Lewis: You eventually got transferred to the plushest wing, and the best cell in that wing, surrounded by other white-collar criminals.
Atkins: It was comfortable and uncomfortable: comfortable because I was around people who were more like me. I mean, I don’t consort with City boys [bankers], but in Wandsworth they became my type. They were closer to me than the mentally ill drug addicts or the Romanian gangsters.
But it was uncomfortable because they’d all done things that were wrong as well. Arguably, things that harm society more than the mentally ill drug addicts. Some of them were responsible for dozens of people losing their life savings.
Lewis: The short-staffing of prison guards meant that the “White Collar Club” was doing lots of tasks—handing out paperwork, cleaning, counseling, running the library—that kept the place running.
Atkins: Completely. And the White Collar Club would hand jobs out to each other. They wanted me there [in the best wing of the prison]. You were attractive to them simply because you weren’t a nutter—because everyone had had a nutty cell mate or nutty neighbors.
When the jobs would come in, Lance and Scott [two fellow prisoners at the top of the pecking order], they would be like a king handing out patronage. Later, I was being offered jobs and I didn’t want them, so I would hand them out like candy to people below me. At one point, I was doing seven jobs.
Lewis: The White Collar Club reacted badly when a violent, loud prisoner named Wayne moved into their section. What happened?
Atkins: It was like, ‘This neighborhood has taken a turn for the worse. Who’s at number 28? He has music on loud.’ It was uncomfortable because [Wayne] probably had a mental illness and had a terrible hand in life. We had all the advantages in life and squandered them.
In prison, though, you stop worrying about the outside world; because it’s so closed off, I could have been on the moon. Instead you become fascinated and obsessed with all the stuff that’s going on in your immediate environment … We were all interested in, you know, who’s going to move into H-12.
Lewis: Because you can control so little, you become obsessed with what you can control.
Atkins: And you want what your neighbors want. Once, we made a bin [trash can]. It took hours. And then we noticed that the lads in the cell next door, their bin had a lid. So we thought: We’ve got to get a lid. It is like, ‘Oh, they’ve got a swimming pool next door; we need a pool.’
Lewis: You worked doing education tests on incoming prisoners. How many were illiterate?
Atkins: I’d say 50 percent were functionally illiterate. They could barely read or write.
Lewis: After a few months, you and your ex-partner were “running on completely different clocks” when she came to visit. Tell me about becoming “institutionalized.”