Five books by ex-prisoners that you should read

Brutality and misery on the journey from arrest to release

Source: D.Davis/Flickr

Source: D.Davis/Flickr

From Midnight Express to Papillon to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, there have been many great books inspired by dire prisons. Below are five more good reads on the subject that were written more recently.

1. “A Life Inside: A prisoner’s notebook” by Erwin James


A convicted murderer became a Guardian journalist while serving a life sentence in British jail. Mr James was released in 2004 after spending 20 years in prison. During that time, he got an art degree from the Open University, a prize in the annual Koestler Awards for prose, a regular column in The Guardian and published a book called “A life inside: A prisoner’s notebook”. He tells his story from the moment he arrived in prison as a violent young man to the moment he discovered his talent for writing. It is a portrayal of life behind bars with all its terror, bullying and psychological pressure.

2. “LowLife: Life in British prison with drug dealers, gun runners and murderers” by Simon Eddisbury


Struggling to pay his student loan, Simon Eddisbury was arrested while trying to sell drugs to an undercover police office. Unlike Mr James, Mr Eddisbury wrote a book not about his own perception of prison, but rather conducted a thorough investigation into the personalities of his fellow inmates. He interviewed more than 50 prisoners, talking with them about the crimes they committed. Mr Eddisbury concludes controversially that although circumstances can push people into crime – as in his case – most crimes are committed by amoral people who are unlikely to be rehabilitated.

3. “Invisible Crying Tree” by Christopher Morgan and Tom Shannon


This book is a correspondence between Tom Shannon, who served a life sentence for murder, and Christopher Morgan, a farmer. They met through a pen-pal scheme and developed a strong friendship. Mr Morgan gives Mr Shannon a chance to see an outside world while the latter describes the grim reality of the prison he is locked in. The contrast between freedom and confinement, green expanses of English countryside and the grey blight of prison, does not stop a friendship from blossoming in the most unlikely circumstances.

4. “Inside – One Man’s Experience of Prison” by John Hoskison


John Hoskison was sentenced to three years in prison in mid-1990s after killing a cyclist while driving home drunk, something he had never done before. He is shocked by his own crime and says that  his sentence is fully justified. The book describes the story of crime and punishment. While being sent to one of the toughest prisons in the UK, HMP Wandsworth, his regret and remorse grow amid the medieval squalor of the prison. The only thing that saves him is the forgiveness of the widow of the dead cyclist.

5. “My fellow prisoners” by Mikhail Khodorkovsky


Russia’s richest man, who became its most famous political prisoner, describes the brutality of a Siberian jail where he spent 10 years. While in prison, Mr Khodorkovsky wrote a regular column for a magazine, commented on the political situation in Russia and fought for the rights of his fellow prisoners. In the book he portrays prisoners he met, telling the story of lives destroyed by Russia’s bureaucratic system.

TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk

One Comment on “Five books by ex-prisoners that you should read”

  1. Have any of these spent time at dartmoor prison?? Would be interested to read about it 🙂


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