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10 Literary Geniuses Who Went To Jail

Some of the greatest literary minds in history have also frequently found themselves in trouble with the law. While the majority manage to get away with a slap on the wrist, some have found themselves spending a rather long period of time in jail. For some, this has ruined their career, for others it has made it. This is a list of 10 of the greatest geniuses in literature who found themselves in the clink!


Ken Kesey
1935 – 2001


Kesey was an American author, best known for his debut novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and as a counter-cultural figure who, some consider, was a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950’s and the hippies of the 1960’s. Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965. In an attempt to mislead police, he faked his own suicide by having friends leave his truck on a cliffside road near Eureka, along with a suicide note that said, “Ocean, Ocean I’ll beat you in the end.” Kesey fled to Mexico in the back of a friend’s car. When he returned to the United States eight months later, Kesey was arrested and sent to the San Mateo County jail in Redwood City, California, for five months. On his release, he moved back to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, in the Willamette Valley, where he spent the rest of his life. He wrote many articles, books (mostly collections of his articles) and short stories during that time. [Wikipedia]


William Burroughs
1914 – 1997

William S. Burroughs 1179258258051597

Burroughs was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs’s work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. A primary member of the Beat Generation, he was an avant-garde author who affected popular culture as well as literature. His most well known work is probably Naked Lunch. In 1951, Burroughs shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, in a drunken game of “William Tell” at a party above the American-owned Bounty Bar in Mexico City. He spent 13 days in jail before his brother came to Mexico City and bribed Mexican lawyers and officials. This allowed Burroughs to be released on bail while he awaited trial for the killing, which was ruled culpable homicide. Burroughs reported every Monday morning to the jail in Mexico City, while his prominent Mexican attorney worked to resolve the case. When his attorney fled Mexico, after his own legal problems involving a car accident and altercation with the son of a government official, Burroughs decided to “skip” and return to the United States. He was convicted, in absentia, of homicide and sentenced to two years, which was suspended. [Wikipedia]


St Thomas More
1478 – 1535


Saint Thomas More was an English lawyer, author and statesman, who, in his lifetime, gained a reputation as a leading humanist scholar, and occupied many public offices, including Lord Chancellor (1529–1532). More coined the word “utopia”, a name he gave to an ideal, imaginary island nation whose political system he described in the eponymous book published in 1516. He was beheaded in 1535 when he refused to sign the Act of Succession that would make Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church in England. On 13 April of that year, More was asked to appear before a commission and swear his allegiance to the parliamentary Act of Succession. More accepted Parliament’s right to declare Anne the legitimate queen of England, but he refused to take the oath because of an anti-papal preface to the Act, asserting Parliament’s authority to legislate in matters of religion by denying the authority of the Pope, which More would not accept. Four days later he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he wrote his devotional Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. On 1 July 1535, More was tried before a panel of judges. He was charged with high treason for denying the validity of the Act of Succession. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (the usual punishment for traitors), but the king commuted this to execution by beheading. The execution took place on 6 July. In 1935, four hundred years after his death, Pope Pius XI canonized More in the Roman Catholic Church; More was declared Patron Saint of politicians and statesmen by Pope John Paul II in 1980. [Wikipedia]


O. Henry
1862 – 1910


O. Henry is the pen name of American writer William Sydney Porter. O. Henry short stories are known for wit, wordplay, warm characterization and clever twist endings. Porter and his family moved to Houston in 1895, where he started writing for the Post. His salary was only $25 a month, but it rose steadily as his popularity increased. Porter gathered ideas for his column by hanging out in hotel lobbies, observing and talking to people there. This was a technique he used throughout his writing career. While he was in Houston, the First National Bank of Austin was audited, and the federal auditors found several discrepancies. They managed to get a federal indictment against Porter. Porter was subsequently arrested on charges of embezzlement, charges which he denied, in connection with his employment at the bank. Porter’s father-in-law posted bail to keep Porter out of jail, but the day before Porter was due to stand trial, on July 7, 1896, he fled, first to New Orleans and later to Honduras. While he was in Honduras, Porter coined the term “banana republic”, subsequently used to describe almost any small tropical dictatorship in Latin America. When he learned that his wife was dying, Porter returned to Austin in February 1897 and surrendered to the court. Having little to say in his own defense, he was found guilty of embezzlement in February 1898, sentenced to five years jail. He was imprisoned on March 25, 1898, as federal prisoner 30664 at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. While in prison, Porter, as a licensed pharmacist, worked in the prison hospital as the night druggist. [Wikipedia]


