Tag: prison

7 Famous Books Written While The Authors Were in Prison!

You can write a book anywhere! In the park, at your desk, in your bed, or even in jail.

 

Hands grasping prison bars for dear life
Image Via Montreal Gazette

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

 

Image Via Clarendon House Publications Image Via Amazon

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

Image Via Bio.com

 

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”.

Remember that.

 

3. Diseases of Canaries by Robert Stroud

Image Via Amazon

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.

 

An older Robert Stroud

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.

Rustichello da Pisa

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

Images Via Amazon and Via Paris Review

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?

 

 

Nope!

As Jean Genet would later say, “.…[I] got into bed, pulled the covers over my head and tried to remember, word for word, the fifty pages I had written. I think I succeeded.

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 

An incarcerated man reads - as is his right

U.S. Prisons Ban Books Critical of Criminal Justice System

For a country intent on the loosest possible definitions of free speech, one of our most marginalized populations is subject to an insidious degree of censorship.

The United States—the world leader in incarceration, imprisoning 2.2 million at this very moment—is fixated on free speech, but we favor the adjective over the verb. Prisons throughout the country are banning books that disagree with the racial disparity in U.S. prisons, the prison-industrial complex, and other incisive critiques of mass incarceration. And some are banning books altogether: one Georgia jail recently imposed a ban on all books, excluding only religious texts. Louisiana has banned non-Christian religious material, a decision that evidently violates the Constitutional provisions for religious freedom. Even the more liberal state of Washington forbade outsiders to make charitable book donations to prisons. Although the Washington Department of Corrections has rolled back the ban to accept donations from a small, specified list of charities, this compromise hardly changes the fact that WDOC only changed the rule because it couldn’t get away with it.

 

Books banned in Texas prisons, exceeding 15,000 total | Image Via Washington Post

 

Recently, the Arizona Department of Corrections has banned Chokehold, a non-fiction work exploring the role of race within the criminal justice system. Written by a former prosecutor, the book dispenses advice for black men and details the rights people can use to protect themselves (for example, during searches). While this may be unjust, it’s not unprecedented: North Carolina and Florida have banned The New Jim Crowanother book dedicated to exposing racism’s inextricable link to mass incarceration.

This past week, the American Civil Liberties Union formally addressed the issue, requesting that Arizona overturn this ban. An excerpt from the letter explains the hypocrisy inherent in the ban:

The very people who experience extreme racial disparity in incarceration cannot be prohibited from reading a book whose purpose is to examine and educate about that disparity. Improving understanding of policing, incarceration, and racial bias is especially critical given Arizona’s stark racial disparities and overall high rates of incarceration.

Advocates have pointed out the practical issues with these bans, those that transcend moral or ethical arguments. There is no budgetary component to book-donation charities, meaning that there are no financial consequences for allowing these charities to stock prison libraries. It’s also likely that incarcerated people will not spend their entire lives in prison. Given that the average prison sentence is three years, state departments of correction should assume that most of these people will return to society. Shouldn’t we want them to be emotionally healthy when they do? Shouldn’t we want them to be educated?

Under the First Amendment, only books which would actively endanger the prison or the people in it are eligible for bans. This clause would, for example, bar a non-fiction work that might detail how to make explosives or weaponry. The intent is purely physical rather than psychological; ostensibly, there is no danger to society in allowing prisoners to understand the judicial system that keeps them confined. But there is a danger to the system that imprisons them.

 

 

 

Featured Image Via Video Blocks.

Sirius Black after having escaped Azkaban prison

Prisoners Smuggle Drugs Via Harry Potter Books

In Nottingham Prison, the inmates are book fiends.

As part of a recent investment, the prison—deemed one of London’s “most challenging” correctional facilities—spent £1.4 million on a specialized drug testing machine. Apparently, the machine was worth the expense: not only did it detect a drug-smuggling operation, but it also gave us the wild story of just how mind-blowing Harry Potter can be. When the results came in, authorities determined that the inmates weren’t just hooked on reading.

 

The actual Harry Potter pages used in the smuggling operation

Image Via BBc

 

The newly-purchased machine detected a “spice-like substance” sprayed onto the pages of J.K. Rowling’s childhood classic (and no, we’re not talking cardamom). Officials believe the book was doctored outside of the prison and then sent to inmates, a gift as seemingly—and falsely—innocent as Harry Potter fanfiction. By the time guards detected the deception, four hundred pages were missing from the volume. Authorities suspect inmates smoked the missing pages—guess the book was so good, they burned right through it.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has sworn to step down if prison conditions fail to improve. Although six of the ten prisons involved in the reforms have markedly changed their conditions, Nottingham remains one of two problem prisons, each “dangerous, disrespectful and drug ridden.” Yup, definitely the last one.

