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Wymondham writer launches book inspired by US prison

PUBLISHED: 13:00 29 November 2010

Jack Lawson with his book Doing Time

Jack Lawson with his book Doing Time

©Archant Photographic 2010

The harrowing experience of spending time behind bars has been brought to life in a new novel written by a former US prison chaplain.

Author Jack Lawson, who now lives in Wymondham, provided counselling and pastoral support to hundreds of female inmates when he worked at the North Carolina Correctional Centre for Women in the 1970s.

He discovered that many of the imprisoned women had come from backgrounds of physical or sexual abuse.

His book, called Doing Time, follows the fictional character of inmate Annabel Lee whose chilling experiences mirror those of many of the women he tried to help. The novel was officially launched at Norwich Cathedral last week.

He said: “Most of the women all came from rather tragic backgrounds with abuse of one kind or another and I felt that story should be told. It’s got its negative bits but on the whole it’s a ‘rainbow at the end’ type of story with a positive future that we all hope for.

“It’s been 30 years since I worked there and I suppose the events have been in the back of my mind and the people and their stories. I melt the characters together because I didn’t want to give away someone’s personal stories. I created a fictional character which I could pin the trauma and the hopes and dreams and the generic experiences of going to prison on to.”

Dr Lawson, 58, who is an expert in the Hebrew Bible, began his career in the prison service as a young minister in North Carolina. When a women from the church he attended was sent to prison, although the conviction was later quashed, he visited her behind bars.

Despite being keen to obtain his doctorate and teach, he said it felt like ‘a calling’ as soon as he stepped inside.

His day to day role mainly consisted of providing one-to-one counselling for many of the prison’s 600 plus inmates.

“The hell of prison I soon discovered was that you’re never alone and for women they could not do anything whether it be a shower or going to the toilet you were always in someone’s sights. I found that the chaplain’s office could be a real home,” he said.

Dr Lawson has also spent time talking to prisoner’s on death row.

He added: “It’s an experience that doesn’t leave you. It’s not like visiting a family member in hospital dying of cancer. These are people with nothing wrong apart from knowing they are going to die sometime soon. People asked ‘how can you do that work with people who have abused children or such offences?’. For me it was not difficult to work in that situation. We are all gifted to work in different ways.”

Dr Lawson moved to the UK to be with family and is now the development officer for the Methodist Church in East Anglia.

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