I am a forty-something single father with a variety of interests and life experiences. I have worked as a social worker and a truck driver.
My Favorite Prison Books
In this article, I am going to take a closer look at prison books. The books I have included are all written by former or current inmates. Normally, when I am reading an autobiography about prison life, I am looking for a true experience. Some of the books on this list may be hard to find or even out of print, but they are worth tracking down. I hope you find a new book you will enjoy!
- Go-Boy! by Roger Caron
- Inside: Life Behind Bars in America by Michael Santos
- A Prison Diary Trilogy by Jeffrey Archer
- In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott
- Marching Powder by Rusty Young
- Life After Death by Damien Echols
- Papillon by Henri Charriere
- Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur
1. Go-Boy! by Roger Caron
Go-Boy! may be my favorite prison book ever written, and it follows the life and journey of Canadian Roger Caron, who spent decades in and out of various penitentiaries around Canada. At times, Go-Boy! is a brutal book, as he covers everything from corporal punishment to the infamous Kingston Riot. Roger Caron, who was one of the most famous bank robbers of all time, was known for this particular book as well as his numerous escapes.
2. Inside: Life Behind Bars in America by Michael Santos
Inside: Life Behind Bars in America by Michael Santos is an interesting prison book because he covers every single thing about life in prison. Santos, who was sentenced to 45 years for selling drugs, has experienced it all when it comes to the Federal prison system in America. Breaking down each chapter to specific areas of the penal system, Santos's writing exposes many of the shortcoming of the American prison system where the object is to punish and not reform.
3. A Prison Diary Trilogy by Jeffrey Archer
These prison diaries by Jeffrey Archer are actually a trilogy of prison books written behind bars when Lord Archer was sentenced for perjury. Each of the books deals with the time period Archer spent in maximum, medium, and low security.
Book One—Hell: Belmarsh
This one takes place in the high security prison located in South London, home of the most dangerous prisoners in England. Archer spends twenty two days here.
Book Two—Purgatory: Wayland
Next, in a medium security prison, Wayland, Archer learns how to navigate the environment and its restraints.
Book Three—Heaven: North Sea Camp
Archer finally makes it to the lowest class of prisons in England. He spends over a year here and it is a balance of staying within the rules and family visits
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Jeffrey Archer wrote the prison diaries like an actual diary so each chapter is a single day or week spent in a specific prison environment. Of course Archer, a bestselling author, can get annoying due to his arrogance. But the books are still very worthwhile.
4. In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott
In the Belly of the Beast is a series of prison letters by Jack Henry Abbott sent to acclaimed author Norman Mailer. Abbott, who spent the majority of his life in prison, writes about every aspect of prison life from the guards to the mentality of prisoners to spending years confined, and everything else under the sun. Jack Henry Abbott was released from prison the same year that In the Belly of the Beast was published, thanks to the book and support of Norman Mailer. Unfortunately, Abbott would later kill a waiter over a minor dispute and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
5. Marching Powder by Rusty Young
Marching Powder is a strange prison book set in South America. Not only do prisoners have to buy their own prison cells, the facility also allows tourists to browse the prison. Thomas McFadden is sentenced to prison for attempting to smuggle cocaine over the borders He begins a friendship with author Rusty Young who chronicles McFadden's journey through this odd and sometimes violent prison. I think I enjoy this book because of all of the differences between this prison and others around the world.
6. Life After Death by Damien Echols
Life After Death, written by Damien Echols, chronicles the two decades he spent on death row for a crime he did not commit. Damien Echols, part of the West Memphis Three, was sentenced to death for the murder of three young boys in West Arkansas. Life After Death speaks about how he survived the time on death row and what it did to him mentally and physically. Damien Echols can be a bit out there at times speaking of his beliefs; however, Life After Death is a solid prison book.
7. Papillon by Henri Charriere
Papillon by Henri Charriere is probably the top selling prison book written by a prisoner in the world. Papillon, which covers the life and escapes from French Guiana by an innocent man, is a tremendous story that was made into a movie by the same name. There is, of course, controversy surrounding this book, as many believe the truth was stretch and Charriere was writing about events that he did not actually participate in. That being said, Papillon is a must-read for anyone interested in prison books and the French Guiana prison colony.
8. Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur
Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, written by Kody Scott, is a memoir of a life spent in gangs and prisons in California. Kody Scott, who now goes by Sanyika Shakur, was a member of the Eight Tray Gangster Crips in Los Angeles. He started at a young age and before long found himself in some of the most notorious prisons in California, including Pelican Bay.
Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member is a strong book which shows the allure of gang life and the difficulty of surviving behind bars.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.