11 Jan Doing time. Writing in Prison.
If you’re locked up in prison for a long time with nothing to do but reflect on what led you to this point, when your story is all you have, use it.
Going to prison means learning to live in a goldfish bowl where everything you do is visible to everyone around you. You learn to live by the rules imposed by the system and the rules imposed by other prisoners. And the rules have exaggerated potency because breaking them is a serious business. There are two categories of prisoner, inmate and convict and you’d better understand the difference.
The prisoner must be resourceful and inventive. He or she must do the things essential for a happy close-quartered existence, but after that what is there left to do for the long-term incarcerated?
Writing is freedom.
Some prisoners learn to shut out the noise of other prisoners and the PA systems by focusing on learning and the learning can have profound effects. Malcolm X learned to read and write in prison by copying, pronouncing, and memorising the word definitions within a prison dictionary. Page by page. He entered prison an illiterate street hustler and emerged an Islamist, civil rights activist, and writer. Time magazine included The Autobiography of Malcolm X in its all-time top 10 non-fiction must-reads.
The writer of a prison memoir gives themselves a voice and a story based on the trajectory of their own, often disadvantaged, life. The act of writing itself is an autonomous act of liberation and problem-solving which can make the writer feel accepted, less fearful, appreciated, motivated and confident. In a nutshell, self-actualized.
Ex-con Shaka Senghor recalls his time writing in prison, ‘With a pencil and a piece of paper it was almost like I could travel outside of prison and go wherever I desired. I could stand on the corner in my neighborhood, and no one could stop me. I could drive down the freeway to see my ex-girlfriend in Ohio, and the bars and wired fences couldn’t hold me back. Writing was freedom, so I wrote till my fingers were sore.’
His book, Writing My Wrongs, became one of the most recommended books of 2016.
Locked up not lucked out.
On the 31st December 2018, CNN published news of a report by FWD.us stating that half the adult population of the US have immediate family members who have been in jail or prison. There are over 158,000 currently imprisoned in South Africa, over 88,000 in the UK, and nearly 26,000 in Australia.
That’s a lot of people with a lot of stories they could write to put the committal behind them and the future in front. The end. Never look back. Fresh start.