If ever you need reminding that truth is stranger than fiction, a burst of Louis Theroux serves as the perfect prompt. He's met some truly bizarre folk on his travels over the years and given us all a great deal of entertainment, but his recently broadcast visit to the San Quentin State Prison in California was particularly special.
I'd always assumed that fictional portrayals of US jails are ever-so-slightly exaggerated, but boy, was I like way wrong. San Quentin is populated by hundreds of 17-stone bruisers complete with gang tattoos and orange jumpsuits, who work out in overcrowded exercise yards under the watchful gaze of snipers. Back on the wing, some unusually close relationships had developed between cellmates. Theroux even managed to find a reformed Nazi gang member who'd taken a fancy to a Jewish guy with a penchant for mascara. It's hard to imagine the same kind of thing happening at Pentonville, but maybe I live a sheltered life.
I remember going round Brixton Prison in south London once and feeling relatively safe in the company of a warder. San Quentin was the kind of place where I would want a team of minders - each with an M16 and a blackbelt in karate. One would be ten paces in front of me, one ten paces behind and I'd have two flankers as well, just in case. I know Clint Eastwood managed to take down the big guy in the yard during Escape from Alcatraz, but that was pretend.