You can write a book anywhere! In the park, at your desk, in your bed, or even in jail.
That took a dark turn, but what did you expect when you clicked on this article? Heck, honestly, why did you click on this article? Are you going to jail? I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to encourage you to write a good book while you’re on the inside
For inspiration, you future/current convict, let’s look at seven authors turned prisoners/prisoners turned authors who gave us seven great literary works!
7. Le Morte d’ Arthur by Thomas Malory
Thomas Malory knew how to spin a great sentences and knew just how to end up in prison.
French for The Death of Arthur, Malory’s book is one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Compiling the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Malory interpreted existing French and English stories and added original material. It streamlines the original legends is seen to be the definitive telling of the tales of Arthur.
It may strike you odd that Thomas Malory penned much of this book while sitting in London’s Marshalsea prison, awaiting trial on charges of masterminding a string of over 100 violent robberies. In fact, The British Library notes that “for unknown reasons, he turned to a life of crime”.
Malory had assembled himself a crew of twenty-six men and ambushed the Duke of Buckingham in an attempt to murder him. Latter, Mallory “stole livestock, and extorted money with menaces…was accused of rape on two occasions” and even led a an army of one hundred men in attacking Combe Abbey, “terrifying the monks and stealing their money and valuables”.
See, Central government was weak under Henry VI, who suffered from bouts of insanity, and Malory took full advantage, as Civil War broke out for the throne. (Side note: this Civil War came be known as the Wars of the Roses, which went on to inspire Game of Thrones.)
So in 1461, Malory was in jail, and that same year Edward IV ascends to the throne and Malory is released. In 1462 and Malory fought with the Earl of Warwick for Yorkists, Edward’s folk. But Malory remained loyal to that Earl of Warwick and when the Earl switched sides, so did Malory. Wrong move! The Earl lost, and the Yorkists were ticked off that Malory betrayed them. Thus, back to prison Malory went. In 1470, while awaiting trial, Malory was released from prison thanks to Henry VI briefly regaining the throne. He would die five months later and be buried just across the road from Newgate Prison. Now that’s irony, kids!
As for his infamous book?
That got its first printed edition in 1485 thanks to William Caxton. Malory would only be acknowledged thanks to discovery of the original manuscript in 1934. Imagine the shock when people found out who Malory really was!
6. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Italian philosopher and defense secretary, Niccolò Machiavelli became one of the fathers of political theory. He was diplomat in Florence and met Prince of the Papal States and son of Pope Julius II, Cesare Borgia.
By 1512 Machiavelli wasn’t living the high life anymore. Having fallen out of favor with the Medici banking family, who owned most of Italy, Machiavelli was imprisoned because they believed he was involved in a revolt.
In an attempt to get back in the Medici good books, Machiavelli wrote The Prince, arguing that rules had to be hard edged in trying times. The Prince was first published as a pamphlet in 1513 and published “in book form posthumously in 1532”.
It’s important to note that whether or not Machiavelli actually believed this or was just trying to regain his reputation hasn’t seemed to matter in the eyes of history. Despite his other political works, such as The Discourses on Livy and Life of Castruccio Castracani which expounded on his beliefs, his name has become synonymous with cruel rulers who distrust the people thanks to The Prince.
On a happier note, his treatise has been a touchstone of political strategy, revered by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Bonaparte, and John Gotti.
5. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde
Image Via AuthGram.com
Let’s talk about Oscar Wilde because any excuse to talk about Oscar Wilde is worth it in my book. Author of the infamous The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde was a larger than life artists who lead an equally extravagant lifestyle. He was known for “wearing his hair long and openly scorning so-called ‘manly’ sports, and began decorating his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, blue china and other objets d’art.” He was a celebrity!
He had reached the height of fame and success with his plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, but there was a small problem: Wilde was gay. And being gay was not okay back in the late 1800s. It was, in fact, a crime.
Wilde’s love affair with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas didn’t go well. See, Lord Alfred Douglas’ father was the Marquess of Queensberry and he didn’t like Wilde nor what he saw as Wilde’s influence over his son.