Jean Genet
1910 – 1986


Genet was a prominent, controversial French writer and, later, political activist. Early in his life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but later took to writing novels, plays, poems and essays, including Querelle de Brest, The Thief’s Journal, Our Lady of the Flowers, The Balcony and The Blacks and The Maids. Genet’s mother was a young prostitute who raised him for the first year of his life, before putting him up for adoption. For various misdemeanors, including repeated acts of vagrancy, he was sent, at the age of 15, to Mettray Penal Colony, where he was detained between 2 September 1926 and 1 March 1929. In The Miracle of the Rose (1946), he gives an account of this period of detention, which ended at the age of 18 when he joined the Foreign Legion. He was eventually given a dishonorable discharge on grounds of indecency. After returning to Paris, France in 1937, Genet was in and out of prison through a series of arrests for theft, use of false papers, vagabondage, lewd acts and other offenses. In prison, Genet wrote his first poem, “Le condamné à mort,” which he had printed at his own cost, and the novel Our Lady of the Flowers (1944). In Paris, Genet sought out and introduced himself to Jean Cocteau, who was impressed by his writing. Cocteau used his contacts to get Genet’s novel published, and in 1949, when Genet was threatened with a life sentence after ten convictions, Cocteau and other prominent figures including Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso successfully petitioned the French President to have the sentence set aside. Genet would never return to prison. [Wikipedia]


Oscar Wilde
1854 – 1900

Oscar Wilde

Wilde was an Irish playwright, novelist, poet and author of short stories. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest. As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall, and was imprisoned for two years hard labour after being convicted of the offence of “gross indecency” with other men. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Britain. Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville, and then in Wandsworth prison in London, and finally transferred in November to Reading Prison, some 30 miles west of London. Wilde knew the town of Reading from happier times when boating on the Thames, and also from visits to the Palmer family, including a tour of the famous Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory, which is quite close to the prison. Now known as prisoner C. 3.3, (which described the fact that he was in block C, floor three, cell three) he was not, at first, even allowed paper and pen, but a later governor was more amenable. Wilde was championed by the reformer, Lord Haldane, who had helped transfer him and afforded him the literary catharsis he needed. After his release, he also wrote the famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. [Wikipedia]


Paul Verlaine
1844 – 1896


Verlaine was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement. He is considered one of the greatest representatives of the fin de siècle in international and French poetry. In September, 1871, he received his first letter from the poet Arthur Rimbaud. By 1872, he had lost interest in Mathilde, his wife, and effectively abandoned her and their son, preferring the company of Rimbaud – his new lover. Rimbaud and Verlaine’s stormy love affair took them to London in 1872. In July 1873, in a drunken, jealous rage, he fired two shots with a pistol at Rimbaud, wounding his left wrist, though not seriously injuring the poet. As an indirect result of this incident, Verlaine was arrested and imprisoned at Mons. There, he underwent a conversion to Roman Catholicism, which again influenced his work and provoked Rimbaud’s sharp criticism. Romances sans paroles was the poetic outcome of this period. Following his release from prison, Verlaine again traveled to England, where he worked for some years as a teacher and produced another successful collection, Sagesse. He returned to France in 1877 and, while teaching English at a school in Rethel, became infatuated with one of his pupils, Lucien Létinois, who inspired Verlaine to write further poems. Verlaine was devastated when the boy died of typhus in 1883. Verlaine’s last years witnessed a descent into drug addiction, alcoholism and poverty. He lived in slums and public hospitals, and spent his days drinking absinthe in Paris cafes. [wikipedia]


