One of my favourite records of all time is the Johnny Cash ‘Live At San Quentin’ album: a set that captures the rugged, outlaw sound of the man to perfection. So I couldn’t help thinking about that as I did my first prison gig a couple of weeks ago.
I wasn’t actually in San Quentin. I was at Goudhurst Prison, which is my local jail down here in Kent. It’s actually set among idyllic English countryside, and is in a pleasant enough old building, but the fact it has barbed wire all around it, and you have to hand in your mobile and show your passport at the door to get in, reminds you that this is indeed a jail.
I resisted the temptation to bounce onto stage saying, “Hello, my name is Matt Lynn’ before kicking into the opening chords of ‘Wanted Man’.
Instead, I just gave a version of my standard library talk, where I chat for a while about where the ideas for the ‘Death Force’ series of books came about, how they get written, how publishing works, and all the usual things that people like authors to talk about.
It was a different audience, however. They were younger, and, of course, all men. Quite a few of them had read the books, and enjoyed them which was gratifying, and the library service had bought some books to give away as a competition prize, which made a nice end to the event. They were more interested in money and contracts than most audiences, and maybe that says something about the kind of people they are.
I was struck by how intelligent most of the men were, and how articulate. Obviously something had gone wrong with their lives to end up in prison, but they were men with a lot of potential.
I came away, as one does from these kind of experiences, thinking about how narrow the line is between the safe, comfortable, easy lives that most of us lead, and the far darker, more troubled routes that some people take.