Life Behind Bars: 10 Best Books About Prison | TheReviewGeek Recommends

10 Best Books About Prison

Ever wonder what life is really like behind bars? The harsh realities of the prison system have long fascinated readers. Whether you’re curious about daily struggles, friendships forged, corrupt systems, or tales of redemption, books set in prison provide a glimpse into a world most will never experience first-hand.

The following books offer some of the most compelling looks at life in the slammer. From classics like The Shawshank Redemption to modern memoirs, these 10 books will have you reflecting on freedom, justice, and the human spirit. Prepare to be moved by unforgettable stories of wrongful conviction, survival against the odds, and the enduring power of hope. Once you start turning the pages, you may find it hard to stop. As usual, we encourage you to drop your thoughts in the comments below:

Best Books about Prison
The Green Mile by Stephen King

Stephen King’s The Green Mile is a moving story of life on death row. Told from the perspective of Paul Edgecomb, a death row corrections officer during the Great Depression, you get an insider’s look at what it’s really like behind those bars.

Paul supervises prisoners on “the Green Mile,” the stretch of linoleum leading to the electric chair. Most are hardened criminals, but then John Coffey arrives. This hulking black man has been convicted of a horrible crime, yet seems to possess a mysterious gift. As Paul spends time with John, he starts to question whether this gentle soul could really be guilty.

Best Books about Prison
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This psychological thriller will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about relationships. The story follows Amy Dunne, who mysteriously disappears on her 5th wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick becomes the prime suspect, and as the police investigate, it becomes clear that Nick and Amy’s marriage is far from perfect.

Gillian Flynn cleverly crafts a story full of twists that keep you guessing until the very end. Just when you think you have it figured out, another layer is peeled back to reveal a new set of lies and betrayals. By the end, you may not know who to trust or believe. The unreliable narrators and sinister tone make for a deliciously disturbing read.

Best Books about Prison
The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham

John Grisham’s nonfiction work, The Innocent Man, tells the true story of Ron Williamson, an ex-athlete wrongly convicted of a brutal murder who spends 11 years on death row.

Grisham’s first nonfiction book reads like a legal thriller. He details Williamson’s journey with the justice system in gritty detail—from his initial arrest to his time awaiting execution on death row. Although Williamson maintains his innocence, he is convicted based on dubious witness testimony and circumstantial evidence.

Best Books about Prison
The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

The Shawshank Redemption is a modern masterpiece about hope as the ultimate means of escape. Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to life in Shawshank Prison. At first, the harsh conditions and brutal guards nearly break his spirit.

But Andy holds onto hope. He starts a secret library and helps prisoners earn degrees. He never stops planning his escape, chipping away at his tunnel each night. After twenty years, Andy finally breaks free and starts a new life in Mexico.

Best Books about Prison
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and 4. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Two of Solzhenitsyn’s most famous works provide insight into the harsh realities of life in Soviet labour camps. This short novel follows a single day in the life of prisoner Ivan Denisovich Shukhov within a Stalinist labour camp. 

Using Ivan’s daily struggles and small victories, Solzhenitsyn reveals the dehumanizing effects of the Soviet gulag system. Despite the bleak setting, the story shows how the human spirit can endure even in the darkest of places.

Best Books about Prison
Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon is the thrilling true story of Henri Charrière, a French prisoner unjustly convicted of murder who makes daring escape after daring escape from brutal penal colonies in French Guiana.

Charrière, nicknamed “Papillon” due to the butterfly tattoo on his chest, is determined to escape the harsh conditions and violent guards of the penal colony. He teams up with other prisoners to acquire supplies, make homemade rafts, and navigate treacherous jungles. Though many of his escape attempts end in failure and solitary confinement, Papillon never gives up hope. His vivid accounts of the brutal treatment, disease, and malnutrition that the prisoners endure are harrowing.

Best Books about Prison
Newjack by Ted Conover

Newjack is the gripping tale of Ted Conover’s year working as a corrections officer at New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison. To research life behind bars, journalist Conover took a job as a “newjack”—a rookie prison guard. This book provides a first-hand look into the harsh realities of prison life in America.

Conover recounts his struggles to maintain control over inmates, some of whom showed him respect while others tested his patience. He details the poor training he received, leaving him unprepared for dangerous situations. Conover’s story highlights the dehumanizing effects of incarceration on both inmates and officers.

Best Books about Prison
Faithful Ruslan by Georgi Vladimov

Faithful Ruslan by Georgi Vladimov provides a very insane account of life in a Soviet gulag from the perspective of a guard dog. Ruslan is a guard dog in a Siberian forced labour camp, trained to viciously attack any prisoner who steps out of line.

But one day, Ruslan’s handler defects from his post, and Ruslan is left without an owner, unsure of his place in the harsh world he inhabits.

Best Books about Prison
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram is a semi-autobiographical novel by Gregory David Roberts that tells the story of Lin, an escaped Australian convict who finds his way to India. Befriending locals and foreigners alike in Bombay, Lin struggles to avoid trouble with the law while embracing the vibrant culture around him.

After escaping from prison, Lin flees to India with a false passport, eventually settling into a slum in Bombay. Lin becomes involved in the complex relationships and politics of the city, grappling with questions of purpose and morality along the way.

Best Books about Prison
Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz provides a harrowing first-hand account of life as a prisoner in the infamous Nazi concentration camp. As an Italian Jew, Levi was rounded up and transported to Auschwitz in 1944. Forced into hard labour and subjected to extreme deprivation, he somehow survived for 11 months before the camp was liberated.

This memoir pulls no punches in describing the brutal conditions and dehumanization Levi endured. From the initial shock of arrival to the daily struggle to survive on only a few hundred calories, his story is eye-opening and gut-wrenching. Yet amidst the horror, Levi also captures moments of human dignity, compassion, and humour.

There we have it, our list of 10 best books about prison life. What do you think about our picks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below:

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