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
1918 – 2008


Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, dramatist and historian. Through his writings, he made the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s labour camp system, and for these efforts, Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. During World War II, he served as the commander of an acoustic recognizance unit in the Red Army, was involved in major action at the front, and twice decorated. In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, he was arrested for writing a derogatory comment in a letter to a friend, N. D. Utkevich, about the conduct of the war by Josef Stalin, whom he called “the whiskered one,” “Khozyain” (“the master”) and “Balabos”, (Odessa Yiddish for “the master”). He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda, under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of “founding a hostile organization” under paragraph 11. Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was beaten and interrogated. On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by a three-man tribunal of the Soviet security police (NKGB) to an eight-year term in a labour camp, to be followed by permanent internal exile. This was the normal sentence for most crimes under Article 58, at the time. The first part of Solzhenitsyn’s sentence was served in several different work camps. During his years of exile, and following his reprieve and return to European Russia, Solzhenitsyn was, while teaching at a secondary school during the day, spending his nights secretly engaged in writing. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he wrote, “during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known.” [Wikipedia]


1694 – 1778


Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher known for his wit, philosophical sport and defense of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and free trade. Voltaire was a prolific writer, and produced works in almost every literary form, authoring plays, poetry, novels, essays, historical and scientific works, over 20,000 letters and over two thousand books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform, despite strict censorship laws and harsh penalties for those who broke them. A satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize Catholic Church dogma and the French institutions of his day. Most of Voltaire’s early life revolved around Paris. From early on, Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for his energetic attacks on the government and the Catholic Church. These activities were to result in numerous imprisonments and exiles. In 1717, in his early twenties, he became involved in the Cellamare conspiracy of Giulio Alberoni against Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, the regent for Louis XV of France. He allegedly wrote satirical verses about the aristocracy, and one of his writings about the Régent led to him being imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months. While there, he wrote his debut play, Œdipe. Its success established his reputation. [Wikipedia]


1547 – 1616


A Spanish novelist, poet and playwright. His magnum opus, Don Quixote, considered the first modern novel by some, is considered a founding classic of Western literature, and regularly figures among the best novels ever written. His work is considered among the most important in all of literature. He has been dubbed el Príncipe de los Ingenios – the Prince of Wits. By 1570 he had been enlisted as a soldier in a Spanish infantry regiment and continued his military life until 1575, when he was captured by pirates. He was ransomed by his captors and the Trinitarians and returned to his family in Madrid. In 1585, Cervantes published a pastoral novel, La Galatea. Because of financial problems, Cervantes worked as a purveyor for the Spanish Armada, and later as a tax collector. In 1597 discrepancies in his accounts of three years previous landed him in the Crown Jail of Seville. In 1605, he was in Valladolid, just when the immediate success of the first part of his Don Quixote, published in Madrid, signaled his return to the literary world. In 1607, he settled in Madrid, where he lived and worked until his death. [Wikipedia]

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Listverse Staff

Listverse is a place for explorers. Together we seek out the most fascinating and rare gems of human knowledge. Three or more fact-packed lists daily.

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  • kiwiboi

    Interesting list :)

  • Geraint

    Sarah’s gonna be mad – where’s Brendan Behan – Sentenced to fourteen years in prison, he was incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison and the Curragh. These experiences were relayed in “Confessions of an Irish Rebel.”

  • warrrreagl

    What a cool idea for a list. Great read.

  • Tj

    Where is Dostoyevsky?

  • Daithi

    Behan has to be in that list!

  • ohrmets

    re: Ken Kesey

    He faked his own death because he was arrested for possession of marijuana? That seems pretty extreme, doesn’t it?

    • T. Cornfield

      check out Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Koolaid Acid Test”, it goes into it with detail….

      Also, Jack London! Did some time in the clink for vagrancy during his hobo days. Talks about it in “The Road”

  • Daithi, Geraint: Behan was on the list – until he got pushed off by Cervantes. And frankly, Behan is not the literary genius of the others on the list :)

  • mikerodz

    Ohrmets: Yeah, just like the plot in his book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest.

