Inside Voices: Perspectives from prison (2024)

Incarcerated individuals have long turned to books as a resource for entertainment, education, connection, and escape. Likewise, prison writing serves as a meaningful and cathartic creative outlet, giving voice to the experiences of incarceration while offering a window into a world that is purposely sequestered from the public eye. With a long and geographically diverse history, this rich literary subgenre centers the voices of the incarcerated and their allies, despite systemic attempts to keep them from participating in ongoing cultural conversations. These affecting listens—which include memoirs, novels, and nonfiction works that were written in or about prison by inmates, activists, journalists, and more—stun as testaments to the sheer endurance of the human spirit, and call for changes to unjust systems worldwide.

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Letters from Guantánamo

Mansoor Adayfi, Antonio Aiello

At the time of its 2015 release, Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary created an unprecedented international publishing event, serving as the first and only account to be written by a still-imprisoned detainee at the facility. Now, nearly a decade later, former inmate Mansoor Adayfi has brought the notorious prison back in the spotlight with Letters from Guantánamo. Read by a full cast, this epistolary listen paints a portrait of resistance, resilience, and the triumph of the creative spirit.

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Coming Home

Brittney Griner, Michelle Burford - contributor

WNBA star and Olympian Brittney Griner recounts the harrowing details of her 10-month detainment in some of Russia’s harshest prison camps, serving up a sobering account of how, as a Black gay woman, race truly does follow her everywhere. At last, in the athlete’s own words, Coming Home highlights the full story behind the headlines that captivated the world.

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The Greatest Menace

Patrick Abboud, Simon Cunich

The Greatest Menace takes listeners on a queer true crime journey through underground nightclubs and hidden sex haunts to reveal the appalling history of an Australian prison that specifically incarcerated gay men and aimed to “treat” their sexuality. This critically acclaimed Audible Original won several international accolades, and the New South Wales government has since formally apologized to all those convicted under past laws that criminalized hom*osexuality, thanks in part to the men who bravely shared their personal stories in this series.

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Mandela: The Lost Tapes

Richard Stengel

After serving 27 years in prison for opposing South Africa’s apartheid system, Nelson Mandela sat down with his ghostwriter, Richard Stengel, to begin constructing Long Walk to Freedom. Containing never-before-heard conversations between the two men, Mandela: The Lost Tapes not only highlights a historically significant friendship, but offers a revelatory inside peek at how the activist lived both during and after his stay on Robben Island.

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The Execution of Willie Francis

Gilbert King

A tragic episode illuminating the darkest corners of criminal justice and capital punishment in America, the case of Willie Francis is remembered as more than the wrongful conviction of a poor Black teenager by an all-white jury in 1946, though Francis almost certainly did not commit the murder in question. It was the failure of Louisiana’s electric chair to execute Francis, and the subsequent court battle over a second attempt, that cemented the case in the annals of legal history. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gilbert King (Devil in the Grove) tells the gripping story with nuance, compassion, and deep research, enhanced with skillful narration by performer Korey Jackson.

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Albert Woodfox

Former Angola inmate Albert Woodfox plumbs deep into the truths of corrosive racism, wrongful conviction, and the hell of solitary confinement in a heart-wrenching memoir so compelling, narrator JD Jackson cited it as his most memorable performance of 2019. Unraveling the emotional experience of doing justice to the story, Jackson explained that Woodfox’s “resilience and mental fortitude were contagious. As I sat in my small, claustrophobic recording booth, there were moments where I intentionally pushed myself to continue reading through fatigue, feeling as if I owed it to this author to persevere. I literally wanted to suffer in some small way to pay homage to a man whose story should change anybody who reads it.”

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In her senior year of college, asha bandele joined a group of other writers to read her works at a prison in honor of Black History Month. While there, she met Rashid, a man who, despite serving 20 years to life for murder, wowed her with his evident wisdom and wooed her in every way. As this tender listen reveals, the two swiftly became soulmates, sticking together despite the odds, and offering a story that has long brought solace to the many devoted partners of prisoners out there.

