CLCM Monthly Reader: December

Click on the links in each piece to read more about the people, news, and events featured here. 

Ex-New York gang leader Louis Ferrante shares how literature changed his life

photo by jerry bauer

An article posted by the British news site Rochdale Online reviews New York gang leader-turned-author Louis Ferrante’s visit to a local literacy celebration event. Ferrante, a former member of the Gambino crime family and perpetrator of many high stakes robberies, served 8 1/2  years in maximum security prisons for refusing to cooperate with the family’s associates. He read his first book while in prison–a step that started Ferrante down the path of reading and writing frequently. Ferrante later went on to write a book himself, Unlocked: A Journey from Prison to Proust, published in March 2008. 

In the Rochdale article, Ferrante speaks about the transformation he underwent while reading literature in prison:

“I realised that I had a choice to make. I could choose to be different and lead a law abiding life if I truly wanted to. The day I decided to be different was the day my whole life changed. When I started to read, I realised that I could escape beyond the prison walls. I read about people who had made something of themselves and I started to believe that is was not too late for me. From reading a book I began to think I could write a book, and so that’s what I did.” 


Hamilton College’s English Department discusses its fall course in prison literature

hamilton college logoIn a press release issued on December 23, Hamilton College student Nora Grenfell discusses a recent English Department course on prisoner-authored literature entitled “Booked: Prison Writing.” The course’s instructor, Associate Professor Doran Larson, previously led a creative writing workshop for inmates at the infamous Attica Correctional Facility in New York. He proposed the Fall 2008 course as a means of introducing students to the human side of prison life, using both carefully selected readings and a mandatory visit to the Attica prison. The course description  reads as follows:

Prisons have been the settings for scenes of tragedy, comedy, romance and social protest. While aware of this use of the prison as a literary device, we will read writers who have actually suffered incarceration. We will read canonical texts (by Plato, Boethius, King), post-colonial prison writers (Abani, Thiong’o), and the work of men and women inside the American prison system. Among other requirements, students will read work by and visit men in a writing class taught inside Attica Correctional Facility. 

Morris County, NJ judge sentences two offenders to read Abby Mann’s Judgement at Nuremberg

On December 13, Peggy Wright from the Morris County Daily Record reported on Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan’s unconventional sentencing decision for two men charged with running a marijuana harvesting operation in their attic. After hearing the two 24-year olds claim that they were only going along with the plan of a third roommate, Manahan sentenced them to read Abby Mann’s 1957 play Judgement at Nuremberg (later adapted to the big screen), in which war criminals claimed to have been following orders. The men are to read the play and write a reflective essay within 60 days. In addition to this surprise sentence, the offenders must pay fines of more than $1,200, spend four years on probation, complete 250 hours of community service, and 90 days in the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program.

In Brief….

  • Florida Department of Corrections employee Gary B. King shares his thoughts on rehabilitating inmates with the readers of the Tallahassee Democrat. Click here to read.
  • Titusville, Florida based program The Prison Book Project  faces possible warehouse demolition. Follow this link to read more.

Is there anything you’ve spotted this month that you think should be included here? Share the information in the comments section below. 

Want to respond to any of these news items or have other thoughts you’d like to discuss with our readers? Send us your idea for a guest blog at !


3 thoughts on “CLCM Monthly Reader: December

  1. Some of these articles once again remind me of the complex relationship between prison and literature. We are confined; we want to fly free. That’s the simple dialectic. But there are pehaps three categories to consider, as Hawthorne once suggested: the cemetery, the prison cell, and the community. I think reading stories reminds all of us of our mortality and so our responsibilities to the community. Reading in prison migh intensify this process.

  2. I like the idea of including Judgment at Nuremberg in the CLTL bibliography. It raises even more basic questions than Judge Manahan posed. These include who is a criminal? who decides? and who writes the law? A shift in who has power can redefine something that had legally obligatory as a crime. The Nuremberg tribunal sentenced several Nazi leaders to death, but while the Nazis were in power, resistance to the Third Reich would be a capital offense. Most people likely to be sentenced under CTLT lack meaningful power and they need to examine if their turning to crime may have been a response to powerlessness. A regime change may well transform growing marihuana from a crime to a harmless recreational activity.

  3. I found agreat article about the sentence passed to a number of Vermont teens convicted of breaking into and vandalizing Robert Frost’s historic home ( The judged sentenced them to study Robert Frost with a local English professor/Frost biographer! I contacted this scholar, Jay Parini at Middlebury College via email and the details are posted below. Has anyone else come across anything similar to this or the Morris County, NJ sentence in the media?

    My email to Dr. Parini:

    Hi Dr. Parini,

    My name is Allan McDougall and I am a graduate student in English at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. I came across this interesting story regarding your involvement with local teens who were effectively sentenced to study American Literature. I have recently been working with a group of professors, parole officers and judges who advocate that this type of sentencing be disseminated throughout the US, the organization is called Changling Lives Through Literature and they are based out of Dartmouth, MA.

    The founder, Robert Waxler, has written a book on his pedagogical approach to teaching criminals that are sentenced to study American Lit, his book is called Finding a Voice. The CLTL homepage is and I thought you might be interested in having a look. I am writing my thesis for an English MA on CLTL and whether or not a similar program is possible in Canada–I will argue that it is possible.

    I commend the work that you’ve done and I really noticed that, in your interview with NPR, you mention the life-saving potential of poetry. I completely agree. I am curious who asked you to do this? Are you associates with the prosecutor or judge? I am not with the media, I am just a student, but I would be interested in asking them some questions and sharing the vision of CLTL with them as well.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Parini’s reply:

    Dear Allan Thanks so much for this. It sounds like v. interesting work you are doing. The man involved here in Middlebury was the prosecutor, John Quinn, and the judge — don’t recall her name. They asked me to do this. I was willing to give it a try, and it seemed to work quite well. Some of the students seemed genuinely moved, etc. I was, for sure. Thanks so much for your note, and if I can help, let me know


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