  • Heh, I knew Oscar Wilde and Voltaire would be on the list but the others are mostly new to me.

    Nice idea for a list, thanks :-)

  • SarahJ

    Behan was a literary genius :)

  • astraya

    Possibly not a literary genius, but someone whose one-hit wonder novel arose directly out of his jail experience was Henri Charriere, who wrote Papillon.

  • astraya: I loved both Papillon and Banco by Henri Charriere, it’s good to see someone mention him here. Even though he wasn’t a writer before he went to prison.

  • astraya

    I read both, but I didn’t think that Banco matched the original.

  • astraya: It didn’t, I enjoyed it anyway (although not as much as the first).

  • stevenh

    If only these guys had read yesterdays list, we wouldn’t had such an excellent list today.

    Thanks jamie

  • Vera Lynn

    I’ve read a little by most of them, but not a lot of any of them. Loved “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

  • G.S.B.

    This list is void without Dostoyevsky on it, who surely fits the term “literary genius” more snugly than anyone else on the list.

  • Colinius Romul

    I’m glad Solzhenitsyn was included. He is one of the bravest people I’ve encountered…

  • Rusty

    Pleased to see Lord Jeffrey Archer not on this list, but I am sure he isn’t…

  • ciunas

    Another engaging literary list, Jamie — thanks. The biographical bits are excellent.

    But I have to agree with the people above: Dostoevsky should definitely have been included. Václav Havel probably deserves a place too.

    Quite agree with your assessment of Behan (#7), who dissipated his talent.

    Milton was v briefly imprisoned, BTW, & I’m sure there must be other prominent 17th- & 18th-century English authors who were locked up for their political views, but I can’t recall any right now…

    1 or 2 others spring to mind as perhaps worth an honourable (or dishonourable) mention. There’s the Marquis de Sade if you have a strong stomach. And how about Edward Bunker? He had an extraordinary life. Finally, someone who’s still alive: Stephen Fry — who is familiar to Brits, at any rate, as something of a modern Renaissance man. He was imprisoned for fraud in his late teens.

  • Cheeshygirl

    Interesting list. I’m going to have to echo the sentiments above. Where is Dostoyevsky? His years in exile in Siberia tremendously influenced his writing. I think the author of Crime and Punishment and one of the founding fathers of existentialism fits the bill perfectly for this list. I don’t tend to get into many Russian authors but his work captivates me. This list doesn’t seem complete without him. :(

  • Tatom

    What about Henry David Thoreau? I realize his jail sentence was only 1 night, but he was imprisoned for standing by his beliefs. Thoreau influenced a whole style of writing that is still appreciated to this day.

  • Ghidoran


  • sam

    nice! list

  • ciunas

    Just to cover my arse in #20. May have carelessly given the impression that Czech playwright & ex-president Havel is dead. He isn’t.

  • warningdontreadthis

    I knew voltaire would be on the list.

  • Terrific list, but it does get me to thinking.
    Maybe the reason I’ve never become really famous is because I’ve avoided prison…and I had *SUCH* a good opportunity three years ago. I avoided any trouble because my lawyer, a public defender, was excellent and able to prove my complete innocence.
    Foiled by a good lawyer!

  • stewart

    Ken Kesey..what were you thinking dude!

    I wasn’t gonna run from the cops but I was high, (I’m serious man)
    I was gonna pull right over and stop, but I was high
    Now I’m a paraplegic, and I know why, (why man) ‘cuz I got high
    Because I got high
    Because I got high

  • Anon

    19, Rusty,

    I think the noble Lord Archer qualifies for a different list entitled, ‘Literary Nobodies Who Went to Jail and Deserved to’.

  • Cubone

    Excellent list!

  • Anon

    As an afterthought, Lord *Archole probably qualifies way ahead of the field as the jailed genius to have made most dosh out of his writings. (Economic genius is intended in this case.) His *output* comes teen and legion as charity shop discards, if that’s any indication.

    *Fellow Brits may notice I read ‘Private Eye’ from time to time.

