Stitched Up: Stories of Life and Death from a Prison Doctor [Book Review]

Immediately after ComServe, when I was unemployed for – gasp! – a whole week, I considered applying to a job as a prison GP. (I did not, because a locum opportunity came along that morphed into something semi-permanent, and other opportunities fell by the wayside for a while.)

“Offender healthcare occupies the grey zone between primary care, hospital care, mental health and substance misuse. It is a place of great unpredictability.”

Shahed Yousaf, Stitched Up

I think about that job, sometimes. I wonder how I would have handled it. I wonder what the relationship among the healthcare workers and the guards was like. I wonder if I might’ve felt like I was making a difference, rather than running a production line. I suspect that, given my family’s personal experience with loss due to violent crime, it would have been challenging work. 

Shahed Yousaf, author of Stitched Up, chronicles his experience as a prison general practitioner in the UK. Medical training in the UK, and indeed much of medical practice there, is similar to the South African system, and Yousaf’s narrative style is easy to grasp for me, as a South African. 

I’ve read some about prison systems (review of Incarceration Nations), and prisons in the UK, as described by Yousaf, seem scarcely better than those in developing countries. The author is insightful and introspective, and the reader has no choice but to challenge their own views on crime and punishment (the concept, not the book).

“[…] if you systematically brutalise people, subject them to the indignities of helplessness, boredom and frustration, you will not see them at their best, let alone rehabilitate them.”

Shahed Yousaf, Stitched Up

Dr Y (or “dry, like [his] humour”) is an affable character, cognisant of his patients’ humanity, and ever aware of how the language he uses may affect either patients, their care, or both. He shares the challenges of being a GP in the NHS, and how those are further compounded in offender medicine (which is an actual field). South African prisons probably have even fewer resources, but look, this is not the poverty olympics. 

A withdrawn and grieving young man when he begins his career, Yousaf grows into a confident, respected doctor – not at the expense of his patients, but certainly in part because of them. He is ever-honest about the impact of his work on himself, and his colleagues. While some anecdotes are humerous, he is careful to relay them with respect for the humans afflicted, and protects the privacy of his patients.  

The world is vast, and Yousaf’s book is one example of the many directions a career might go, if given half a chance. 

I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley and Random House UK in exchange for an honest review.

1 Comment

  1. I’d love to read this book. Now I wonder about health care in our prisons of Jamaica, sigh

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