To make a long story short: Lord Douglas’ father accused Wilde of being gay, Wilde sued for libel, and the lawsuit spread into Wilde himself was arrested and sentenced to two years hard labor in Reading Gaol.
This was where we he wrote De Profundis. Latin for ‘from the depths’, this very letter letter begins with “Dear Bosie” and ends “Your Affectionate Friend”, but we all know who he’s talking about.
The letter starts off with an autobiography, recounting his previous relationship with Douglas and how his fame led to his downfall, but the second half is where Wilde charts his spiritual development and how he views Jesus Christ as as a romantic, individualist artist.
It’s a poignant work of art, reflection, and love that we are luckily to have, especially considering it was published in 1905, five years after Wilde’s death.
4-Letters from Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Image Via Daily Wire
In case you didn’t know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist Minister who was the spokesperson and leader of the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King coordinated several marches and sit-ins against racial segregation.
He often found himself in jail. During on this instances, he read a public statement issued by eight white Alabama clergymen condemning his civil disobedience methods.
Thus came Letters from Birmingham Jail. A defense of civil disobedience, the letter makes argument that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. Notably, King writes that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
3. Diseases of Canaries by Robert Stroud
Published in 1933, Diseases of Canaries is a comprehensive work about the general health of canaries. It goes into the anatomy, feeding, how to treat for dangerous insects and parasites, how to treat injuries, and how to use drugs for canaries, among many other things.
It was later updated in 1943. The author was “an expert in avian pathology and even [developed] a remedy for the septicemia that ravaged his aviary“.
The author was Robert Stroud. He was known for many things, but not all of them included birds. For one, he had an I.Q. of 112.
He was also diagnosed as a psychopath, which makes sense considering he shot a bartender to death after he failed to pay a prostitute Stroud was pimping in 1909, stabbed a fellow prisoner in 1912, and stabbed and killed a guard in 1916.
Image Via The Vintage News
He became obsessed with birds after he discovered a nest with three injured sparrows in the prison yard. He cared for them, and within within a few years had acquired a collection of about 300 canaries.
After Digest on the Disease of Canaries was published, it was discovered that Stroud was secretly making alcohol in his cell. Thus, he was transferred to Alcatraz, “where he was allowed to continue his research but was denied further right of publication“. He later died in a medical facility. Just remember, if you go to jail you can write books, care for birds, but you shouldn’t make alcohol in your cell. That’s just nasty!
2. The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo
Image Via Silk Road
No, he didn’t invent the game ‘Marco-Polo’ but he did write a book while in jail.
Picture this: You’re going on a journey.
You’ve spent fifteen years on that journey traveling Central Asia and the Far East during the latter part of the 13th century. Good for you, you worldly person, but once you return to Italy you find that there’s a war between Venice and Genoa.
Whoa! You’ve been captured and tossed in jail because you’re a pretty famous Venetian. Bad luck, brother, and who knows when you’ll be out. But now that you’re here, what’re you going to do?
Talk someone’s ear off.
Image Via Ancient Origins
Luckily for us, Rustichello da Pisa didn’t tune for Marco out. He wrote down everything Marco told him. Good thing he was a writer! I mean, what are the odds that these two would be thrown in jail? Well, pretty high considering the war going on and how everyone was being thrown in jail, but you get my point.
Published in 1300, the book describes Polo’s travels through Asia between 1271 and 1295, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan.
Note that when I say ‘describes’, I mean describes. World Digital Library writes that “Marco Polo’s account was not just a simple record of the journey, but a description of the world—a mixture of a travel report, legend, hearsay, and practical information,” and, for better or worse, serves as one of the few travelogue to the Eastern regions of that era.
1. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
Jean Genet did time for petty theft. During his stay, Jean was given paper intended to be made into his bags. He broke the rules and wrote Our Lady of the Flowers. This didn’t go well. Once the manuscript was discovered, Jean Genet’s book was confiscated and burned. End of story, right?
Completed in 1942, the book was published anonymously at the end of 1943, but was again published in 1944. Genet would later remove several passages because many readers mistook it for erotica.
Given that Genet wrote this book twice, the least you can do is read it.
Featured Image Via Dribble