    Those who admire the Iron Lady and the British Life Peerage system might be interested to learn that Our Maggie ennobled humble little Jeffrey. Who said patrician villainy and power-patronage died with the Magna Carta?

  • Anon

    Kesey suggests another possible fun list, The 10 Greatest Real Life and Literary Faked Suicides. You’d have to have ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, and if you were British, ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’ for starters.

  • kowzilla

    Very cool list.
    On a (semi)related note, is there any celebrity/public figure other than Ken Kesey that actually did fake their death? Almost every celebrity who dies is accused of faking their own death (Tupac, JFK, Andy Kaufman, etc.) but is their anyone who really did it?

  • solarboy

    Marquis de sade?

    great list well done

  • kiwiboi

    And frankly, Behan is not the literary genius of the others on the list

    Perhaps not. But could the others match his genius for necking a pint?

    Seriously, though, Behan was a giant amongst modern day raconteurs and story-tellers. He was a gifted writer (poetry, prose and drama) in both English and Irish; he did like to sing a (well-lubricated) song as well.

    I agree that you could argue both for and against whether he qualifies as a literary “genius”.

  • Anon

    What follows is extremely marginal to the subject, admittedly, but the comment about Oscar Wilde, Reading and a certain make of biscuits brought to mind an incident I feel Oscar would have found hilarious.

    The father of a friend of our family was captured by the Japanese at the outbreak of hostilities in the Far East and imprisoned for the duration. He was one of the lucky ones who survived. Meanwhile our friend, then about five or six, and his mother had both to escape the wartime dangers of London and survive economically. As a result they evacuated to Reading, where mother worked as an ad hoc domestic for the Palmer family of the well-known Huntley and Palmer biscuit company (as mentioned in this List in connection with O.W.)

    Our friend explained how the wealthy family lived with all the trappings of the gentry. A vast mansion, the *upstairs, downstairs* set-up with maids, butlers, the whole deal, and meals eaten in formality and formal clothing around a vast, long dining table. This interdependent pyramid would crumble within a few years, but it was still the mid-1940s, when full British class-structure and social behaviour in all their glory clung on tenaciously here and there. As they were refugees, our friend and his mother were granted the exceptional privilege of eating with the family, honoured guests, illustrious visitors and others, usually amounting to at least a dozen or two heads.

    One day, after formal grace had been said, and the meal was underway, one of those dishes arrived which requires more concentration from the diners, so politely modulated conversation was suspended for the moment. Out of this void rose a loud and shrill piped question from our friend, “Mummy, what does fuck mean?” A maid dropped a silver tray with wine-glasses and a carafe onto the hard parquet floor. Out of the Antarctic silence that followed came the imperturbable butler’s stern commend, “Get that boy out of here. At once.”

    It was a glorious mixture of ‘Gosford Park’ and ‘Hope and Glory’, for any who happen to know both films.

    If only Oscar had been dining at that table.

  • Mom424

    Interesting list, notable omissions have been mentioned by others.

    Anon; Great story, amazing how the lives of the privileged echo the lives of the masses. Our Ian had difficulty with the pronunciation of the word “truck” – I am certain you can imagine how it came out. Fancy restaurant, lull in the regular hum of background noise, window seat, a big red tractor trailer on the road outside. Need I say more?

  • JimD

    What about John Bunyon – Pilgrim’s Progress? He wrote the book in jail!

  • ninjajim

    This list needs Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and the Marquis De Sade. Both were truly literary geniuses who were imprisoned.

  • MHogan

    The list not only should have Fyodor Dostoyevsky but he should be towards the front. Not only is he one of the greatest literary geniuses ever but his imprisonment had a significant impact on his work. I know this has been said before, I just wanted to second it.

  • interesting list

  • TDavis

    “re: Ken Kesey

    He faked his own death because he was arrested for possession of marijuana? That seems pretty extreme, doesn’t it?”

    In 1965 you could go to jail for 20-30 years for a single joint.

  • Mona

    “Verlaine was arrested and imprisoned at Mons”. (I’m assuming that he was arrested in the city of Mons). That put a smile on my face. I was born and raised in Mons. I live so far away now I’m always happy to find random references to my beautiful homeland. Anywho, great list.

