Interview: Tension as writer and former prisoner Erwin James faces tough questions


Image: VIEW editor Brian Pelan, left, with former prisoner and Guardian writer Erwin James at the Ulster University in York Street, Belfast       Photographs: Kevin Cooper

By Kylie Noble

“How do you live with yourself with the knowledge that you have killed two people?”, was the point in the VIEW organised discussion with writer and former prisoner Erwin James, that the tension in the room was most palatable. 

The interview with VIEW editor, Brian Pelan, “From double murderer to newspaper columnist”, took place as part of the IMAGINE festival of Politics and Ideas.

Last Monday night, around 100 people attended the event, held in the Ulster University Belfast campus.

Erwin James has had a tough life: his mother died in a car crash when he was seven years of age, his alcoholic father beat him, he entered a children’s home, committed his first crime aged 10 and served 20 years for killing two men. He became a Guardian columnist, beginning to write whilst in prison.

It is his time in a children’s home and his lack of family love that James pinpoints in response to an audience question, as the core explanation for his life of crime. He said, ” I had physical care but no love, as a boy.”  

Topics covered in the interview included forgiveness, life after prison, how education in jail altered his life, the purpose of the criminal justice system and rehabilitation. 

Among those who attended were representatives from the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, the Quaker Service and Ulster University who supported the event.

The event was part of the Imagine Festival of Ideas and Politics –


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Erwin James 2017

Erwin James with Cheryl Lamont, Chief Executive of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland


Erwin James 2017

Professor Paddy Gray asking a question at last night’s event


Erwin James 2017

VIEWdigital co-founder Una Murphy


Erwin James 2017

VIEW editor Brian Pelan, left, with Erwin James






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