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Walter Dean Myers

While Walter Dean Myers was never personally incarcerated, his life-long commitment to highlighting underrepresented perspectives through children’s literature led him to interview everyone from teen inmates to prison guards to juvenile defense lawyers (who especially resonated with him in their struggles to humanize their young clients in others' eyes) in preparation for Monster. This moving full-cast listen highlights the rehabilitative properties that reading offers those who are persevering through troubled childhoods.

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Life After Death

Damien Echols

With prose that Johnny Depp once compared to Dostoyevsky's, Damien Echols paints a grueling portrait of his 18 years spent on death row after being falsely convicted of murder as part of the "West Memphis Three." This captivating memoir clearly showcases his unapologetic individuality, which garnered him financial backing, legal muscle, and support from numerous celebrities and fans during his imprisonment.

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Don Quixote

Edith Grossman - translator, Miguel de Cervantes

Did you know that Miguel de Cervantes likely found the idea for Don Quixote while in prison? While it is not exactly clear whether he actually began drafting his seminal work while actively incarcerated or if he started writing it after his release, the prologue to the novel reveals that the story was “begotten in a prison, where every discomfort has its place and every sad sound makes its home.” Though, yes, the story is at times downright sad, veteran narrator George Guidall’s versatile diction brings new depth to this equally silly and absurd parody on the exploits of medieval knights, elevating this listen to our top 100 classic audiobooks of all time.

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The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X, Alex Haley

Also among our top 100 classics is this unflinching account of one of America’s greatest civil rights activists, illuminated by a masterful performance that earned screen legend Laurence Fishburne an Audie Award for Best Male Narrator. Essential for anyone wishing to better understand the leader’s unapologetic philosophy, The Autobiography of Malcolm X compiles insights as told to journalist Alex Haley over the course of several interviews conducted from 1963 until Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965.

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Henri Charrière

Called "Papillon" for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, Henri Charriere was sentenced to life in the notorious penal colony of French Guiana known as Devil's Island for a murder he did not commit in Paris in 1931. While there, he became obsessed with orchestrating his escape: a feat that no prisoner had ever previously accomplished. This semi-autobiographical novel became an instant bestseller and is a treasured classic in France today, illuminating incredible feats of human cunning, will, and endurance.

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The Sun Does Shine

Anthony Ray Hinton, Lara Love Hardin, Bryan Stevenson - foreword

Mistakenly charged with two counts of capital murder at 29 years old, Anthony Ray Hinton spent the majority of his life on death row as a living embodiment of how our justice system so often severely fails poor Black men. Aided by both his civil rights attorney as well as bestselling author Bryan Stevenson, Hinton finally won his freedom in 2015, and went on to share his incredible story of resilience with the help of this audiobook, which stands among our top 100 memoirs of all time.

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My Midnight Years

Ronald Kitchen, Thai Jones, Logan M. McBride

Powerfully performed by Prentice Onayemi, My Midnight Years shares yet another remarkable story from a maximum security cell block, revealing how Ronald Kitchen cofounded the Death Row 10: a group of inmates who fought from the inside to expose the grave injustices that led to their wrongful convictions, and ultimately succeeded in influencing public opinions against the death penalty in Illinois.

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Are Prisons Obsolete?

Angela Y. Davis

Alleged to have purchased the guns used by another activist in an attempt to free three prisoners, Angela Y. Davis was charged with counts of murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy in the summer of 1970, landing her more than a year of jail time. As a result, the influential thinker homed in on the faults of the American prison system, penning this powerful essay arguing for “decarceration,” which she narrates here in her signature persuasive tone.

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Out of Orange

Cleary Wolters

Piper Kerman’s eye-opening memoir catapulted women’s prisons into the pop culture zeitgeist, as Orange Is the New Black inspired the hit Netflix series with its beloved cast of characters. One of the leading personalities on the show, Alex Vause, was loosely inspired by Kerman’s ex-girlfriend, Cleary Wolters, whose own memoir, Out of Orange, shares her side of the contentious relationship. Listen to their stories back-to-back, and then, when you are left obsessing over the long legacy of lesbianism in women’s prisons, check out The Women’s House of Detention by Hugh Ryan for more fascinating historical insights into the role that incarceration played in shaping the gay rights movement.