  • Laura

    Great list. However, when copying-and-pasting bits from Wiki, please be aware of context. Might help to avoid oddities like:

    “More was declared Patron Saint of politicians and statesmen by Pope John Paul II in 1980. On 13 April of that year More was asked to appear before a commission and swear his allegiance to the parliamentary Act of Succession.”

  • Vera Lynn

    Laura, I noticed that,too.

  • stevenh: haha I was thinking that as I put it together :)

  • ****
    #37. Mom424
    Our Ian had difficulty with the pronunciation of the word “truck” – I am certain you can imagine how it came out. Fancy restaurant, lull in the regular hum of background noise, window seat, a big red tractor trailer on the road outside. Need I say more?
    My Christopher had the same problem, and we had the same experience. I would have been embarrassed had I not been laughing so hard!

  • Anon


    Recommend more of same in every list. Good laugh (it was for me anyway) and helps to show whether people are reading and alert. And public-spirited enough to point it out (I wasn’t!)

  • Anon

    MOM 424 and segue,

    Your experiences remind me. We were splitting our sides so much by that stage of our friend’s tale, we never got around to asking the sequel; what followed on. I bet a lot of people in that posh room doubled-up afterwards when on their own. I bet the story got told in many a boardroom and club around Britain. I imagine our friend unwittingly at the time brought a lot of joy into a number of harrassed wartime lives. But what happened to him and his mum? Were they expelled from the world of fancy biscuits? If not, were they ever allowed to return to the long, public table? Did she find it a hoot? we shall never know. At least he didn’t end up in Reading jail for his sin (he was/is a great O.W. fan).

  • ****
    49. Anon
    MOM 424 and segue,
    Your experiences remind me. We were splitting our sides so much by that stage of our friend’s tale, we never got around to asking the sequel; what followed on…
    Anon, at least I can tell you the sequel to our experience. We were living in San Francisco at the time, where a fairly well-known columnist lived and wrote a daily column for the SF Chronicle.
    The next day’s column included a brief on the event and the rudeness of taking small children to public eateries! I clipped that column and kept it for years and years, but somewhere along the line, and many, many moves, it finally disappeared.
    How I wish I still had it! I’d send it to him upon the birth of his first child, along with a note reminding him that he was the child involved and that it never stopped me from taking him anywhere.

  • McCoy

    why is galileo not here?

  • Anon


    Oh, the things I’ve lost along the line and in moves. Don’t remind me!

  • MPW

    And they call themselves geniuses :)

  • Karly

    Great list! I’ve just recently discovered this site, and I love it! I’m completely addicted.

    Someone has probably already mentioned him, but what about Henry David Thoreau? Not that he spent long in jail (one night to be exact), but he wrote one of his most famous and influential works while there. “Civil Disobedience” has influenced some of the world’s greatest leaders and activists, including Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Vera Lynn

    Hi Karly! Welcome. He has been mentioned, but that is part of the fun. To read the others postings. We are all addicted!! At least to one thing or another ;)

  • Crumpet
  • schiesl

    whoa whoa whoa!! Where is Shakespeare??? He went to jail! he is one if not the greatest literary genius of all time!!

  • schiesl

    on further thought…he was convicted for poaching but i believe he escaped…but he would have been in jail, but he may have been there at some point anyway

  • Sarah

    No Saul Alinsky?

  • CRSN

    Quality list, something different :)

  • filbryant

    internationally, I think the Filipino hero named Jose P. Rizal should be part of the list.

  • Iain

    Far too late I know – but I just had to say Jeffrey Archer

  • appie

    what about Rizal?hehehe

  • ALyshiaH

    i went to school in Pleasant Hill, Oregon in the 4th grade (like 1st through 4th grades) and my family still gets x-mas trees fromt he farm next to Ken Kesey families farm!! I dated some realative of his (grandson, or great nephew something like that) before i even knew who Ken Kesey was. Soo cool that a crazy is from my home town!!

