10 Writers Who Went To Prison

The following writers all spent time in prison. They are presented in chronological order.


Sir Thomas More More(February 7th 1478 – July 6th 1535)

Sir Thomas More was an English statesman, philosopher, author and Lord High Chancellor of England (October 1529 – May 1532). More was the author of the popular novel Utopia (1516). Utopia is about the political system of an ideal, imaginary country. More was imprisoned due to his opposition to Henry VIII’s split from the Catholic Church. After serving time in a number of prisons, including the Tower of London, he was beheaded.


Miguel de CervantesCervantes (September 29th 1547 – April 22nd 1616)

Miguel de Cervantes was a Spanish poet, playwright and novelist, whose influence on the Spanish language was so considerable that Spanish is sometimes referred to as la lengua de Cervantes (the language of Cervantes). Cervantes was working as a purchasing agent for the Spanish navy when a banker he had deposited Crown funds with went bankrupt. This led to Cervantes’s imprisonment. It was during this time that he begun working on his seminal work, Don Quixote.


VoltaireVoltaire(November 21st 1694 – May 30th 1778)

Voltaire was a satirical polemicist, whose voluminous writing output included novels, poems, plays and essays. His most famous work is the satirical novella Candide. Voltaire was renowned both for his wit and scathing criticism of the Catholic Church. Punishments for his controversial views included periods of exile, in addition to several stints in prison. Voltaire spent 11 months imprisoned in the notorious Bastille.


Fyodor DostoevskyDostoyevsky(November 11th 1821 – February 9th 1881)

Russian novelist and short story writer Fyodor Dostoevsky is best remembered for his novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky served 8 years in a Siberian labour camp. His crime was being found guilty of circulating essays that were deemed to be critical of the government. During his time in the camp, Dostoyevsky began working on his novella, Notes from Underground.


Oscar WildeOscar Wilde(October 16th 1854 – November 30th 1900)

Oscar Wilde was a flamboyant writer, poet and playwright, acclaimed for his enduring wit and writing abilities.  At the height of his fame Wilde was a very successful playwright.   In 1895 Wilde was arrested for gross indecency with other men.  This culminated in a guilty verdict. Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville Prison and later at Wandsworth Prison, where prisoners were required to do hard labour.


O.HenryO.Henry(September 11th 1862 – June 5th 1910)

Henry was a renowned and prolific short story writer.  In the 10 years prior to his demise he published over 300 stories. Having been convicted of embezzlement, O. Henry was given a 5 year sentence in 1898, which he served at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. As he was a licensed pharmacist he was employed in the prison hospital. There is no evidence that he spent any time in the prison’s cellblock.


Chester Himes Himes(July 29th 1909 – November 12th 1984)

Himes was an American author who wrote If He Hollers Let Him Go, as well as a series of Harlem Detective novels. In 1958 he won France’s Grand Priz de Littérature Policière. Himes served 7 1/2 years in the Ohio State Penitentiary after being found guilty of armed robbery. It was during his incarceration that Himes began writing short stories. Later he was employed briefly as a Hollywood screenwriter.


Joan Henry

(April 8th 1914 – 2000)

Joan Henry was an English novelist, screenwriter and playwright. Born into a wealthy and prestigious family, her life was to change markedly when she was jailed for passing a fraudulent cheque in 1951. Her best-known works are based on her time in prison. The most famous is Who Lie in Gaol. The book went on to become a bestseller.  It spawned a film titled The Weak and the Wicked.


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
 (December 11th 1918 – August 3rd 2008)

Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an ardent critic of the Soviet regime. It was his writing that first brought global attention to the Gulag. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In February 1945, whilst serving in the Red Army, he was arrested for having made a derogatory comment about Stalin. Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to an 8 year term in a labour camp.


Jeffrey Archer Archer(Born April 15th 1940)

Jeffrey Archer is an English author and former politician, who has sold over 250 million books.  When, in 1974, a financial scandal left Archer almost bankrupt, he resigned as a Member of Parliament. Later he became deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. His political career ended with his conviction and imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice. On July 21st 2003 Archer was released, having served half of his sentence.



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  • Cool post. Didn’t know Solzhenitsyn went to the gulag or that Archer sold that many books (250m+) – unbelievable. Archer had a pretty cushy time in jail from the sound of it – peers over for lunch/loads of golf.

    • Not to mention the fine wines. I read an Archer book when I was a teenager. Not sure which one it was, but I remember that I liked it. Have a good weekend Trina.

  • Very interesting. I wonder those who went to prison and then wrote books would have written them without the experience. Probably not i”m guessing. Talk about making the best of a bad situation.

    • Interesting point John. I assume prison time allows one the opportunity to reflect. And there’s the potential subject matter of course. Hopefully I’ll never find out first hand. Have a good weekend.

  • I found this fascinating, as well as your piece on the Russian books you have read, and your reviews, as I am a Russian (and English [British] literature fan.) This piece does give one much pause when considering how one would react in the same situation. As you said in an above reply, one would have time to reflect, but who can know what the horrors of prison would do to one’s thoughts, talents, mind and soul? Love your blog, keep up the good work.

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