Pub. date: 2002 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412950664 | Print ISBN: 9780761922582 | Online ISBN: 9781412950664| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Larry E. Sullivan
Prison culture is primarily an oral one. Experience passes from mouth to mouth, and only the privileged, literate prisoner is able to write down prison tales and lore and fashion what is primarily a collective experience to his or her own situation. Convict authors seek to live in letters and escape from the obscurity to which the law has condemned them. Prisoner literature here is defined as writings by those convicted of felonies, not political crimes, and whose writing abilities were nurtured in prison. This entry is concerned primarily with American writers, although other nations with penitentiary experience—especially England, France, and Germany—have rich traditions of convict literature. The great prison writers, most of whom were incarcerated for political or religious reasons, transcended their circumstances and have entered into the literary canon. They were writers and intellectuals before imprisonment. Writers such as Boethius, who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while Grace ...