Eric Allison, a former career criminal who later wrote about prison life forThe Guardian, exposing abuses of inmates for nearly 20 years, died last month at 79, the New York Times reports. Allison led a life of crime for 50 years, spending nearly one-third of that time in prisons for bank robbery, theft, forgery, counterfeiting and fraud. "I chose to become a criminal, volunteered if you like,” he wrote. “I was steeped in crime, enjoyed my work and willingly signed up for the adage: ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.’ Accordingly, when mistakes occurred at work and I ended up in the slammer, I regarded it as an occupational hazard.” In 2003, after completing a sentence for fraud and looking for a new direction, he read an ad in The Guardian, which seeking an ex-convict to replace a murderer who had been writing a column under a pseudonym.
He didn’t think he would be hired, only that he might tell the paper about the ills of the British prison system. Editor Alan Rusbridger hired him, warning, "We’re taking a bit of risk because if anyone found out that you’re still doing crime, it would be tremendously embarrassing for us, so you have to promise to go straight." Allison had written in prison for Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, a newspaper published by the Revolutionary Communist Group. He had collaborated with Nicki Jameson on a book, “Strangeways: A Serious Disturbance” (1995), about the squalid conditions at Manchester Prison, once known as Strangeways, that led to riots. Reporting for The Guardian, Allison built trust among prisoners, former inmates and their families. His work with Simon Hattenstone, a features reporter, on the abuse of children at the Medway training center led to the loss of a security company’s contract to run the prison. Their investigation of sexual abuse at Medomsley Detention Center prompted an inquiry with more than 1,000 former prisoners making accusations of abuse.