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BOOK REVIEW: Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail by Wil Patterson

| 16 February 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail by Wil Patterson

Finch Publishing
June 2018
Paperback, $27.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Biographies & True Stories / Memoirs

60% Rocking

For most people, their idea of prison is like a combination of Orange is the New Black and Prison Break. The book, Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail will challenge these beliefs because it is a firsthand account of what happens at a minimum security facility. Wil Patterson’s debut book is a candid and matter-of-fact look at his crime and the aftermath.

‘Three years’ incarceration with two years and three months’ suspended…’
My brain immediately does the maths. I stole a little under three-hundred thousand dollars and have received a three-year sentence. That’s one year for every hundred thousand I stole from the company I was working for.
Ironically, I was earning around a hundred thousand dollars a year, and would have earned almost exactly the same amount over my sentence if I’d not stolen the money – and destroyed my life…”

In many ways Patterson lives up to the title of ‘Mr Ordinary’. He was a working father living in Melbourne. He had a job at an insurance company but he also got into financial distress. With mounting debts, Patterson found himself banking a cheque intended for another man with the same name. After doing this once, he then got caught up in a cycle of stealing.

Patterson explains his mindset when he performed this crime. He also attempts to absolve himself of some of the guilt. He believed it was a victimless act against a large corporation. He also thought that many people would be tempted if they found themselves in a similar situation. Patterson was sentenced for three years and served nine months in several Victorian prisons. He kept a journal of his stay and this forms much of this book.

One of the golden rules in prison is, ‘Don’t borrow and don’t lend’. It’s up there with ‘Do your own time.’ It means you need to know what you have is what you have. Don’t ask to use stuff that isn’t yours, and don’t end up owing people favours because of what you borrow.

Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail is an easy read insofar as the prose isn’t difficult to understand. But it does pose a set of challenges, including negotiating some moral quandaries. Not all readers will empathise with Patterson’s story or his circumstances. As a protagonist he can be hard to empathise with at times, especially in the moments where he is feeling a little too sorry for himself. In spite of this, there will be readers who will be enlightened by some of the revelations here. A lot of it is perhaps more ordinary that most people would have originally imagined.

A friend once asked me how I would describe jail to someone who had never been. ‘It’s like being forced to live at the Motor Registry,’ I told him. ‘There are lots of rules that no-one really understands, there’s queues for everything, and everyone is either angry, bored, tired, or a combination of all three.’

Patterson is ultimately an accidental author. This book is a short memoir where he describes finding his feet inside jail and rebuilding his life after his release. There are times when he is honest and other moments where he seems quite naïve. He is not always the most likeable character, especially when he is a smart alec to his fellow prisoners and guards.

‘Professor,’ they’d mutter in reply, and I would grin every time. Shortly after this started I was having a quiet coffee with Mark and Craig and they asked if I knew how ‘Professor’ had started. I admitted I didn’t, but thought it was something to do with the fact that I was studying, and I was often sitting somewhere on the property writing.
‘Nah,’ said Mark, with the kind of friendly smile only a mate who is about to burst your bubble can have. ‘It’s because you always got a smart fuckin’ answer for every damn thing.’

Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail lives up to its title because it is a straightforward account by an average Joe at a contemporary prison. While there are some intriguing facts included here, a lot of this is presented in a pragmatic and businesslike way. Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail gives a firsthand look behind the bars of Australia’s jails and a world that most of us hope never to experience first-hand.

Natalie Salvo

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com

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