The Life Inside

Andy West

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03 February 2022
352 pages


‘Tense and intimate… an education.' Geoff Dyer

'Authentic, fascinating and deeply moving.' Terry Waite

‘Expands both heart and mind.’ Ciaran Thapar

Can someone in prison be more free than someone outside? Would we ever be good if we never felt shame? What makes a person worthy of forgiveness?

Andy West teaches philosophy in prisons. Every day he has conversations with people inside about their lives, discusses their ideas and feelings, and listens as they explore new ways to think about their situation.

When Andy goes behind bars, he also confronts his inherited trauma: his father, uncle and brother all spent time in prison. While Andy has built a different life for himself, he still fears that their fate will also be his. As he discusses pressing questions of truth, identity and hope with his students, he searches for his own form of freedom too.

Moving, sympathetic, wise and frequently funny, The Life Inside is an elegantly written and unforgettable book. Through a blend of memoir, storytelling and gentle philosophical questioning, it offers a new insight into our stretched justice system, our failing prisons and the complex lives being lived inside.

In The Life Inside, Andy West powerfully interweaves an account of teaching philosophy in prison with his own family’s history of imprisonment, creating an intellectually thrilling memoir of freedom and constraint. West reminds us that thinking, debating, and learning are not luxuries but crucial for survival, urgent inquiries into who we are.

Andy West bears witness to life inside prison, weaving philosophical questions about free will, forgiveness, guilt and shame, with family history and the realities of incarceration. Beautifully written – honest, painful, absurd and sometimes joyfulThe Life Inside reveals how people survive.

A book that every thinking person should read.