Pulp Friday: prison pulp

The Ninth Hour“Gripping novel about a jailbreak – The bloody, death filled minutes while a murderous convict holds all the state of Massachusetts at bay.”

Jail breaks, prison life, men and woman wrongly convicted and languishing in hell hole jails, all these were popular themes in cinema in the fifties, sixties and early seventies. They were also popular topics for pulp fiction.

Exhibit A is this selection of prison pulps from my collection.

Between them, these books cover off on all the main themes associated with prison pulp.

There are tension filled jail breaks in Billy Braggs and The Ninth Hour (“Three desperate prisoners, armed with smuggled .45’s, were holed up in the Isolation Cell Block, with two guards as hostages”).

Wrongfully convicted men feature in The Fall of the Sparrow, Headed For the Hearse (“His address was Death Row and his lease was up in six days…”), and Patricia Highsmith’s The Glass Cell.

The travails of women behind bars, particularly their sensationalised sexual exploits, are the subject of the two Australian pulps represented below, The Lights of Skaro and Queen Rat (“From behind bars Dawn Arness ruled the lives of prisoners and guards alike. She was Queen Rat”).

Prison was particularly suited to my favourite sub-genre of pulp fiction, tabloid-style reporting dressed up as serious sociological inquiry.

There’s The Scottsboro’ Boy (“…the frank, brutal story of life in an Alabama prison.”). Inside by Helen Bryan purports to show the reality ‘inside’, “the drug addicts, car thieves, boot-leggers, kidnappers, under-age ‘call girls'”. Not Guilty describes “Thirty-six men… tried for murder, bank robbery, forgery, rape, drug peddling and other crimes; each found guilty and sentenced; yet each one INNOCENT”.

As usual, if you like this post, you’ll find a lot more covers on my Pinterest site.

The Glass Cell

Headed for a hearse

Cool Hand Luke


Scottsboro Boy 1959

Not Guilty 1

Queen rat

The Fall of the Sparrow

The Lights of Skaro

The Ringer

Billy Rags


3 Responses

  1. Thanks Andrew, this is a favorite area of mine – I always liked the Edward Bunker books – No Beast So Fierce etc, and also Malcolm Braly’s On the Yard. There’s a pretty good Aussie prison narrative penned by Ray Mooney called A Green Light, detailed on his website as ‘His novel, A Green Light, was Penguin’s second-best fiction seller in 1988 and regarded by many as Australia’s best crime novel.’ He wrote the script for Every Night, Every Night, about his experiences at Pentridge, I think it was, that was made into a pretty handy film of the same name by Alkinos Tsilimidos in the 90’s…

  2. Dave,
    Cheers, so some great recommendations here. I’ve never been able to find a copy On the Yard. Will definitely check out the Mooney book, too. I have Every Night, Every Night on dvd, but haven’t watched it yet. Have you ever heard of a book – which I should have included – called Inside Out by Les Newcombe? The story of two men who broke out of Long Bay in 1959, and the subsequent manhunt for them? Newcombe was one of the men.

  3. I have the Braly book mentioned above and another of his – Felony Tank, though I’ve not read them yet!

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