Becoming a Guardian correspondent whilst serving a life sentence for a double murder is a rare achievement. But possibly the greatest achievement Erwin James’ book, Redeemable: A Memoir of Darkness and Hope, highlights is that of James himself. For by rights he should have gone the way of his drunken, child- and woman-beating, disastrous father, and teetered into a declining living hell.
Certainly he was on the road. Drinking and fighting as a teenager, yet the one thing that seemed to distinguish his future path was that he was also a thief. His father stayed within the traditional semi-skilled working class, though still managing to bring catastrophe to all about him.
Violence oft begets violence, and the social engineering his father dished out to the boy Erwin in the form of a fist turned a gentle boy into a nasty piece of work. Losing his mother in a car accident aged seven, in a drunken violent escapade that went wrong, once again at the hands of his father, further undone the boy.
By his late teens Erwin James was an unsustainable, unattractive, boiling cauldron of vehement hate
By his late teens Erwin James (pictured above) was an unsustainable, unattractive, boiling cauldron of vehement hate. Even his father had some kind of structure to his life, in and out of jobs and relationships. But the son had no compass. Just drink and petty crime and bad relations with two women who each gave him a daughter.
The book almost screams out: “Where do I go from here?”
The comeuppance comes as no surprise. The disdain, the hatred, the fierce loyalty to drink and one’s own appetites lead to murder. Murder for a few pounds. Murder without purpose. And the destroyed lives of two men and their families. Two men who had the misfortune of running into a violent, mugging, self-destructive man.