Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

by Laura Bates


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"Shakespeare Saved My Life touches on the search for meaning in life, the struggles that complicate the path to triumph and the salvation that can be found in literature's great works ... An inspiring account."—Shelf Awareness

A female professor, a super maximum security prisoner, and how Shakespeare saved them both

Shakespeare professor and prison volunteer Laura Bates thought she had seen it all. That is, until she decided to teach Shakespeare in a place the bard had never been before — supermax solitary confinement.

In this unwelcoming place, surrounded by inmates known as the worst of the worst, is Larry Newton. A convicted murderer with several escape attempts under his belt and a brilliantly agile mind on his shoulders, Larry was trying to break out of prison at the same time Laura was fighting to get her program started behind bars.

What reviewers are saying about Shakespeare Saved My Life

"You don't have to be a William Shakespeare fan, a prisoner, or a prison reformer to appreciate this uplifting book. "Shakespeare Saved My Life" also reveals many important truths ... about the meaning of empathy in our dealings with others"—Finger Lake Times

"Shakespeare Saved My Life touches on the search for meaning in life, the struggles that complicate the path to triumph and the salvation that can be found in literature's great works ... An inspiring account."—Shelf Awareness

"Opening the mind's prison proves enormously gratifying, not to mention effective ... brave, groundbreaking work"—Publishers Weekly

"An eye-opening study reiterating the perennial power of books, self-discipline, and the Bard of Avon."—Kirkus

"A powerful testament to how Shakespeare continues to speak to contemporary readers in all sorts of circumstances."—Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402273148
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/02/2013
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 78,982
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Favorite Freakin’ Shakespeare

Oh, man, this is my favorite freakin’ quote!”

What professor wouldn’t like to hear a student enthuse so much over a Shakespeare play—a Shakespeare history play, no less! And then to be able to flip open the two-thousand-page Complete Works of Shakespeare and find the quote immediately: “When that this body did contain a spirit, a kingdom for it was too small a bound”!

He smacks the book as he finishes reading. Meanwhile, I’m still scrambling to find the quote somewhere in Henry the Fourth, Part One.

“Act uh…?”

“Act 5, scene 4,” my student informs me, again smacking the page with his enthusiastic fist. “Oh, man, that is crazy!”

Yes, this is crazy: I am sitting side-by-side with a prisoner who has just recently been allowed to join the general prison population after more than ten years in solitary confinement. We met three years prior, in 2003, when I created the first-ever Shakespeare program in a solitary confinement unit, and we spent three years working together in that unit. Now we have received unprecedented permission to work together, alone, unsupervised, to create a series of Shakespeare workbooks for prisoners. Newton is gesticulating so animatedly that it draws the attention of an officer walking by our little classroom. He pops his head inside.

“Everything okay in here?” he asks.

“Just reading Shakespeare,” I reply.

He shakes his head and walks on.

“That is crazy!” Newton repeats, his head still in the book.

A record ten and a half consecutive years in solitary confinement, and he’s not crazy, he’s not dangerous—he’s reading Shakespeare.

And maybe, just maybe, it is because he’s reading Shakespeare that he is not crazy, or dangerous.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Favorite Freakin' Shakespeare

Chapter 2: The Value of Education

Chapter 3: Breaking Out

Chapter 4: Breaking In

Chapter 5: I'm In

Chapter 6: Newton's In

Chapter 7: Life Inside

Chapter 8: The First Lesson I Teach

Chapter 9: The First Group Session

Chapter 10: The First Lesson I Learn

Chapter 11: Regaining Lost Humanity

Chapter 12: Contraband

Chapter 13: Childhood

Chapter 14: The Tragedy of Macbeth

Chapter 15: Supermax Kid

Chapter 16: The Closet

Chapter 17: My Secret Life

Chapter 18: Tough Freedoms

Chapter 19: "To Know My Deed"

