As part of the Malcolm X project, copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X were given to HMP Bristol. The plan was to engage prisoners in a debate on the relevance of Malcolm X in 2015. Nineteen books were given out to prisoners, and they were asked to write a response to it, whether they had read a chapter or the entire book. Over half responded with a review or essay, a high response rate.
It obviously struck a chord with some: ‘I feel like I am not alone with my feelings and that I am not the only man going through this same struggle,’ wrote Jacob. It is testament to the power of the book that it continues to speak across the years. Whilst not all prisoners were uncritical of Malcolm X’s views, particularly towards women, they were impressed by his ability to change himself and to show regret for his earlier views.
The prison library offered a dictionary as a prize for the winning essay, as over fifty years ago it was a dictionary that had a profound on Malcolm X whilst he was in prison: ‘I’d never realized so many words existed,’ he wrote. In the end, the prison decided to award dictionaries to three essays. Even though they were all different, they had all responded with passion and thought to the task.
The reviews and essays can be read here.