Chris Atkins has had a remarkable career: motivational speaker, best-selling author, three-time BAFTA nominated film maker, investigative journalist, award winning podcaster – and an inmate at HMP Wandsworth.
Chris Atkins has worked at the forefront of the media for nearly twenty years, and has made ground-breaking documentaries for cinema, BBC, Channel Four, Sky and many others. His films have been lauded by critics, made front page news and been seen by millions. He’s undertaken undercover investigations into powerful individuals and institutions, including Max Clifford, The News of the World, ITV and UKIP. He was responsible for exposing tabloid malpractice well before the phone hacking scandal broke and directed one of the most complained about films of all time.
Chris Atkins’ filmmaking took a dark turn when he funded a documentary using a dodgy tax scheme and was convicted of tax fraud in 2016. He was sentenced to five years and banged up in HMP Wandsworth, one of the UK’s most dangerous and dysfunctional prisons which he describes as a “dystopian Faulty Towers”. Chris’s deft resourcefulness allowed him to adapt to this terrifying environment by getting on good terms with both prisoners and officers, and did numerous prison jobs as the staff were struggling with huge funding cuts.
Chris became a prison Listener – trusted inmates trained by the Samaritans who help other prisoners who are suicidal or self-harming – and spent months counselling the most vulnerable and unhinged people on the wings. This hair-raising experience set him on a remarkable personal journey, and he became more empathetic, less judgemental and developed a strong urge to fight for the voiceless stuck in a barbaric and inhumane system.
Chris kept a daily diary inside which helped him overcome the horrors he witnessed and cope with the painful separation from his young son. It was published as a book, A Bit of a Stretch, which was a Sunday Times bestseller in 2020 and has sold over 120,000 units. He has also released an award-winning podcast about prison life, also called A Bit of a Stretch, which has had over 350,000 downloads. He campaigns relentlessly for prison reform, and regularly appears on the news on BBC, ITN and Sky to argue for more humane conditions, and frequently writes for The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Mail. He has just published a follow up book, Time After Time, about why so many ex-prisoners reoffend. He reveals how reoffending is responsible for 80% of all crimes and follows the lives of a dozen repeat offenders to discover why the system won’t let them go straight.
Chris Atkins also founded a successful prison literacy campaign, Bang Up Books, which has delivered over 100,000 new books to 80 prisons in four years. During the first lockdown all prison visits were cancelled and inmates were stuck in their cells for 24 hours a day, so Chris drove a few bags of books to his nearest prison so the inmates would have something to read. Word soon spread, and he spent the next few months hustling donations and driving new books to prisons all over the country. The scheme is fully endorsed by the Ministry of Justice, and Chris has secured donations from major publishers including Penguin and Hachette.
Chris Atkins has given hundreds of talks to blue chip companies, government departments, national broadcasters, major literary festivals, universities, and schools.
His speaking topics include:
- Overcoming adversity – Chris’s life fell apart when he was convicted, but he managed to channel the trauma into his writing and is now more creative and happier than before his imprisonment. Chris can reveal the coping mechanisms he used to adapt to such a hostile environment and overcome these massive challenges, and how his survival tactics can be channelled into business, personal development, and strategic thinking.
- Inside the Criminal Mind – Chris has spent years living with a wide colourful cast of criminals and has a unique insight into why people turn to crime. He has the inside story of some astonishing capers, including a man who escaped from HMP Winchester by pretending to be his twin brother, someone wrongly locked up for four years for not attending a party, and the incredible story of The Fake Duke who spent a year living in elite hotels masquerading as the Duke of Marlborough.
- Mental Health and Addictions – Chris’s work as a prison Listener brought him face to face with extremely damaged and vulnerable individuals, many of whom were severely mentally ill and had no place in jail. He can share what he learned from helping people with a range of psychiatric conditions and severe addictions, and why the optics of mental health are distorted by celebrities and the media.
- Making Connections – in his filmmaking Chris has worked with a raft of high profile figures including James Blunt, Brian Cox and Louis Theroux, while in jail he rubbed shoulders with armed robbers, murderers and drugs kingpins. He can share how he makes immediate connections with complex characters and juggles their needs with his own goals.
- The Failure of the Criminal Justice System – using his first-hand experience inside Britain’s toughest jails, Chris can explain why the UK’s addiction to incarceration doesn’t work and why prison actually makes criminals more likely to reoffend, which is a massive issue as 45% of ex-prisoners reoffend within a year of release.
“We had Chris speak at an event at Ministry of Justice. He skilfully blended humour and poignancy, captivating the audience, and leaving a lasting impact with his heartfelt insights. Chris brings refreshing honesty and authenticity making his message more relatable. What stood out the most, however, were the actionable insights he provided. It's rare to encounter a speaker who combines humour, poignancy, and practical advice in such a compelling manner.”
— Stuart Thompson - Engagement Business Partner at Ministry of Justice
“Raw but real, Chris delivered an excellent lecture on his experiences in HMP Wandsworth. My A-Level students were captivated by his stories and were able to look at the Criminal Justice System in a different light. Chris successfully stressed the effects of prison experience on recidivism and the students took great knowledge in which they could apply to their Sociology exam.”
— Mr Jlilou - Head of Social Sciences, Ark Academy Wembley