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The Many Lives of Mama Love (Oprah's Book Club)

Lara Love Hardin

Exploring how her sense of self transformed across her journey as a soccer mom, an opioid addict, an influential inmate among inmates, and lastly, a ghostwriter struggling to maintain her own secrets while dutifully illuminating the intimate details of others’ lives, Lara Love Hardin offers no shortage of moving revelations in her stunning memoir. The Many Lives of Mama Love, narrated by its author, is a story of redemption that delights with its unapologetic exploration of shame and identity.

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The Graybar Hotel

Curtis Dawkins

Featuring an array of fictional characters, The Graybar Hotel offers a window into the idiosyncrasies, tedium, and desperation of long-term confinement, written by Curtis Dawkins, an MFA graduate and convicted murderer serving life without parole. This debut short story collection offers unforgettable insights into the unusual bonds that form among inmates, all while dazzling with its enduring humor.

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Nico Walker

Author Nico Walker's unforgettable prose has been compared to the likes of Hemingway and Salinger, but his semi-autobiographical debut novel about a soldier and heroin addict-turned-bank robber has contemporary urgency. Not only did Cherry land Walker on the New York Times bestseller list about six years into his sentencing, but it also scored him a successful movie deal that earned him the money he needed to pay back the banks he once robbed.

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Gregory David Roberts

Containing escaped convicts, false passports, and the Bombay mafia, the plot of Shantaram sounds like it belongs in a feature film—after all, it did inspire a hit Apple+ TV series. However, the story loosely corresponds to the action-packed past of its author, convicted bank robber Gregory David Roberts, who ultimately turned his legacy to gold as he found the silver lining in a sticky situation with this wildly successful outlaw epic.

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My Experiments with Truth

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi’s hunger strikes, which sometimes lasted up to three weeks at a time, serve as some of the most famous examples of an incarcerated individual exercising his agency for the sake of protesting systemic corruption. His autobiography unfolds the powerful story of a man who not only helped end British rule in India through nonviolent forms of resistance, but also inspired the world with his sheer strength and endurance.

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The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

The magnum opus of Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, this monumental work draws on the personal experiences of the author and more than 200 other survivors of the gulag penal system. Along with his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, informed by Solzhenitsyn’s imprisonment and exile after criticizing Stalin, The Gulag Archipelago documents the atrocities of the Russian gulags between 1918 and 1956, a horrifying account that, like Man's Search for Meaning, also captures the dignity and spirit of those imprisoned in unimaginable conditions. For its stark and affecting meditation on evil, sensitive abridgment from the original three-volume series, and remarkable narration by the author’s son, celebrated conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, this formidable listen ranks among the most renowned prison writings of all time.

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Alexei Navalny

An audible gasp could be heard around the world when news broke that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was secretly drafting a memoir during the years leading up to his untimely demise. Offering listeners an astounding glimpse into the activist’s unwavering devotion to fighting dictatorships, Patriot, set to be released in October 2024, will reveal new correspondences with Navalny from prison which, according to his widow, will serve as his final act of defiance.

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Letter from Birmingham Jail

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” provides one of the most direct insights into Martin Luther King's unwavering commitment to defending our moral responsibility to break unjust laws. In this listen, Dion Graham—who flawlessly channeled the very essence of the leader in Jonathan Eig’s King: A Life—delivers some of the most impactful quotes ever published by a political prisoner to absolute perfection.

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Inside Voices: Perspectives from prison (2024)


Inside Voices: Perspectives from prison? ›

From classics to contemporary accounts, these urgent listens highlight firsthand experiences of incarceration. Incarcerated individuals have long turned to books as a resource for entertainment, education, connection, and escape.

What are the realities of life inside prison? ›

While behind bars, incarcerated people are subjected to degrading treatment, inhumane conditions, and abusive interactions—all of which result in substantial social, behavioral, and cognitive trauma that handicap them in their efforts to reintegrate into society upon release.

