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Matt McAvoy
Author, Service Provider
My Life Began At Forty
MJV Literary, editor

Ten years in the making, this real-life journal of a drug trafficker's 6 years behind bars is a revelation, and has become an invaluable resource for criminology professionals - it is as close to living the reality of prison life as most of us will ever get. This inspiring book is a must-read for anybody who feels unable to rehabilitate, and a fantastic resource for those with loved ones - or themselves - facing time in prison.

Amazon Customer

Stumbled across this book via Twitter,very glad I did,great insight into being in prison written from a prisoners perspective.Anyone interested in this area will enjoy this book.Certainly reinforces my view that prisons need reforming for both staff and prisoners alike.


Through the eyes of a former guest of HMP's, I found this to be a truly brilliant, fully informative and well composed book.From the first few pages I became engrossed, so much so that at times i felt i'd been brought right back to within prison walls, The story of this mans journey from living the life then in the blink of an eye and one unfortunate mistake being brought to the depths of despair and his determination to take it on the chin, refusal to be broken by a dysfunctional prison system, his endurance throughout the highs and lows, trials and tribulations of prison life and his ability to endure all this, find and share humor, help others in the same boat while educating himself and others, its simply mesmerizing. I could have been walking beside this man on his journey there were so many similarities to my own incarceration, says a lot about the prison system since its around thirty years since my release and still little or no change and seemingly no lessons learnt. Go get the book its educational and for some like me Therapeutic and however serious and sad there is humor throughout. Hope the education was completed and hopefully there'll be more books in the future. Thank You Mr Irwin..


This book is both brutal and beautiful in its honesty. Michael Irwin's experience of time spent in custody in both England and Northern Ireland as described here, details the prison experience, alongside his journey. Confronting his own truth, the difficulties and joys that come from family relationships, friendships and living day to day within a system that is fraught with seemigly unnecessary complexities that hinder rather than support the people that inhabit the wings. Despite all of this, education gives Michael a focus and a way out of prison, even when he is still incarcerated. Ultimately it is a story of hope, that there is a way through, with the right support, personal dedication, commitment and some sheer bloodymindedness. It is not always an easy read but it is worth it.

Elizabeth Morley

Both my friend and I have read Michael Irwin's book and we found it quite amazing. None of us know what it feels like to live in prison we can not even imagine it. I have never seen a prison from the inside neither has my friend Ingeborg Hahn, but we most certainly learned from Michael's book what a terrible existence it is and especially how the prison staff needs desperately some training. I was surprised that if a prisoner really wants to change and educate himself in the time he is there - then this is indeed possible. Unfortunately the prisoner has to go through a lot of aggravation to receive training but the rules and regulations in prison makes it almost impossible. All this was news to us. We could not stop reading. it is very well written - a bit too long - but a very interesting read.. We both and especially Ingeborg Hahn wish Michael all the best and we are sure that his future will be bright. Read his book - you will never ever want to go to prison.


This is not a book for the faint hearted. It's a honest account of the way the Criminal Justice System treats those in prison. Michael has been brave enough to retell his experiences. His powerful account will change those who believe people that have committed a crime should be locked up and the key thrown away. Not a book to rush but definitely read it cover to cover. Highly recommended book.

Gary Mitchell

This chronological prison story leads one through a maelstrom of events and emotions from the author being charged, arrival at court through to sentencing and life as a prisoner, leading ultimately to release. Sounds simple, but beware the reader, this is no straightforward yarn of redemption after a failure in civilian life to adhere to the rules of society. Michael entertains with his humour and description of various occurrences; but it is sadly enmeshed with his struggles to survive the regime he finds himself living in. One can only hope the potential criminal will read this book to not make the wrong decisions, and those in charge of our criminal system so they can learn to help the man that looks to the future with desire and hope for success. This is a story of a man setting himself on the correct course and endeavouring to help others as he goes. Michael Irwin is commended for this read.

Les Wilson

I know Michael personally and having heard first hand from him about this book, I was really looking forward to reading it and I have to say, it didn't disappoint. Michael has written this book in the form of a diary, its quite funny in part but very dark at the same time. Most of us will never see the inside of a prison cell and this book gives us a great insight into the life of a prisoner and the mind set of the prison system. I could feel his frustration with the whole institution and their unbending attitude. Most pleasing to me when I was reading this book was that I could see the old Michael, The Mickey I knew as a young lad, I could nearly reach out and touch him. Altogether a great read. I found it quite hard to put down. Well done Michael Irwin. Take a bow sir.

Marina Louise

Former prisoner Michael Irwin whose diary details six years of incarceration for drug trafficking thrusts the reader into a terrifying reality of unrelenting alarms, buzzers, frustration and claustrophobia. His complete loss of civil liberties relies on the serenity prayer. However, he cannot adjust and does not adjust and instinctively knows that the only way to ‘do his whack’ is by engaging with education. ‘I feel as if education is my saviour—it feels like my own type of sanctuary, when I leave the wing and get into the classroom; nothing else matters’. Irwin is shocked by the number of ‘young and old men who can’t read or write’ and realises that his future can be directed by devoting ‘the rest of my life to helping other people in prison’.

While on remand, we get an insight into life as a ‘Norn Iron’ citizen in an English jail. Irwin agonizingly must learn to let go of people and places. He experiences bullies and his own anger, POCA (The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002) hearings, and numerous prison transfers. He counts down the days in HMP Brixton. Sometimes Irwin is glad to be alone, locked in his cell ‘blocking out the madness on the other side’ and understand how vulnerable you are continuously ‘stripped of your liberty and as fragile as a piece of thread, ready to tear, rip, disintegrate into the void left where your soul used to be’.

At HMP Down, he does a course called ‘Prison SMART’ which is ‘related to the teachings by the Art of Living Foundation founded by a guy called Sri Ravi Shankar’ and ‘feels a weight being lifted, and my mind being unlocked’. He ceaselessly searches to find himself and this is the role the diary takes to document his journey in a positive way to self-advocate where ‘you get used to your surroundings, and the people therein—you might not like it, but you do get used to it’. He is less than his prison number and doesn’t spare the reader from the individual’s utter lack of privacy.
Irwin is transferred back to the North of Ireland to complete his sentence. On the 9 March 2009 he arrives in Maghaberry. Within a few weeks he moves to Magilligan where he will complete his sentence. The diary is a chronicle of Irwin’s writing style. He improves in confidence with education and his insights through the study of criminology are fed into the text. It’s a very tough and shocking read but Irwin doesn’t expect those without knowledge of the prison system to see him as the victim of a miscarriage of justice. From the moment of his arrest in 2007 Irwin accepts his punishment through the time served to 2013. While he is a thorn in the side of the authorities, he admits that he would not be alive if he hadn’t been arrested in England. The diary reads like a masterclass in survival.

Miss Jacqueline Mahaffy

WOW, Where do I start?l Amazing story of Michaels journey through, no doubt, six of the hardest years of his life!From the moment I started reading this book, I was hooked!Couldn't put the book down.It was as if I was living the trials and tribulations that Michael was going through on a daily basis!From someone, like myself, who has experienced Mental Health issue's, I could relate to a lot of Michael's problems he faced.I look forward to his next book.Michael, you are an inspiration.............DO NOT FORGET THAT!.........💖

Steve Tombs, Prof of Criminology, The Open University

Although a criminologist, I am not used to reading biographies of prisoners or diaries of tales ‘inside’ – rather, my particular interest is with corporate and state criminals and these rarely see the inside of prisons! So I did not know quite what to expect when I picked up Michael Irwin’s My Life Began at Forty. But what I found was a page turner – literally, I could not put the book down. The first half in particular documents the pointlessness and counter-productive nature of prison life –a place of “intimidation, victimisation and bullying”, albeit, the bullies were wearing uniform. So a tale of state and corporate crime after all. More latterly, through Michael’s studying with the Open University and eventual release, it reads as a book of enormous hope and optimism. Overall, a book of so many insights, so well expressed. A book which expresses the tedium and pointlessness of prison life without being tedious and pointless; of how time slows to a standstill, without slowing time for the reader, at all; and of the hope that education inside can bring, without erasing the struggle, hardship and sheer bloody determination needed to take advantage of it – not just by Michael Irwin but by those who loved him, believed in him, cared for him. A man who has achieved so much but for whom one of his best moments recorded herein was to buy his mum lunch: just one of the small, precious, priceless gifts amidst the biggest, rightly lauded, achievements. Ultimately, a critical realism of pain, sweat, tears and hope.
Steve Tombs, Prof of Criminology, The Open University