Attwood’s US Jailhouse Nightmare to Air on NatGeo

By | March 2, 2013

Fresh from YouTube, we present the trailer for  Locked-Up Abroad “Raving Arizona,” which will air in April. It is about the “penal” experiences of one Shaun Attwood, a familiar character on this blog whom regular readers should recognize—and a good friend of mine.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio
“English Shaun” Attwood
The episode, to air on National Geographic, cinematically showcases scenes from Shaun’s book Hard Time (the prequel, Party Time, is due out in April but can be pre-ordered now; both books are available via links on Shaun’s blog. I heartily recommend Hard Time, and even though I haven’t been able to read it yet, I did pre-order Party Time, which I also strongly recommend).

Attwood is a Brit who came to America, Arizona specifically, to seek his fortune and ended up getting busted for selling drugs. He spent a couple of years in one of America’s toughest jails—the one run by who else but the self-described toughest sheriff in America, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. At one point, he had an intense run in with Sammy Gravano’s crew, who was trying to muscle in on Attwood’s drug business in Arizona. Shaun didn’t stand down; quite the contrary he stood up in the face of the erstwhile Mafioso’s aggressiveness.

Mobsters, Aryan skinheads, bikers, transvestites and assorted other colorful criminals would soon count among Shaun’s friends.

“Shaun didn’t stand down; quite the contrary he stood up in the face of the erstwhile Mafioso’s aggressiveness.”

As I wrote earlier, “True-crime buffs will eat Hard Time up like M&Ms,” and no doubt will enjoy the television version of Shaun’s experiences behind bars.

Sheriff Arpaio is a well known figure in the U.S., especially among those who view Lockup and/or Lockdown, popular prison reality programs that the American public can’t get enough of. Arpaio is best known for cladding inmates in pink boxers, feeding them green bologna and “red death” (he boasts the inmates are fed more cheaply than the police dogs) and opening Tent City when his jailhouses filled to capacity. Tent City is exactly what its name implies: a city of tents in the middle of the desert, where temps rise well over 100 degrees F in summer. A “Vacancy” sign hangs above the dusty mess.

Attwood came here, to the U.S. an educated Englishman seeking his fortune in finance—and he made it, beyond his expectations. Burned out, though, by the effort it took to salt away a million or so, he dropped out of the rat race and entered the Rave scene. Raves—a lifestyle based on loud music and prodigious amounts of ecstasy—requires its participants to still earn cash. When Shaun’s fortune ran out it he turned to dealing, bumping up at one point against Sammy Bull–or Sammy Rat would be a better descriptive–and almost went to war with the cheese-eating former mobster. Sammy’s own pending problems are well known.

In Hard Time, Shaun—arrested years after retiring from the rave scene and after he had refocused his life on day trading rather than dope peddling—takes us right into the cell. He does what the cameras can’t do—takes us in the minds of killers and other assorted criminals and discusses politics and such, the juicy info no inmate with self-preservation on his mind would reveal on television. He paints vivid pictures and has a way with words. We feel the anxiety of jail life: dealing with fellow inmates (and strict racial laws that could get you killed), cockroaches, and I already alluded to the food. But Shaun sees the absurdity even in the most anxiety-provoking situations. I especially love the way he deftly portrays life inside the jail (where he is waiting for his trial; superstar Alan Simpson is his lawyer).

Helped by the novelty of his English accent, a childhood friend named Wild Man, and the exaggerated belief he was some kind of crime lord thanks to a high-profile article written about “English Shaun” and the “Evil Empire” he ran, Shaun overall probably had a slightly easier time than the average-joe inmates.