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Ryan House Dinner: Jonathan Aitken

We were delighted to welcome Jonathan Aitken to Ryan House this evening. We had an excellent dinner in the company of Mr and Mrs Aitken, Mr and Mrs Boddy, Mr Daw, Years 13, 12 and representatives of Year 11.

Justin Murray and Daivik Gandhi, both in Year 12, comment: ‘Mr Jonathan Aitken spoke mostly about his time in prison, and how he had felt there, having been sentenced to seven months for perjury in 1999. He admitted that it was hard serving the punishment, but that he was able to deal with it by keeping to the ‘Three Fs.’ These were Friends, Family, and Faith. These three Fs were his method of keeping sane in such an institution. He then commented on how many are not lucky enough to have these three Fs. The point made many wonder how such prisoners were able to keep sane in the prisons.

He also enlightened us on the lack of education of convicts. He was surprised by how many of them could not read or write. He claimed this was one of the reasons why many of them went out to commit crimes again; these prisoners, without literacy or training for any occupation, had to obtain some money for their families in some form or manner. Mr Aitken is in the Centre for Social Justice’s study group on Prison Reforms, to which he was appointed Chairman in 2007.

After Mr Aitken had made this initial speech the discussion was opened to the floor. Traditionally at Ryan House dinners this works on a ‘pass the baton’ system, whereby a guest may stand, speak, then either pass the right to speak back to the speaker or on to another guest. (This procedure has the effect of maintaining continuity, as well as keeping all guests awake and on the ball – anyone can be chosen!) Mr Aitken was asked a variety of questions by several different speakers, concerning modern politics and the subject of prison reform. Asked what the alternatives were to sending criminals to prison, Mr Aitken made the difficulties with finding other options very clear. He stressed the transient nature of the present disenchantment with politicians, particularly in the light of the present expenses disgrace. He also gave detailed answers about the predominant influences that prisoners were exposed to while incarcerated.

Overall it was a most illuminating and interesting evening. In addition the Ryan House dinners present an opportunity which we would fully encourage all eligible pupils to take up.’

aitkenPA1111_468x519Jonathan Aitken is an author, broadcaster, columnist, lecturer and campaigner for prison reform. He is a former Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament, and ex-prisoner. His 12 books include his award-winning biography of President Richard Nixon, Nixon: A Life (1993); and two volumes of autobiography, Pride and Perjury (2000) and Porridge and Passion (2006). His most recent publication is John Newton from Disgrace to Amazing Grace (2007). His political career included 23 years as a Member of Parliament. He was Minister of State for Defence and Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In 2007 he was appointed to chair the Centre for Social Justice’s policy study group on Prison Reform. After graduating in Law from Christ Church, Oxford in 1964 he became a Fleet Street journalist. He was a senior reporter and feature writer for the London Evening Standard serving as a war correspondent in Vietnam, Biafra and The Middle East. He continues to write articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. He is a regular columnist for the American Spectator. After journalism he went into business and became chairman of a merchant bank in the City of London. In 1974 he became a Conservative Member of Parliament spending eighteen years on the backbenches until being appointed Minister of State for Defence in 1992. He joined the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1994. His political career ended when he told a lie on oath in a libel action. Subsequently he pleaded guilty to charges of perjury and served a seven-month prison sentence in 1999. After graduating with Distinction in theology after two years at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (2000-2002) he began a new career as a writer, lecturer, and broadcaster. His wider activities include being a director of Prison Fellowship International, executive director of The Trinity Forum in Europe; and Honorary President of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. In 2007 he was appointed Chairman of the Centre for Social Justice’s policy study group on Prison Reform.

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