Chapter 20: CSI: Muncie, Indiana

Chapter 21: Death Penalty

Chapter 22: Escape Artist

Chapter 23: The Dagger I See before Me

Chapter 24: The Shower: Newton

Chapter 25: The Shower: Me

Chapter 26: All Hands on Deck

Chapter 27: The Boat

Chapter 28: New Directions

Chapter 29: Sensory Deprivation

Chapter 30: Isolated...and Alone

Chapter 31: Ghosts in the Cell

Chapter 32: Insanity

Chapter 33: More House Calls

Chapter 34: Administrative Segregation versus Disciplinary Segregation

Chapter 35: Killer Dog

Chapter 36: Extraction

Chapter 37: B-East

Chapter 38: This Prison Don't Matter

Chapter 39: Meeting of the Minds

Chapter 40: Dr. Newton

Chapter 41: The Picture

Chapter 42: "That's Freedom"

Chapter 43: Another Door Opens

Chapter 44: Killer Dog Comes Inside

Chapter 45: "Shakespearean Considerations"

Chapter 46: Hamlet: to Revenge or Not to Revenge

Chapter 47: Othello: Girl Meets Boy

Chapter 48: "Shakespeare Saved My Life"

Chapter 49: Shakespeare Saved My Life

Chapter 50: Shakespeare Could Save Your Life Too

Chapter 51: Doing Life

Chapter 52: Romeo and Juliet

Chapter 53: Romeo and Juliet for Youth Incarcerated as Adults

Chapter 54: Balance

Chapter 55: Tybalt Must Die!

Chapter 56: Killer in the Classroom

Chapter 57: Hands that Kill Can Also...Sew?

Chapter 58: Fears and Phobias

Chapter 59: Sociopath or...

Chapter 60: Socrates

Chapter 61: Doing Good for Bad Done

Chapter 62: Correctional Education

Chapter 63: "Cool!"

Chapter 64: Timeline of Anxiety

Chapter 65: Media Celebrity

Chapter 66: Cell Phone in the Cell

Chapter 67: Back to Seg

Chapter 68: Remembering the Victims

Chapter 69: Full Circle

Chapter 70: Tragic Kingdom

Chapter 71: "Stay Strong"

Chapter 72: Closing Doors

Chapter 73: The Letter

Chapter 74: Powering through with Shakespeare

Chapter 75: Revelation

Chapter 76: Footprint in the World

Chapter 77: Mother's Day

Chapter 78: Five Steps


Reading Group Guide


About the Author

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Wonderful... well written, easy to follow, and hard to put down. My hope is that this book will make people understand that education can change lives." - Sue Jones, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, WA

"This is an amazing story, beautifully told...I'm still reeling from the power of the ending." - Anne McMahon, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee WI

Customer Reviews

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Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
[FTC disclaimer: I won this book from Sourcebooks via Goodreads. All comments are my own, sourcebooks a/o Goodreads have not influenced my review in any way.] This memoir is about real people in real situations with real ideas. Dr.Laura Bates writes about introducing a group of long term incarcerated men to a 400 year old author and how these guys, one in particular, Larry Newton, with the bare equililant of a fifth grade education, critcally disseminates some of Shakespeare's hardest works. Dr. Bates teaches Shakespeare at Indiana University. She begins volunteering in the prisons even before she completes her doctorate. Then, like many of us in teaching fields,her real education begins as she is witness to how education can change lives. And, the concepts and ideas that Larry intuits allow him to realize that he is more than what he is percieved to be. And that is how William Shakespeare saved his life, and changed Laura Bates'. Great book
ElfieLM More than 1 year ago
I loved this book.  Who knew a bargain bin special would draw me into Larry's prison.  I felt his pain, injustice, fear and strength.  My greatest wish is that he was able to read this book and get his Shakespeare copy back.  My message to him and the author, "Stay strong!"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I served on a state Board of Parole for 8 years, and found this book very insightful. I am recommending it to several who work within a prison system. It was a great read!
nolagras More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book without reservation. I wish that people who prefer retribution and punishment over rehabilitation would read it. I wish people who think that education in prisons is a waste of time and money would read it. I wish I had known about this book in time to assign it to the first-year college students to whom I teach English composition (critical reading, thinking, and writing). It is remarkable!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a truly interesting and inspiring book. The supermax prisoner Larry Newton had some of the most poignant insights on Shakespeare that I have ever heard
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Truly inspiring...I read it in one sitting! Makes you think hard about how we look at literatur and how it can impact our lives. Especially if those who were not previously given the opportunity to read, process, AND express their opinion in an open, accepting educational environment. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow - Amazing story. This is one of those good ideas that works and should be implemented! Read it - you'll be amazed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago