Review – Breakfast at Bronzefield by Sophie Campbell
Advance Review Copy Details:
- Title: Breakfast at Bronzefield
- Author: Sophie Campbell
- Series: No
- Genre: Non Fiction, Crime, Memoir
- Source: Author
- Publisher: Sophie Campbell Books
- Publication Date: 22 Jul 2020
- Format: Kindle
- Number of Pages: 368
Breakfast at Bronzefield is an honest account of Sophie Campbell’s (pseudonym) time in prison for GBH. Her period of remand and sentence is organised in themes and is an unflinching portrayal of time spent in the prison system.
I mean unflinching in that it states the good, bad and ugly with nothing held back. You have to respect the level of honesty in Sophie’s retelling of events. Because she is not always presented in a favourable, positive light when detailing her response to certain situations.
The level of bureaucracy is ridiculous. There are established rules for every process, procedure and event yet few are communicated to inmates or staff when relevant or required. The frustration is evident in the writing. I could feel myself tensing up at certain events. Even on occasion becoming angry on response to the inefficiencies, injustices and pettiness. The lack of communication appears to drive a lot of the conflicts experienced.
Inside v Outside
Prison is almost an isolated environment yet appears concurrently to be a microcosm of life on the outside. You are defined by race and sex. Standing up for yourself, ascertaining your rights can be seen as challenging authority. Knowing yourself, valuing your abilities is seen as opinionated which can be dangerous for a person of colour.
What is referenced throughout is that the things you do there (in prison), the way you behave can be radically different to outside. Being in these surrounding can escalate your behavior to extremes not normally expected. Are you changed by being in that environment or does it bring out latent tendencies?
Breakfast at Bronzefield is written primarily by theme rather than chronologically which is great for obtaining a wider understanding of issues, but the jumping around in the time line and the number of inmates and officers made it personally difficult to keep track. The persons described, could easily seem like characters, cast in a play, there to illustrate a point, but the ‘realness’ shows through. Moreover, it gives a good indication of the myriad of people involved in the criminal justice system.
The chapters were interesting, varied, and thought provoking. Themes include violence, sexual abuse, race relations, drug misuse, educational and occupational opportunities to name a few.
My take away notes
What I took from reading this book includes but is not limited to the following:
- Friendships and friendship groups in prison can be safety in numbers but also a bind that is difficult to shake off and often not worth the trouble.
- Family and friends on the outside can be a hindrance if they are not supportive. At worse can even intentionally sabotage the inmate’s case or progress
- The importance of providing fit for purpose educational and training opportunities cannot be stressed highly enough; funding services that benefits the groups it is aimed at, who require it most, is crucial.
- Helping inmates to reintegrate back into society is essential, doing so in practical ways rather than tick box exercises is necessary. Cutting corners, putting unnecessary blockers in processes is detrimental and a waste of time and money for all involved.
- Changing public perception about who is an ex – offender should be a continual work in progress. Stereotypes are not always the reality. But widely held beliefs and long established prejudices makes it clear that there are few circumstances when it pays to disclose being an ex offender.
I don’t have any firm answers to the questions I’ve posed but know it’s evident that things must change. The system as it is, benefits no individual, community, or government institution. Given the prison budget and the number of enquiries already undertaken, it would seem obvious that overhauling in a structured way after an evidenced based needs review is well overdue.
I wouldn’t say that Breakfast at Bronzefield was an eye opener as I knew some of this already, but it really shone a spotlight on areas that I was hazy on the details of and gave context to those inflammatory newspaper headlines. It was well researched, with lots of facts to drive the discourse or support the author’s findings.
In writing this memoir, Sophie Campbell has been honest about her background, her life and the learning she obtained from this experience. It made me pause and think how fragile life is, and how the impact of one event can have repercussions on your present and future, infact life long damaging consequences if you are an ex-offender.
Thankfully in this case, Sophie has beaten the odds by not reoffending, not being limited by the label of ex-offender and making progress in her life. Congratulations on taking the initiative and making this experience your past and not letting it define your now and blighting your future.
I’m just sorry that the system doesn’t help female and male inmates the way it should.
My only criticism would be due to the focus on themes there were darting timelines and sometimes it was confusing if I already heard about this event or it had happened multiple times. And I would have preferred footnotes rather than endnotes as that would have made it easier to read the references when cited. But these are my minor observations and might not be an issue for other readers.
My thanks to the author for a digital copy of the book in exchange for a candid review
3 Stars – Liked It
This review is featured on NetGalley