Chess champion from Hanwell releases book on how chess changes prisoners’ lives

Chess champion Carl Portman, from Hanwell, has written a book about chess in prisons. NNL-170708-171603001
Chess champion Carl Portman, from Hanwell, has written a book about chess in prisons. NNL-170708-171603001

A Hanwell-based chess champion is hoping for checkmate with his book on how the game is helping to educate and rehabilitate prisoners.

Carl Portman, the manager of Chess in Prisons for the English Chess Federation (ECF) has written Chess Behind Bars on how chess changes the lives of people in prison.

As part of his job, Mr Portman goes into prisons and talks to inmates about the game and helps them to form prison chess clubs.

He has written the book to focus on some of the good things that go on behind bars to help rehabilitate prisoners.

He said: “Chess is doing some amazing things in prisons and I have some powerful written testimony from real people – real inmates.

“Chess helps with dementia which is very topical at the moment and teaches kids and others how to think before moving, to deal with victory and defeat and to take responsibility for their decisions. Chess is happening in prisons right now and it is transcending the usual barriers of race, gender, ability, gang affiliation and smashing down those barriers.”

He added chess had helped improve the health of inmates and made them look at how they behave in a considered way. The game has even go so far as to stop an inmate from committing suicide and is played by men on death row to keep their mind off death.

As the chess columnist for Inside Time, a national newspaper for prisoners and detainees, Mr Portman has received a lot of correspondence from inmates.

He said: “Standard education tools are not working or simply not being accessed. Chess, from being a game for nerds is available to all. It is mental boxing, the gymnasium of the mind. Some prisoners still make chess sets and boards out of cardboard, bottle tops and paper and stain the dark pieces with coffee. Others shout out their moves after lights out. “

The book has received support from chess grandmaster Nigel Short.

Mr Portman is a former Shropshire county champion has represented the UK at two NATO chess championships.

In 2015, he was awarded the ECF president’s award for services to chess.