Literature behind bars and reading between the lines

Literature behind bars and reading between the lines

The prison system has always had its flaws, and its also had its fair share of celebrities. No, we’re not talking about the doom and gloom of high profile cases, we’re talking about literary legends; the kind of convict we all want to meet.

But this post isn’t just about who did time (with or without a crime), it’s about reading between the lines of why these geniuses were actually arrested. Spoiler alert, there was no justice about the justice system.

And who first? It’s over to the classics. None other than Oscar Wilde.

Many know Wilde for being the author of (my favorite book) Dorian Gray. He was flamboyant and fabulous is ways that would be celebrated today. Despite literal brilliance, he was severely cautioned by publishers to tame down the naughty narrative he was portraying. Shockingly, the books we see in print (which gives 50 Shades a run for its money) are the edited and softened versions. One thing he refused to stay quiet about though was his homosexuality which landed him 18 months in prison. Thankfully, we don’t arrest people for their sexuality now, but there are still cases where a private sex life is used to taint a jury, and we think that’s downright disgusting. Things aren’t always kept to the case details, especially if you’re one of 36 in 100 Americans who are into the BDSM scene*.

Next up is a political prisoner from not that long ago — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wad arrested for speaking out against Stalin, but his excruciating stint wasn’t just in a jail. He actually spent 7 full years in a labor camp. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature but nothing can account for lost time.

He wasn’t the only prisoner of politics though, Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, was arrested for sharing unfavorable opinions on government regimes too. Rumor has it that he was a real man of the people though and that instead of being pelted with rotten fruit as was customary at the time, they tossed flowers to him in the stocks.

But sexuality and politics aren’t the only things to get a person in trouble in the history books. Playwright Christopher Marlowe was imprisoned for the crime of being an atheist! Some argue that when you read between the lines, religion can get you into trouble with the law more than other things. Keep an eye on the news and ask yourself if there’s an unfair representation there. You might be shocked when you look at the statistics.

So far we’ve looked at criminals who wouldn’t have been considered such today, but there’s room for a quick bit of trivia from some who arguably deserved their stint in prison.

So, what do Chester Himes, Joan Henry and Frank Elli have in common? They’re all writers who used their experience to write award winning novels. That might not say anything about the innocent but it does show that the guilty can become worthy members of society after time behind bars. Everyone has a fresh chapter worth writing.

* https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/americans-are-more-bdsm-rest-world-180949703/