By Brian Beltz
There is no doubting the importance of literature in the day-to-day lives of prison inmates. In a world obsessed with television, celebrity gossip, and social media, inmates are, save for a few hours a day, almost exclusively removed. Books can fill the long empty days, provide an escape from the drudgery of prison life, and help them better themselves and learn new things.
Perhaps even more important, however, is the impact that prison inmates themselves have had on literature. Some of the greatest literary achievements in history, both fiction and non-fiction, were conceived or penned by authors while in prison. There are far too many of them to create an exhaustive list, but here are some of the most notable.
This two-part volume fully titled “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential works of fiction ever published. Author Miguel de Cervantes is said to have formulated the story while in prison at Argamasilla de Alba in La Mancha. Some hold that Cervantes wrote the first volume while incarcerated, but there is no debate that his time behind bars was the inspiration for the story.
Letter From Birmingham City Jail
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this letter from his jail cell after being arrested for his participation in the Birmingham campaign, a non-violent protest against racial segregation. The letter contained King’s famous statement “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” While the letter had little effect on the campaign in Birmingham, its widespread circulation is credited for rallying support for the civil rights movement and calls for civil rights legislation. King’s work remains one of the most important documents in American history.
The Travels of Marco Polo
Divided into four books, The Travels of Marco Polo chronicles the experiences of Marco Polo throughout Asia, China, Persia, and Indonesia between 1271 and 1291. Polo recounted his travels to Italian romance writer, Rustichello da Pisa while the two were imprisoned in Genoa. Although the voracity of the work was regarded with suspicion at the time, today topographers have referred to his work as the precursor to scientific geography.
Le Morte D’Arthur
Sir Thomas Malory, the father of the King Arthur mythology, is said to have written the most famous version of the legend, Le Morte D’Arthur while incarcerated in France. The book created the famous imagery of the sword in the stone and the lady in the lake, and has been re-imagined over and over throughout history.
Better known for publishing works like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wilde was an Irish writer who became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the in the early 1890s. However, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency in 1895 and sent to prison. While in jail, he wrote what amounted to be the longest love letter ever written, a work that was published posthumously under the title, “De Profundis” (“From the Depths” in Latin). Often overlooked, De Profundis gives tremendous insight into the character of Oscar Wilde, his affection for others, and his legendary conversational skills.
There exist countless other works created or inspired by authors who spent time in prison. There is no direct correlation as to why so many important pieces have been spawned by the incarceration experience. Perhaps, it is due to the amount of time allowed for introspection or the fact that so many people in history were jailed for what they believed in (Nelson Mandela and Ghandi also come to mind). What is clear, however, is that the next great literary work is being written somewhere right now, quite possibly in a prison cell.
Brian Beltz is an aspiring writer and currently blogs for the law firm Solomon & Relihan (www.solomonrelihan.com) in Phoenix, Arizona. He loves to help make sense of complex legal issues in plain English and write about current events.
Photo: Napoleon Sarony, held by George Eastman House and shared on flickr.com commons with no known current copyright
By Eve Pearce
One of the main problems with the prison system is that inmates are often clueless as to what they are going to do when they are finally released. This can lead prisoners to believe that they have no choice but to return to a life of crime the minute they are set free. For some, writing can provide a career path as well as a means of self-expression.
A perfect example of this is the case of former drug baron Shaun Attwood, who served twenty-six months in prison after being caught running an ecstasy ring in Arizona. During his incarceration, Attwood sent out details of everyday prison life to be published on an Internet blog. His blog was featured in a number of different national newspapers in his home country of England and sparked a passion for writing within him.
He has since had a highly successful book published entitled Hard Time, which describes his descent into crime and subsequent incarceration. He also won a Koestler Trust award for literature, which is an arts prize awarded to prisoners and ex-offenders. Creative writing has ensured that Attwood has remained on the straight and narrow.
Maricopa County Jail
Attwood was incarcerated in Maricopa County (Arizona) Jail, which is run by strict authoritarian Joe Arpaio and regarded by many people as America’s toughest jail. Attwood went from a life of drug-taking and hedonistic excess to having to quit cigarettes, alcohol and narcotics and survive amongst murderers, crystal meth addicts and violent white supremacist gang members. The Maricopa County Jail is famous for its strict routine. Inmates must go without nicotine, R- and X-rated television, and coffee. They are made to wear pink uniforms and fed food that some people argue is not fit for human consumption.
