Surviving Hell – the title of Nick Dunn’s story of injustice and perilous prisons – seems a fitting tagline for our current Covid-19 predicament, don’t you think?

The autobiography, which I edited for Mirror Books and which is on sale now, tells a twin-track tale. In Chennai, 6,000 miles away, six Brits were embroiled in a long and infuriating battle with the archaic Indian justice system, fighting charges that should never have been brought.

Back home, in the north east of England, his sister, Lisa Dunn, was fighting her own battle, trying to bring the world’s attention to the injustice, which resulted in a frustrating combination of popular support and institutional indifference.

After a career as an elite soldier, Nick had left the army to become a security operative, working the shipping channels and keeping cargo and crew safe from pirates. After taking refuge from a brewing storm in Indian waters the ship was boarded and the crew and passengers arrested. In addition to the alleged intrusion into sovereign territory, there were further accusations that the guns they were holding were illegal (palpably untrue, as was demonstrated in court).

However, Nick and his comrades found themselves stuck in India for years fighting these charges. Much of that time was spent in hell-hole prisons, at the mercy of violent locals, hunger, illness, and diabolical conditions.

A different kind of hell

What struck me while was the second type of “imprisonment” Dunn suffered. He was also held on bail for many months, living in limbo, unable to earn money or to give any meaning or purpose to his life, disconnected from loved ones and left to fill the empty hours.

I saw then – and see it more clearly now in these strange times – that these were two sides of the same hellish coin. Dunn himself admits that compared to prison, living in an albeit rundown hotel, was the equivalent of luxury. But it was torture, nonetheless. He admits that he did start to go stir crazy as a non-person, his life on hold – the endless hours broken up by occasional video-calls to far-distant loved ones set against the low murmur of omnipresent worry about the future.

I edited the book at the tail-end of last year. Remember those days? When we did what we wanted – Christmas shopping and office parties? Who could have foreseen that, by the time the book was published, the nation would be in lockdown with many unable to make a living, and life, for most, suddenly formless?

As I said at the time, the prison years were gruelling for Nick, undoubtedly. There was a battle to survive that no-one would relish. But that battle also provided grit and purpose, a physical challenge that Nick, a soldier through and through, was trained to handle.

However, there is a distinct and separate kind of hell that comes with the unlived life, the life that leaves no footprints, the powerless life, with time passed the only measure of accomplishment. In our own small and personal ways, we all have a sense of that now, I suspect.

Those parts of the Nick’s story will likely have a special resonance and recognition that wasn’t there only a few short weeks ago.

Surviving Hell, from Mirror Books, is available now.

The Lockdown Survival Handbook – out now

The Lockdown Survival Handbook by Lucia Blash & Giles Broadbent is available now. £1.99

Kindle books can be downloaded to any smart device – iPhones, Android, tablets. Just get the Kindle app from the your usual app supplier.

Find out more about what’s in the the book – and why it is an essential read right now – click here.