  • darkglam

    Add Francisco de Quevedo to the list.

  • alakdan13

    Jack Abbott

  • alakdan13

    Yah, Rizal should be here. He’s a great writter and philosopher.

  • neeki

    what about ezra pound?

  • Katie

    Oh my gosh…Sir Thomas Malory! You know, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table?

    Taken from Wiki (yeah, yeah, I know…):
    Twice elected to a seat in Parliament, he also accrued a long list of criminal charges during the 1450s, including burglary, rape, sheep stealing, and attempting to ambush the Duke of Buckingham. He escaped from jail on two occasions, once by fighting his way out with a variety of weapons and by swimming a moat. Malory was imprisoned at several locations in London, but he was occasionally out on bail. He was never brought to trial for the charges that had been levelled against him. In the 1460s he was at least once pardoned by King Henry VI, but more often, he was specifically excluded from pardon by both Henry VI and his rival and successor, Edward IV. It can be construed from comments Malory makes at the ends of sections of his narrative that he composed at least part of his work while in prison.

  • YajRa

    Jose Rizal should be in the list.

  • JaibiaRuick

    Nothing interesting, buy thank you. azvpo124

  • deni

    please erase this list
    reason : No dostoevski

  • deni

    maybe you dont know enough about dostoevski
    and you are americans, you dont like the russian
    but thats not reason to leave dostoevski from this list

  • Randall


    I can’t speak for the writer of the list, but since he/she included Solzhenitsyn, you can hardly accuse them of “not liking Russians.” More likely it was an oversight.

    But this is one American who loves Dostoevski, and I don’t have a drop of Russian blood in me.

    Don’t jump to the conclusion that Americans hate Russians. We think Russians are often nutty and much too morose, but many of us kind of like ’em.

  • hinkle von dinkle

    wasn’t tolstoy put in prison?

  • GuilleGuinness

    C’mon the Marques de Sade!!!

  • Kate

    I have to agree with all the other comments. Where is Fyodor Dostoyevsky?! An amazing man, with an amazing (tragic) life!

  • Omurrchoe

    What about Henri Charriere? I loved his book, Papillion. If you haven’t read it, I’d definately recommend it!

  • Nik

    you could add a lot of Russian writers to this list from 19th and 20th century. I’m completing a PhD in Slavic. Since when is Dostoevsky the father of existentialism?

  • mercilessax

    OH MY GOD!!! What about Dostoevsky???!!!!!!! I’d give him #2 after Cervantes

  • Powerful entity

    Where is Marquis de Sade? He spent more than half of his life in various jails.

  • Oh man, you missed Ezra Pound being locked away in the Gorilla cage by the US forces! I suppose that technically might not be considered "jail" though. Check out his scary mug shot:

  • I think ALL the Russians were in jail at one point or another, so it would be tough to include them all in this list!

  • WafflesWafers

    Dostoyevsky should be here,but still,this is a great list.

  • carlos

    Normal society isn’t made for geniuses nor usually tolerate them, overall, geniuses of art, painting, literature… Geniuses of science are usually more quiet people if the Vatican lets them in peace. Yes, many were delinquents. as Caravaggio.

  • minimalist

    Dr. Jose Rizal.

  • ANRE

    Wow…. no mention of Dostoyevsky? Not only was he imprisoned in a Russian labor camp in Siberia for printing tracts, he was also sentenced to death. His sentence wasn’t commuted until the 11th hour as he was walked out to the execution blindfolded.

  • solaris station

    Bukowski had visited the jail, for a short time though.

  • vermilionskin

    It was fun to read, we need more of this.

  • roy

    what about fyodor dostoevsky

  • what?

    no Fjodor M. D.? hahahha g8 list dude!hahaah

  • q-10

    Hey There. I discovered your weblog using msn. This is a really smartly written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to learn extra of your helpful info. Thank you for the post. I’ll definitely return.

  • Luigi

    Where is Jose Rizal ?

  • Rumbaabaa

    Hang on… what about Christopher Marlowe, the James Bond of the Elizabethan age?

  • Matt

    no César Vallejo?

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