Essay – “Literature has been my great escape… Is it yours too?”

Before my incarceration I had read less than five books in my entire life. There was never time… Jobs, kids, cars, friends, yard work, social engagements, cooking, cleaning, home repairs, neighbors, church. You know what I mean.

Then I was sent to prison for the first time at the age of 40, with a life sentence. The shock, despair, and hopelessness were overwhelming. It may be understandable that the prison experience was nearly more than I could bear. Concrete, steel, noise, lock downs, belittling guards, strip searches, anger, shakedowns, violence, hatred. My sanity was leaving me. I had to get away.

I started to read.

A little at first… a book here, a short story there. Soon, I would voraciously devour anything in print. Charitable and compassionate organizations like the Prison Book Program would selflessly send me (and other inmates) books, free of charge. Thanks to their kind efforts I was shown the wonderment of Africa, by Wilber Smith. Stephen Hawkins opened the Universe to me in A Brief History of Time. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia introduced me to the world of literature in Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. There I laughed and cried to the great works of masters like Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and countless others. Ben Bova took me into the future and to other planets. With Terry Brooks, I stood in awe and wonder at the power of the Efstones and the wielding of truth by the Sword of Shannara. In almanacs I discovered that, in prison, I am not part of the few, but rather the many — 2.5 million of us all together.

Without the beauty of reading, my sanity, if not my very life would have been forfeit.

Literature has been my great escape… Is it yours too?

-Submitted by Jim Huber
Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas