meets The Wolf of Wall Street and ends in The Shawshank Redemption" - Jon Ronson author of The Psychopath Test

As told worldwide on National Geographic Channel's Locked-Up/Banged-Up Abroad episode "Raving Arizona," I used a tiny pencil sharpened on a cell door to write the first prison blog, Jon’s Jail Journal. My writing, smuggled out of the jail with the highest rate of death in America run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, turned the international media spotlight on the conditions: dead rats in the food, cockroaches crawling in my ears at night, murders by guards and gang members...

I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona a penniless business graduate from a small industrial town in England. Within a decade, I became a stock-market millionaire.

But I also led a double life. An early fan of the UK rave scene, I headed an organisation that threw raves and distributed Ecstasy in competition with the Mafia mass murderer Sammy the Bull Gravano, who put a hit out on me. On May 16th 2002, a SWAT team smashed my door down.

Facing a 200-year maximum sentence, I entered a lengthy legal battle. After two years of being held unsentenced, I was convicted of drug offences. I was sentenced to 9½ years, and served almost 6.

I had only read finance books prior to my arrest. While incarcerated, I submerged myself in literature – reading over 1000 books, including many classics. By studying original texts in psychology and philosophy, I sought to better understand myself and my past behaviour. I credit books for being the lifeblood of my rehabilitation.

Released in December 2007, I continue to campaign against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I keep Jon’s Jail Journal going by posting stories mailed to me by my prison friends.

In July 2008, I won a Koestler Award for a short story, which I read to an audience at the Royal Festival Hall.

Banned from America for life, I presently live near London, and talk to student audiences across the UK and Europe about my jail experience and the consequences I faced by getting involved in drugs and crime. I have appeared on TV worldwide, speaking about issues affecting prisoners' rights.

I am the author of my life story, The English Shaun Trilogy, which consists of Party Time, Hard Time, Prison Time and a self-help book, Lessons.

"If you like Breaking Bad, you will love Shaun's books. Shaun Attwood was the Walter White of the Ecstasy market in Arizona" - DJ Keoki

Smashwords Interview

What did you learn about yourself during almost six years of incarceration?
In prison, I went on an amazing journey of self-discovery. Previously, I’d zipped through life without considering the consequences of my actions, especially the harm drugs cause to society. Prison forced introspection and sobriety. After years of drug use, I felt a cloud lift from my mind. The clarity of vision made me wonder how on earth I was still alive after taking so many drugs and putting myself in so many dangerous situations. In jail, Gerard Gravano – the son of Salvatore ‘Sammy the Bull’ Gravano, a Mafia mass murderer – told me he’d once headed an armed crew dispatched to take me out to the desert. Prison forced me to grow up. I saw how emotionally immature, selfish, and foolish my behavior had been. The pain I caused my family made me ill, but added extra motivation to my soul searching. My mum had a nervous breakdown, which haunts me to this day. I regretted sending people down the road of drug use, which inevitably devastates not just users, but also their families. Shocked, I set out to try and make sense of my behavior. I submerged myself in psychology and philosophy books. I had counselling with a brilliant neuro-psychotherapist Dr. Owen, who helped strip the layers of my personality down in order to analyze my inner dynamics. I learned that the bad decisions that led to my arrest stemmed from anxiety and my addictive adrenalin-junkie personality type. I started doing drugs as a shy student to socialize because I lacked the strength of my mind to enjoy myself at a party sober. Dr. Owen said the key to staying out of trouble is to channel my energy into positive things, which is what I do now via writing, karate, gym classes, yoga, and meditation. To this day, I fall back on what he taught me and I’m forever grateful. Meditating for hours on end in prison, going deep inside of myself, gave me a great insight into my personality, especially how my brain manufactures excessive worries and anxiety through thoughts. Over time, I learned to stop such thoughts by concentrating on breathing, which short-circuited my anxiety. We have the ability to heal ourselves with our brains. Thanks to yoga and meditation, which I practice daily, I’m still tapping into that power.
Do you remember the first stories you ever wrote?
The first stories I wrote were at my blog, Jon's Jail Journal. Here are excerpts:

19 Feb 04

The toilet I sleep next to is full of sewage. We’ve had no running water for three days. Yesterday, I knew we were in trouble when the mound in our steel throne peaked above sea level.

Inmates often display remarkable ingenuity during difficult occasions and this crisis has resulted in a number of my neighbours crapping in the plastic bags the mouldy breakfast bread is served in. For hours they kept those bags in their cells, then disposed of them downstairs when allowed out for showers. As I write, inmates brandishing plastic bags are going from cell door to door proudly displaying their accomplishments.

The whole building reeks like a giant Portaloo. Putting a towel over the toilet in our tiny cell offers little reprieve. My neighbour, Eduardo, is suffering diarrhoea. I can’t imagine how bad his cell stinks.

I am hearing that the local Health Department has been contacted. Hopefully they will come to our rescue soon.

20 Feb 04

My cellmate couldn’t hold his in any longer. He pinched his nose and lifted the towel from the toilet. Repulsed by the mound, he said, “There’s way too much crap to crap on, dog. I’m gonna use a bag.” So as jail etiquette demands in these situations, I rolled over on my bunk and faced the wall. I heard something hit the rim of the seatless toilet, and him say, “Damn! I missed some!” When he was done, he put the finished product by the door and the stink doubled. He had no water to clean where the piece had fallen on the toilet, so it remained forming a crustation on the rim. We were hoping to be allowed out to dispose of the bag, until a guard announced, “There will be no one coming out for showers and phone calls, as we have to get one-hundred-and-twenty inmates water from an emergency container!”

The water came back on in stages. In our toilet, its level slowly rose.
“Oh no,” I said. “It’s about to overflow, and we’ll be stuck in here with sewage all over the floor.”
“One of us needs to stick his hand in the crap to let the water through,” my cellmate said. “And you’re the closest.”
The brown soup was threatening to spill from the bowl, so I put a sandwich bag on my hand. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I said, plunging my hand into the mound. The mound took the bag from my hand. Almost up to my elbow in sewage, I dug until the water level sank.
“I owe you one, dog,” my cellmate said.
“It’s your turn next time,” I said.
Because the tap water hadn’t come back on, I couldn’t wash my arm. Not wanting to contaminate anything in the cell, I sat on the stool until a guard let us out for showers hours later.
Read more of this interview.


This member has not published any books.