Attwood learned that crime does not pay. His blog did not attempt to justify his actions; he admitted that he had been extremely stupid. It merely chronicled the conditions that he was forced to live in and questioned whether the Maricopa County Jail was conducive to producing rehabilitated prisoners or whether it would send them back into the world worse than they were when they arrived in the jail.
Upon his release from prison, Attwood wrote Hard Time, which told his story from start to finish and concluded by saying how stupid and misguided his criminal career had been. He managed to secure a publishing deal with Mainstream Publishing and his book received critical acclaim. It was featured in numerous local and national newspapers and even appeared on Sky News.
He has since released two e-books and has a third book on the way, chronicling the time that he spent as an ecstasy dealer and reflecting upon how foolish he was. Instead of committing crime, he now travels around his native England, giving talks to schoolchildren about the dangers of breaking the law. Had he not had writing to occupy his time, who knows how differently his story might have ended.
From Jail to a Writing Career
One of the dangers of being released from prison is that an individual can have nothing to go out to. If somebody feels that he or she is doomed to a life of joblessness due to his or her criminal record then lawbreaking might take place as a result.
Writing can provide an alternative.
Everybody has a story to tell and for those who possess sufficient talent, putting pen to paper can produce financial rewards. It can mean the difference between leaving an institution without a clue what to do next and being set free with dreams of being a successful author.
Not everybody can embark upon a writing career but the most important thing is that the possibility of doing so can give people hope. It can also give individuals a much-needed channel for creative expression that can help them to reflect upon the mistakes that they have made in the past and ensure that they avoid making similar mistakes throughout the years to come.
Sometimes people commit crime because they genuinely have no idea what else to do. Writing can provide an alternative and help keep people on the correct path.
Eve Pearce is a full-time feature writer as well as an art and photography aficionado. She has written for numerous sites on various topics over the past few years.
By Allison Foster
For those who love to read, Wattpad.com has a lot to offer. It is a location where writers and readers come together and share stories for no other reason than because a story needs to be told. Genres of all kinds reside on this popular website and there is easily something for everyone within its pages. There is also a community mindset amongst its readers and writers. The site covers a wide range of likes and interests and has many clubs available to those who love to read.
Newest Club Discussions
You’ll find a collection of links to Wattpad’s many available clubs by going to the site’s Community drop down menu then selecting Clubs. These clubs are full of people interested in specific motifs. The “Newest Club Discussions” are posted on the top left of the page and feature recent comments. You’ll find breadcrumbs on the bottom of each comment giving you the link to the specific club.
The featured clubs are popular or otherwise deemed to be in the featured list. Thousands of members reside in these clubs covering a wide range of topics from “Essential Reads” to “Share Your Poetry.” Each club has a short description of what it’s about its number of members. It’s not uncommon to see clubs with tens of thousands of members. These clubs are more generalized than some of the others, but see a great deal of visitors.
The list of specialty clubs is longer than the featured list because it delves deeper into conversations relating to specific aspects of writing. This list is comprised mostly of clubs that are centered on improving your skill in writing or editing. However, reader clubs also exist so that others can share what interesting online authors they have read and discuss projects created by Wattpad writers. These areas are tailored to beginner and experienced writers alike and cover everything from “Newcomers” to “Professional Writers.”
The longest of the club lists belongs to those under the Categories section. Each category of written content on Wattpad is listed here broken down by genre. Although fewer members reside in each of the clubs under this section, these clubs have membership ranging from 1,000 to more than 30,000 members. As Wattpad covers such a diverse range of content, there is a club available for nearly anyone.
One of the most interesting areas belongs to “Fan Fiction.” Wattpad allows submission of content based on nearly anything you are a fan of. For example, you could write that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” story you’ve always wanted. Since there is no money being made from the project, there are no copyright laws or official red tape to worry about. Coincidentally, more than 16,000 members belong to this specific club.
Free Reading Material and More
Wattpad.com is more than just a site to acquire free reading material. It is a place where anyone can share their stories for all to read and receive feedback from those who read them. Beginner authors post their works in order to practice as they receive insights about how the public gauges their performance. It is a place where others can share knowledge, book ideas, character building, and more. Community clubs are developed and frequented by the readers and writers of Wattpad sharing ideas on a global scale. No other site is quite like Wattpad.com.
Blogging was a natural progression for Allison Foster once she graduated from college, as it allowed her to combine her two passions: writing and children. She has enjoyed furthering her writing career with www.nannyclassifieds.com. She can be in touch through e-mail Allison.email@example.com.