One crucial plot point is missing in this story: exactly which book was it? For the sake of a neat ending, let’s just say Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

 

Featured Image Via MuggleNet

Kim Kardashian-West and Alice Marie Johnson

Inmate Freed With Kim Kardashian-West’s Help Scores Book Deal

We know Kim Kardashian as a social media superstar—famous for being famous, a self-renewing resource of celebrity. She’s a bit like a real-life Barbie; it’s just that instead of going to medical school, launching herself into outer space, and tending to wounded animals (Barbie must have a fortune in student debt), Kardashian-West is a socialite, reality TV star, artist, entrepreneur, and cultural icon. We’d call her a wearer of many hats, except there just aren’t that many hats that Kardashian-West would deign to wear. Her latest look—advocate and contributor to prison reform—has the power to enact real social change. In fact, it already has.

 

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 31: Kim Kardashian West attends KKWxMario Dinner at Jean-Georges Beverly Hills on March 31, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage) Alice Marie Johnson

Image Via People Magazine

 

In 2018, Kardashian-West intervened in the case of Alice Marie Johnson, a sixty-two-year-old great-grandmother serving life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Johnson became involved in the drug world after her divorce and the chain-reaction of misfortunes that followed: gambling addiction; bankruptcy; unemployment; and, worst of all, her son’s untimely death. Though Johnson never handled drugs directly while working for a cocaine-trafficking ring, she did pass along coded messages to facilitate the transactions. When the police caught onto the operation, ten co-conspirators turned her in. As a result of their cooperation, each received reduced sentences ranging from no time at all to ten years’ imprisonment.

 

"Please wake up, America, and help end this injustice." -AMJ

Image Via YouTube

 

In 1997, Johnson was the only one sentenced to life. Since then, she’s expressed remorse for her involvement:

I felt like a failure… I went into a complete panic and out of desperation, I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make some quick money. I became involved in a drug conspiracy.

In an interview with Mic, Johnson describes the personal tragedies that have unfolded in her absence from the family home. Her mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, has no caretaker. After her arrest, her only living son dropped out of school. He is currently imprisoned himself. “Unless things change,” Johnson pleaded, “I will never go home alive.”

 

Kardashian-West, live on CNN, expresses her support for Alice Johnson

Image Via CNN

 

Does that upset you? It upset Kim K: after reading the article, she contacted Johnson’s legal team. “[Kardashian-West] was not only moved to tears,” said lawyer Brittney Barnett, “but moved to action.” In a highly-publicized stunt, the reality TV star met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of commuting Johnson’s sentence. An ecstatic Johnson offered her gratitude for the intervention:

Ms Kardashian, you are quite literally helping to save my life and restore me to my family. I was drowning and you have thrown me a life jacket, and given me hope that this life jacket I’m serving may one day be taken off.

And she had plenty to be grateful for. On May 30, 2018—Johnson’s birthday—she was officially free.

 

Alice Marie Johnson weeps at her release

Image Via CBS

 

This week, an imprint of HarperCollins has announced that there’s more to Johnson’s story. The book, After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom, will be available on May 21. Harper has deemed it an “honest, faith-driven memoir” taking a “deep look into the system of mass incarceration.” Kardashian-West will write the foreword. In an official statement, she shared what the story means to her and to the world:

Her story is a gift that will now reach so many millions more through her book and film. I hope Alice’s case is just the beginning of a movement to help those left behind. I am invested in continuing to support Alice and this cause.


Now that Johnson is free, she’s also free to tell her story. “I feel humbled that the telling of my story gives hope,” Johnson said, “and that my years of pain were not in vain.”

 

Reading in Jail

Mississippi Prison Sued for Restricting Inmates’ Access to Free Books

As we’re all aware, the United States prison system is a mess with no clean up in sight. If you’re disillusioned with the prison system as of current, I’m sorry to say, this article will only depress you further.

 

A prison in southern Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Corrections are being sued for restricting inmates’ access to free books. Law firm DLA Piper is arguing that a relatively recent policy change at the South Mississippi Correctional Facility violates the inmates’ First Amendment rights: only religious books are freely accessible to the inmates.

 

Big House Books is a nonprofit that sends books and other educational materials to inmates in the Mississippi correctional system, but the prison has been marking the books “return to sender.” When questioned by the nonprofit, the facility said only religious books could be mailed for free to the inmates, while all other books should be donated to the prison library or purchased by the inmates themselves.

 

If you ask me, knowledge should be available to all, regardless of religious affiliation. Additionally, how much do you want to bet that in this case, “religious” means specifically “Christian”?

 

Featured Image via WUNC.