The Damage Done is a compelling part of the relatively popular niche of prison experience books. Warren Fellows smuggles drugs across Asia until he is caught and sentenced to 30 years, of which he serves 11 before enjoying a King’s Pardon. Despite claiming to not want pity, the title solely refers to the damage done to him rather than to those who suffered under his drug smuggling. Interestingly, his son has written about his experience being profoundly abandoned by his father, and the strain of having to care for him on his return.
The idea of whether prison deters crime is keenly debated. It also invites the question as to whether prison rehabilitates criminals. While most crime is experienced and committed by the poorest in Western society (with white-collar crime problematically under-prosecuted), many habitual criminals seek lives outside of social norms. I have seen young men in knock the hats of police with impunity and worse. Watch on YouTube for people, at times, lambasting the police with aggressive and vulgar language. Sometimes they are brutalised in return, sometimes not. Having lived and worked in Hull, I experienced what it was to exist in a place where (in places) society has no handle on crime. There existed in East Hull social casualty areas where children would attack and steal others with impunity. While more money into policing, or even education, would not alleviate these issues entirely, or even substantially, they would do something.
Where Warren reveals true terror is outside the remit of sadistic prison guards and into the presence of the criminal underworld. The handsome and successful ‘Ned’ is almost arrested at his house by two policemen for extensive criminal activity. Warren’s narration reveals his awe:
One of the policemen, boldly but with a hint of fear, began to urge Ned not to say anything stupid. Ned, more authoritatively now, replied that he was being neither stupid nor flippant – they had come to his door and they now had the choice to either leave without him or die, pure and simple. I was stunned. I had never heard Ned say anything like that to anyone, let alone a couple of policemen.
Ned appears to suffer no consequence and is untouchable in modern society. Like Bret Easton Ellis would appreciate, being charming and fitting into society’s idea of a good dad and ideal citizen excuses horrible transgressions.
This is not a piece of literature in any sense: there is no spiritual revelation, only the suffering of a selfish and unfortunate individual. There is no narrative line, which I guess is what happens when you are in prison for over a decade. His pardon seems to come out of the blue and is a testament to his privilege as an Australian. There were several homophone typos and many descriptions consist of profane vernacular (i.e. ‘f-this’). Again, while this lends authenticity to his account, it also feel like an editor nudging. The descriptions of illness and human waste are suitably dark and disgusting. Prison is not easy.
So, compelling, but trashy. A macabre love island.