bed sink and dumbbells in cell

An Interview With Stephen Jackley

In October 2023, former prisoner Stephen Jackley published his book “Just Time” , a revealing memoir and account of the reality of life behind bars in UK prisons. He was sentenced to 13 years for armed robbery and associated crimes, spending time in multiple prisons. Whilst in prison, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as completed an Open University degree. I caught up with Stephen to find out more about his book, his experiences and his life after his release. Hi Stephen and welcome! Please introduce yourself..

I’m Stephen. A former prisoner and current editor, I continue to support initiatives that endeavour to have a social or environmental impact, including mentoring people in custody, helping publish books by those from disadvantaged backgrounds, tree planting and permaculture.

Who or what inspired you to write your memoir “Just Time”, a revealing account of the reality of life behind bars in UK prisons?

It arose from a vow when in custody to shed a light on certain aspects of life inside. I saw first-hand how the general public are often misled about prisons and prisoners, which has knock-on impacts on the effectiveness of the justice system. There is a need to showcase how it can be improved, for in doing so we can ultimately ensure that less people when released go on to reoffend.

Your book highlighted the problems facing UK prisons and the inconsistencies in our justice system.  Having spent over 6 years as a prisoner in multiple prisons, what do you feel are the biggest problems being encountered and how do you think they could be alleviated?

Prisons are part of the justice system, and even an aspect of the civil service, yet politics plays a very heavy part in how they are managed. Changes in policies have sweeping impact to tens of thousands of people’s lives, in a manner far deeper than other areas of society, yet these changes often arise from political ambition. The need to look ‘tough’ on the ‘reprobates of society’, and so forth. So removing politics from prison, making it adopt an impartial and scientifically proven criminological model, is the way forward. And likewise realising that even in the most perfect of scenarios, these are places where abuses of power are most likely to happen, so those inside need an accessible route of access to the courts – to hold the actions and decisions of prison authorities to fair account – as a last resort.

As you have been to different types of prisons in the UK, were there any major differences to prison life between them?  

The differences sometimes seemed as great as moving to an entirely different country, or even a previous century. In one prison you could have plentiful access to jobs, with regular unlock; in another you were in a Victorian-era cell for 23 hours a day or more. In one you could have access to a library and physical activity sessions; in another the closest parallel was hearing rat feet scutter along the concrete. 

Stephen also did a bricklaying course.

You were an university student when you went to prison and you managed to complete an open university degree whilst being in prison. What was you studying/studied originally in university and what was your Open University degree in?  How difficult was it to study in prison?

It was a Geography and Sociology degree that changed to an Open Degree with a focus on the environment when in prison. Studying in itself was fine when in custody, even easier due to the relative absence of distraction and plentiful time available, but there were certain obstacles like not being able to access the internet, or at times use computers for printing assignments.

While in prison you were diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome.  What led to your eventual diagnosis? After being diagnosed, how was prison life for you?

The possibility of having Aspergers was raised before my sentencing, but not brought before the court’s consideration due to fears from my solicitor about the then ‘IPP’ sentence. It was raised again when clear difficulties arose in HMP Dovegate’s so-called ‘Therapeutic Community’. Finally, as I saw how others having committed similar offences were given lower sentences, and the fact I was sentenced at the very highest level of culpability (the explicit intention to cause harm), it seemed right to begin the formal process of appeal. But even after this, and before, the prison environment was one of constant noise, turbulence, unpredictable change and constraint that required medication to deal with.

Apart from writing your book, how has your experience in prison and your Asperger’s Syndrome helped in setting up your successful social enterprise since leaving prison? 

I would not say it has helped. There is widespread bias – rightly or wrongly – against ex-offenders. For many it is irrelevant what someone does after being in prison (or indeed before they even committed a crime): they are their crime. That stance has been cemented by media and culture. It’s possible to realise that ex-offenders are individuals, people who have gone astray or taken a step wrong, all with different circumstances, and that there’s no reason they can’t become positive, contributing members of society. I suppose in the process of setting up/running an organisation I have hoped people grasp that through the example I’ve set. But it’s often never that straightforward. 

Is “Just Time” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes. It is available through various outlets including the charity, Arkbound Foundation  – profits from the book go to the charity.

 What for you, was the worst thing(s) about prison life?  

The lack of contact with the natural world. 99.9% of the time you are surrounded by concrete, stone, metal. The few occasions on being escorted past an area of grass with sight of a tree were treasured.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Call it laziness if you wish, but I put comfort first. Unless it’s for some important meeting, I favour casual clothing and even sometimes push it too far with trainers and tracksuit bottoms for office based work.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

Independent ones with an ethical or ecological stance. There’s one in Glasgow: Locavore.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I need to get a proper raincoat. One that actually resists heavy rain. ‘Waterproof’ these days doesn’t really mean much, especially if – like me – you’re in Scotland!

Boots or Shoes? 

Shoes if in the city; boots if in the country. As I spend more time in the latter, it would be boots.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Find out more about Arkbound Foundation here:  

or follow Arkbound Publishing on social media:


X (Twitter):


Just Time: A Journey Through Britain’s Fractured Justice System by Stephen Jackley is published by Arkbound Publishing (paperback, £12.99) and available through booksellers and Arkbound:

Thanks Stephen for the chat. Thank you also for the review copy of your book. All photos have been published with kind permission from Stephen Jackley.

Linda x

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