Review: Out of the Box

out of the box

Out of the Box by Leroy Smith, published 2016, ISBN 978-09955520-0-5

Short of assassinating the monarch, shooting a police officer is about the most risky crime to commit. Do so and every single law enforcement agent will be on your case. And the pursuit of such suspects will extend far beyond these shores. In 1993, Leroy Smith found out just how true this is. He shot and wounded two police officers in Brixton, south London and fled to the USA. Two years on he was arrested by a Swat Team in Connecticut and after a spell in Bridport Correctional Centre, a high security state jail, he was returned to England and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Smith spent the whole of his prison sentence on Category A in the high security prison estate. Now free, he has written Out of the Box, a brutally honest story of the making of a criminal, in which he pulls no punches, nor makes excuses. He says that he is putting his story out in the hope that other underprivileged young black men will not follow the path he did.

Like many serving time in an unjust system, where black, ethnic minority and poor prisoners are massively over represented and where racism regularly displays its ugly face, Smith became politicised in prison. He educated himself by conversing with political prisoners, supplemented by ‘ten years of watching Newsnight every night, and lots of other news stations…as well as reading non-mainstream newspapers like Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

Smith served his sentence at a time of upheaval in the high security estate, when the old prison pecking order was on its way to being turned upside down. At the start, in the mid-1990s, London gangsters and the few remaining IRA prisoners mainly held sway. Smith records the gradual rise of prisoners who follow Islam as they began to take control of the wings and landings. In 2002, there were just over 5,000 Muslim prisoners; now they number 12,500. Many are persecuted by the system solely because of their religion and, like the Irish prisoners before them, they stick together, answering as the book says ‘neither to gangster nor to governor’. In particular Smith records the inside story of three Muslim prisoners who took a prison officer hostage at Full Sutton in 2014.

Released in 2011 after 18 years, Smith had not finished with the system, nor the system with him. Like all those released from high security, he was catapulted from rigid confinement to bewildering freedom without any training or preparation. No time to think about re-entry. In his own words, he put together a ‘little team’ who were subsequently arrested at gunpoint and charged with conspiracy to rob persons unknown and possession of offensive weapons – a knife and a can of CS gas. Back in Belmarsh and Category A, Smith knew he had put his whole future on the line and could now get a life sentence if things didn’t go well. This time around he got lucky and a jury cleared him of the robbery charges. He was convicted on a single weapons charge and sent down for two years. Now, out of the box once more, he says he is determined to stay clean and free.

With a snapshot of criminal life on the streets of Jamaica and the USA, alongside a vivid picture of the high security estate here, this is an informative and entertaining read. Leroy Smith is a keen observer and his thoughts and analysis are well worth consideration. The book is likely to be popular among those inside who are still travelling a similar road. I wish the book and its author every success.

Eric Allison

Out of the Box is available on Amazon for £10.99 including postage. Copies are also available for prisoners via Larkin Publications for £8 including postage. Send cheques to Larkin Publications, BCM 5909, London WC1N 3XX.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 254 December 2016/January 2017


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