Despite not being your usual page-turner, Daniel Holmes gives readers a well-documented 8-year snapshot of life inside the notorious prison.
Writing memoirs from inside a prison is a tricky feat. It has been done thousands of times before and the author usually knows that his story is not weirder than any of his other inmates. Yet the book by Daniel Holmes, who was handed a 10-year prison sentence for drug trafficking, turned out to be good, satisfactory even.
A Memoir from Malta’s Prison by Daniel Holmes is not the usual page-turner. I did not crave some free time to sit alone with this book. And yet I somehow consumed it with impressive speed.
It’s not even written with cliff-hanging end of chapters and at some points, I was thinking not even the author was interested in me finishing the book.
But the incredible, candid insight Holmes provides for the readers is remarkable.
For someone who, as far as I learned from the book, has no particular academic background, the story really documents what it is like to live inside Corradino Correctional Facility. His perspective is unique. He is a foreigner, banged up in a foreign prison where local politics leach through the very walls of the cells, and in an island which for tourists, offers nothing but leisure and sun.
The smell, the food, the fights, death and cockroaches, bad coffee and terrible hangovers are detailed, repeatedly, in literary melancholic fashion.
Holmes is brutally genuine. He doesn’t try to hide his most shameful moments, nor does he try to hide the fact that on some occasions, his actions were plain and simply stupid. It’s hard, sharing your life behind bars with the world, and having the courage to say certain things knowing people will easily judge you.
Of course, he is no stranger to judgement.
He doesn’t play the hero nor does he try to give the reader a sense of complete despair. If he is a victim in this tragic story, he really doesn’t ride the feeling and it is evident he did not try to capitalize off this sentiment of anger.
There are also some shocking revelations. This is a sample of more than eight years, a case study, featuring life inside CCF. Holmes experienced a change in government, multiple division transfers, Presidential pardons, Papal pardons, protests, hunger strikes and virus infections.
Perhaps some of the ‘shocking revelations’ which were promoted before the launch of the book were somewhat diluted by the fact that Holmes himself had managed to be very vociferous from inside the CCF walls. Unfortunately, in a world with so much noise you are only allowed to make a sound for a handful of years.
Still, some revelations left me seriously worried. He hints at allegations concerning possible planting (pun intended) of evidence by the police officers that arrested him, the corruption inside CCF and how guards are changed according to who’s in government.
But the best thing about this book is that it leaves you informed. I feel I know more about CCF now that I have read this account.
The insight he provides goes beyond detailed documentation.
Holmes delves into the philosophical and religious. And it is absurd, yet satisfyingly catchy, that a man like Holmes dedicates full chapters on his thoughts about life and death, capitalism and the contradiction of the varying laws on cannabis across different parts of the world.
And then there’s this one chapter dedicated to information about the plant, that blessed plant that landed him in so much pain and anguish. I wonder why he felt the need to include this chapter. For me, he was genuinely trying to inform. Although I see the poetic irony of having a man behind bars for possession and trafficking of cannabis, informing the public about the benefits of the same plant. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was teasing the authorities.
I was sceptical about the book. From experience, I know that to write a good book, having it edited, proofread multiple times and printed, takes a long, long time. So when I read that Lovin Malta had somehow managed to have his story compiled and printed in so little time I thought this book was nothing more than a marketing exercise.
But that was one major mistake I made. Because as you’ll realise soon enough once you dig into a couple of chapters of the book, Holmes has been writing this book for years before it was published. He didn’t leave prison and suddenly decide to become a writer, he has been documenting the whole eight years by smuggling written paper out of prison for a long time.
In fact, the quasi-random sequence of the book is a testament to this. The timeline is not straightforward, nor chronological. And yet somehow the story is tight.
That Holmes has a good pen I have no doubt. One particular chapter that convinces me is where he speaks about life and contemplating death. His almost poetic comparisons to food inducing sleep to suicide and how he describes the noises surrounding him are eerily patterned.
Do I feel sorry for Holmes? Of course, I do. But throughout the book, he barely instigates pity. He doesn’t portray just the gloom and doom but includes snippets of actual fun inside the prison, like that one time him and his cellmate sat on top of the CCF roof, inside a huge water tank they were supposed to be cleaning, having a cigarette under the stars.
Life behind bars for someone like Holmes could have gone very bad. As he writes about his friend Barry, if you don’t fit in, you’ll have a hard time surviving. Holmes efforts to kill the time, make those dragging years bearable, have a laugh and make others laugh in time of despair, is brave.
Gabriel Schembri is a freelance writer and book author.
Daniel Holmes’ prison memoir is available as an e-book after a sold-out highly successful first print run.
‘Daniel Holmes: A Memoir From Malta’s Prison’ is on Amazon’s Kindle Store, and is available for download.
To get your hands on the Daniel Holmes e-book, click this link here, or download it now from the Kindle Store.
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