Announced on Monday, Cyntoia Brown will team up with Atria Books to tell her gripping and haunting story. Brown was granted clemency at the beginning of the year and is set to be released today. Driven by a desire to help victims of abuse everywhere, she’s eager to begin the next chapter of her life.
Image Via ABC News
A victim of child sex trafficking, Brown was convicted of murdering a forty-three year old man who used her as a pawn. Originally, Brown was sentenced to fifty-one years to life before her case gained national attention and supporters began lobbying for her release. Brown’s trail shed light on the often unspoken world of child sex trafficking in America.
Image via The Intercept
Brown spent fifteen years in prison writing this book and will spend the next ten on parole. Recently, a Go Fund Me was set up to aid Brown after her release. Brown spoke out about her hopes for the book by saying, “I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation.”
Titled Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System, Brown’s book will be released on October 15th.
Pittsburgh’s Book’Em was created in 2000 when its founder, Etta Cetera, decided to do something about the nearly non-existent educational opportunities that U.S. prisons afford their inmates. Under-stocked libraries and convoluted book request systems make it difficult for prisoners who are trying to self-educate. Cetera started Book’Em to increase prisoners’ access to books, and after years of overwhelming community support, Book’Em has served approximately 33,000 prisoners throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
image via Book’em
Whether prisoners read in order to improve their understanding of the world or simply just to pass time, books have always held a special role in correctional facilities. “We believe that educating individuals during incarceration is an integral part of rehabilitation,” Book’Em shares on their website. “By using the time in prison to prepare for re-entry into society, ex-offenders will have a greater chance at living a productive life and be less likely to revert to a criminal lifestyle.”
Book’Em’s volunteer program meets on Sundays in order to respond to prisoners’ letters, select books that suits each inmate’s needs, and prepares educational packages for mailing. On their website, Book’Em has listed a wide variety of genres that they are looking for people to donate. The list covers everything from religious texts to guides on how to start your own business. This list illustrates the diverse ways in which prisoners can use books to improve their standing in life.
If you have any interest in donating, follow this link!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 Crow, another 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.
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.
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.