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Freedom Isn’t Easy: Writing in Prison vs. The Free World

By Wahida Clark

thug-lovin

My new book Thug Lovin’ was the first book I wrote in the free world. Prior to that I wrote six others while I was serving a ten and half year federal prison sentence for money laundering, mail and wire fraud. Was it a difficult transition to write while enjoying freedom? Of course. Was it stressful? Absolutely.

Writing in Prison

Prison is very monotonous; you do the same things at the same time, day in and day out.

My morning routine? I would start my day at 5am. I would write from 6-7am. This was the time during the day where the noise was at its minimum. I would then get ready for my job; sweeping the front stairs, laundry room and phone area. I would usually be done by 9:30. I would then go jogging, come back in to shower and get dressed. I would write from 1-3 and another hour before going to sleep at night. I would do this six days a week.

I wrote my first books while I was housed at the Federal Prison Camp in Lexington Kentucky. The inspiration was the street novel, The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah. After reading it, I was in a daze. Up to that point I had only read self-help, business, how-to books, etc. But after I completed the book, I told myself that I can do this, maybe even better. I was moved. I took those feelings that overcame me as I read that book and poured them into my own work. I was on a roll. Once I started writing I couldn’t stop. The editor took my first submission and turned it into my first two books, Thugs and the Women Who Love Them and Every Thug Needs a Lady. I was actually the first street lit author to have a sequel. I stumbled upon that trend and pushed it further.

Wahida Clark

Wahida Clark

The other elements that effected my writing big time during my incarceration were the hit songs on the radio, the music videos, the CD’s in the rec room and the good fortune that I had my own room. I would put my headphones on, zone out and, when I could, write all night. Today, when I hear the songs that I would listen to over and over while I would write, I get very nostalgic and my stomach flips. It was magical. It shows in my writing. My readers say they can feel it. They feel the scenes, the dialogue, the characters; they tell me my books feel “so real.”

Writing in “the hole”

When I got carted away and thrown in the hole (for getting published while in prison, which is a whole other story), I wrote Payback is a Mutha. The hole for the federal camp inmates is the county jail. In a county jail, you are locked down 23 hours a day, the temperature is almost freezing, you are surrounded by concrete, and they bring these horrible meals to the same dorm where you use the bathroom, shower, play cards and watch TV. Everything is done in this one room.

The county jail, aka the hole, is the mother of revolving doors. For the eight months that I was there, there were many regulars. Vagrants, addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, rapists, and there were convicted felons waiting to get transferred to a prison to serve their sentence. These characters were like none that I’ve never experienced first-hand before. They would come in and talk nonstop about what they did or what their partners in crime did and why they were there. My main character Brianna came from one of these people. I met her while in the county jail. Scandalous, grimy and a diva all rolled into one. I based the officer in Payback Is A Mutha on one who had a relationship with an inmate while in Lexington. I met and talked to the loved ones and associates of all the characters in that book during those 8 months while in the county jail. I would sit up and listen to their stories all night or while we played cards or walked in circles to get a little exercise. The result is a cold, steely, and gritty novel.

The same went for my story Sleeping With The Enemy. I received an email from a young lady. She was obviously insulted and figured she would give me a piece of her mind. She said she didn’t understand how Kreesha (the main character) could be so dumb. There are no women on the planet that dumb. She said up to that point, she was a true fan, but now that I stooped to insult her intelligence she was pissed off. I wrote her back and said I was locked up with Kreesha, that the book is her story. When I first interviewed her, (Kreesha) it was with the intent on submitting an article to Don Diva magazine. A popular street magazine that has a huge reputation in prisons throughout the country. I submitted it and they never responded, so I turned it into a novella. Needless to say, the fan never emailed me back.

In Prison with Martha

After getting kicked out of the Lexington Federal Prison Camp, I was sent to Alderson West Virginia. It housed 1,200 women, among them, Martha Stewart. This was a huge change from the small population of 250 prisoners in Lexington. A few months after I arrived I was moved to the cottages. I had a room with a door all to myself and it was heavenly. After Martha left they closed the cottages down and moved everyone to dorms. In my dorm were 150 women in one open, noisy, and very public place. I was devastated. I called home crying to my husband, telling him that I don’t see how I was going to do this.

Since Alderson is in the hills and mountains, the radio reception was horrible. You would be lucky to get three stations. There were no urban or hip hop stations to be picked up on. I had to draw inspiration from the ladies themselves. And like the county jail, there were many different and unique personalities. I penned Thug Matrimony with the feedback of the women in my immediate area. That dorm ended up being a blessing in disguise. I had so much fun writing Thug Matrimony there, and the feedback I was getting from the ladies there was priceless.

In Alderson, we had email and by then I was an Essence magazine bestseller. I was getting tons of mail from readers and authors as well as manuscripts. So much so that they called me down to the Lieutenant’s office and accused me of running a business. I was sanctioned with loss of email privileges, phone privileges; they opened all of my outgoing mail, copied it and stopped all fan mail and manuscripts from coming in. Most importantly, I lost my two man cube. They moved me to what was known as the “bus stop”. This is where all of the new people go before they get a permanent bedding assignment. It is right in the front of the dorm, directly in front of the officer’s station. The bright lights stay on 24-7. The bathrooms, showers, water fountains, TV room; laundry area, phone and microwave ovens all surround the bus stop. It’s like living in a fish bowl, minus the glass. So with no phone, email and very little sleep, what could I do? Pen another novel?

I did — I wrote Payback with Ya Life, the sequel to Payback is Mutha. My bed was in the middle of all the bunks. There were three bunk beds on both sides of me. My bed was up against a beam. I stumbled upon this miracle. I sat my radio up there and noticed that more radio stations came in. They weren’t clear, and I could barely hear an urban radio station, but I was ecstatic. I would strategically place my small radio where I could get the best reception, plug up my headphones, and sit on a box that sandwiched me between the bunk beds and write. I was so happy. This was better than Calgon. Writing took me away.

In The Free World

In the free world, extracting creative juices to pen Thug Lovin was actually excruciating. It was shock to my system. At home, in my new life, there are a gazillion of distractions. I honestly don’t see how authors do it. I have garnered a whole new respect for authors. There is your husband, kids, house, bills, relatives, mail man, and business employees; the list goes on and on. I actually panicked. I again told my husband I don’t see how I am going to do this. He suggested I don’t leave the house until 12 noon, stay in my room and do nothing but write.

I am still in the habit of starting my day at 5am. After I pray or meditate, I start writing around 6. Still there were distractions, and because there was no noise, I would check email, answer the phones and go look out the living room window. But staying in the house until noon was a tremendous help.

Music and people motivate me. It’s where I get my inspiration from. When I came home, I was introduced to Sirius XM radio. It is on my TV. In my bedroom I have unlimited music, but it is not the same as being incarcerated. Did it affect my writing? Without a doubt.

What do I mean exactly? Thug Lovin’ has the Wahida Clark Readers all abuzz! On amazon.com, in the first 30 days, I had over 100 reviews. My competitor’s books have been up for years without that many. My readers wanted to know what happened. Who are these characters? This is not the same Wahida Clark we know. Some of them are even pissed off. A few even hinted that I didn’t even write Thug Lovin’ myself.  Some called my office to speak to me about it and gain proof. To top it off, because of my different mindset, I get hate emails!

In prison I was in the habit of writing on legal paper. It’s a habit that I have not yet broken. I write my stories on legal paper and then transfer it to the computer. It’s a habit that I am trying to break…starting with this article. My legal pad is sitting next to me, but I said I was going to go straight to the computer. I did it!

Wahida Clark, the Official Queen of Thug Love Fiction, currently runs her publishing company out of East Orange, NJ. She can be reached at www.wclarkpublishing.com

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One Comment

  1. Steven
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful story. Sounds like the basis for a movie – kind of like The Bird Man of Alcatraz.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Prison Camp in West Virginia, where Wahida Clark, author of Thug Lovin’ (who contributes our main story today) was also serving her [...]

  2. By Online Book Store and News - Writing in the Hole on October 7, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    [...] seventh novel, “Thug Lovin’,” has a piece in Publishing Perspectives about how getting out of prison after ten and a half years nearly ruined her writing career. Here’s how she completed six books while behind bars: I would start my day at 5am. I would [...]

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