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Somewhere Like This

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Panther, London, 1971
(originally published by WH Allen & Co, 1970)
price: 60p; 192 pages

The blurb on the back:

All girls together...
Collingwood Prison - where the bad girls go. Where the only love and sex available is of one kind. Where every woman is either 'butch', 'fem' or 'straight' - and there aren't many who are straight.
Somewhere Like This is the story of a group of Collingwood prisoners and their love-affairs: butch Lorry, the young burglar who wishes she'd been born a boy... Mavis, fluffy, feminine and confused... and upper-class Jan who knows exactly how get what - and who - she wants...
Pat Arrowsmith's novel of life in a women's prison is remarkable for its honesty; it could only have been written by someone who has observed life 'inside' from the inside.

opening lines:
Lorry shifted uncomfortably in her sleep on the unsprung bed. She was really called Florence, but had decided a year ago to become Lorry. She was happier that way.

Pat Arrowsmith is one of the great figures of post-War British politics, a campaigner for pacifism and feminism whose fierce radical commitment ensured that she was imprisoned on a pretty regular basis. And out of her experiences in gaol came this novel.

Actually, novel is perhaps a slight overstatement - this is really a series of character studies of jailed women and their relationships. And it's a stunning piece of work, thoroughly convincing in its psychological portrayals, devoid of any sense of condescension and burning with a campaigning spirit. The lesbian aspects are authentic, while the screws emerge just as trapped and confused as the lags.

The women-behind-bars genre has produced so much tawdry trash over the decades, that it's a genuine pleasure to say that this one is real class, a book that replaces squalid sensationalism with honest humanity. What it's doing on this site is altogether unclear...


more women-behind-bars

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Within These Walls
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Prisoner: Cell Block H