Are you looking for some of the best novels out there about prisons? Whether you’re simply curious about what it’s like to be incarcerated, or you’re trying to learn more about what an imprisoned friend or family member is going through, these stories can offer a powerful insight into life behind bars.
Before we get into the list, take a moment to think about any relatives or friends of yours who are currently in prison. A letter, postcard, or phone call from you could make a huge difference to how they’re feeling.
If you’re not sure how to find a family member, you can search for an inmate by state, e.g. Tennessee. This lets you find contact details and get in touch. Or you can simply visit the best website inmateslookup for searching data and inmate records etc.
Here’s our list of the most powerful novels about prisons: why not give them a try?
The Green Mile, Stephen King
Told by death row supervisor Paul Edgecombe, this story of John Coffey is about a man sentenced to die – but who has supernatural healing powers and empathic abilities. The events take place in 1932, but the story’s being told in 1996, when the narrator is an old man in a nursing home.
Affinity, Sarah Waters
This novel, set in Victorian England in 1874, is the story of Margaret Prior, an upper-class woman who is visiting women in Millbank prison. She becomes increasingly fascinated by and drawn to inmate Selina Dawes, who was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly wrong. It’s been described as a “gothic psychological novel” and has a Dickensian feel.
On the Yard, Malcolm Braly
This novel, written in the 1960s, was heavily drawn from Malcolm Braly’s own experience of being incarcerated in San Quentin prison. Reviewers praised the characters as realistic, astutely observed, and well-rounded. This is a true insider look at life behind bars in the mid-20th century.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
This classic novel by Alexander Dumas, first published in French in serial form in the 1940s, was inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment. The protagonist is Edmond Dantes, who’s framed at the age of 19 and sent to prison for 14 years. He then escapes and seeks revenge. It’s a long novel, but a worthwhile read.
The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
You’ve almost certainly heard of Hannibal Lecter, the villain of The Silence of the Lambs. He’s a cultured genius … and a cannibalistic psychopath. Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, needs his advice to help her track a serial killer. This thriller by Thomas Harris is a fast-paced read with richly developed characters.
The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner
This novel is about Romy Hall, a woman imprisoned for two consecutive life sentences for murdering her stalker in front of a child. She has a useless lawyer and she’s also the mother to a 7 year old son. Reviewers describe it as “dark but gripping” and “no sugar coating”, dealing with issues like poverty, abuse, and addiction.
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King
This novella by Stephen King was adapted for the screen as Shawshank Redemption. The novella is set in a fictional prison in Maine and narrated by the prisoner Red, who tells the story of fellow inmate Andy Dufresne – falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a moving story about the human spirit and the enduring nature of hope.
All of these novels are not only entertaining reads, but also books that will help you understand more about the reality of life behind bars.