What is prison narrative? ›

Prison Literature is the narrative that have written, when a writer is imprisoned against his/her will in jail, camp, cell or even house arrest. The world literary giants who were incarcerated by their regimes for.

Do jail and prison mean the same thing? ›

Jail and prison are often used interchangeably as places of confinement. If you want to be specific jail can be used to describe a place for those awaiting trial or held for minor crimes, whereas prison describes a place for criminals convicted of serious crimes.

What's inside a prison? ›

Prisons usually also include other buildings and facilities, such as a chapel, a library, an exercise yard, a gymnasium, an infirmary (small hospital), visiting rooms (for visits from family and lawyers), kitchens, and accommodation for prison staff. The level of security a prison has depends on the type of prison.

What is life actually like in prison? ›

Life in prison is harsh, traumatizing, and isolating for the people forced to endure it. What would you ask a person who has spent decades in prison? You might inquire about the violence, or perhaps you're curious about the food.

What do life prisoners do all day? ›

In prison, daily routines vary, typically including scheduled activities such as meals, work assignments, educational programs, and recreational time. Inmates might spend their free time reading, exercising, or socializing with others.

What is prison talk? ›

Prison slang is an argot used primarily by criminals and detainees in correctional institutions. It is a form of anti-language. Many of the terms deal with criminal behavior, incarcerated life, legal cases, street life, and different types of inmates. Prison slang varies depending on institution, region, and country.

What is the biblical perspective on prisons? ›

God's Word calls us as people of God to: Care for incarcerated people as though we were in prison with them (Hebrews 13:3). Realize that incarceration doesn't merely affect the people found guilty. Spouses and children can suffer.

What is prisoner culture? ›

Prison subculture includes the customs, beliefs, attitudes, values, and lifestyles of inmates in a particular prison. The prison code includes the norms of inmates within a prison and is based on loyalty and respect from one inmate to another. Prison argot is the language or slang used in a prison.

How does jail change a person? ›

Incarceration can lead to significant psychological difficulties. However, individuals react in their own way to the prison environment. Some inmates may turn inward and even become more or less paranoid, while others may become depressed. Still others will adopt what is called a "prison identity".

What are most people in prison for? ›

Drug offenses still account for the incarceration of over 360,000 people, and drug convictions remain a defining feature of the federal prison system.

What is the largest prison in the US? ›

Louisiana State Penitentiary is the largest correctional facility in the United States by population.

Do you get condoms in prison? ›

San Francisco has been distributing condoms to inmates in county jails for decades, but a new California law requires condoms to be made available to all state prisoners. California is the second state after Vermont to do so, even though sex between prisoners is unlawful here.

What is wet in prison? ›

You will typically find wet cells—the industry term for a cell with a toilet and sink—in medium- and maximum-security prisons or high-security areas within a jail. In many minimum-security prisons with dormitory-style housing, communal bathrooms are the norm.

What time is bedtime in jail? ›

Nightfall Routine: Evening rolls into night with a final inmate count around 9:00 PM—everyone needs to be accounted for. Then there's a little more free time until lights out between 10:00 and 11:00 PM. That's when the cells lock down, and quiet rules the night.

What happens when you get life in prison? ›

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted criminals are to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives (or until pardoned, paroled, or commuted to a fixed term). Crimes that warrant life imprisonment are extremely serious and usually violent.

What are the living conditions in prison? ›

Brutal living conditions for the largest prison population in the world. Today, nearly 2 million people are incarcerated, warehoused in cramped spaces that lack fresh air, healthy food, natural light, proper health care, and connection to loved ones. Prisons run with little to no public oversight, leading to abuse.

What are the stages of prison life? ›

Five Stages of Incarceration
  • DENIAL. This stage begins when a person enters prison and lasts one to three years for those with a sentence over 10 years. ...
  • ANGER. ...

Can you spend your whole life in prison? ›

A WLO means that the offender will spend the rest of their life in prison, with no minimum term and no chance of early release.

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