The ten best books about America's prisons
2. Committing Journalism: The Prison Writings of Red Hog, Dannie M. Martin and Peter Y. Sussman (1993). Doing federal time for bank robbery, Martin teamed with San Francisco Chronicle editor Sussman to produce a series of columns that, despite prison officials' attempts to muzzle them, presented a powerful inside look at the American prison-industrial complex in the 1980s and the resulting "gulag mentality," with thousands of inmates snared by the drug war and other doomed campaigns.
1. Education of a Felon: A Memoir, Edward Bunker (2000). Bunker is best known to film buffs as Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs; he also received a writing credit for the cult classic Runaway Train, in which he cameos. But he was also a serious crime novelist, writing from deep and bitter experience, and this straightforward account of his rise from juvenile delinquent to habitue of the California penal system manages to be jaw-dropping but never sensationalized. No cant, no self-pitying justification here, just a seasoned criminal coming to terms with himself through writing and reflection, and learning how to break a pattern of self-destruction stretching back to childhood.
More from our Prison Life archive: "Eddie Ives's botched execution and replacing the noose with the gas chamber."