The Prison Book Club

The Prison Book Club

by Ann Walmsley
  • from-ontario
  • memoir

A daring journalist goes behind bars to explore the redemptive power of books with bikers, bank robbers, and gunmen. An attack in London left Ann Walmsley unable to walk alone down the street and shook her belief in the goodness of people. In Canada a few years later, when asked to participate in a bold new venture in a men’s medium security prison, Ann had to weigh her curiosity and desire to be of service with her anxiety and fear. But she signed on, and for eighteen months went to meet a group of heavily tattooed book club members without the presence of guards or security cameras. There was no wine and cheese, plush furnishings, or superficial chat. But a book club on the inside proved to be a place to share ideas, learn about each other, and regain humanity.

The Prison Book Club follows six book club members who kept journals and participated in candid one-on-one conversations. Graham the biker, Frank the gunman, Ben and Dread the Jamaicans, and the robber duo Gaston and Peter come to life as Ann reconciles her knowledge of their crimes with the individuals. For the men, the books were rare prized possessions, and the meetings an oasis of safety and a respite from isolation. Having been judged themselves, they were quick to make judgments about the books they read. As they discussed the obstacles the characters faced, they revealed glimpses of their own struggles that were devastating and comic.

From The Grapes of Wrath to The Cellist of Sarajevo, Outliers to Infidel, the discussions became a springboard for frank conversations about loss, anger, redemption, heroism, and loneliness. The books changed the men and the men changed Ann, allowing her to move beyond her position as a victim. She came to realize that given the choice, she’d forsake the company of her privileged friends and comfortable book club and make the two-hour drive to Collins Bay prison.


Ann Walmsley, author

Ann Walmsley is a magazine journalist whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s. She is the recipient of four National Magazine Awards, a Canadian Business Journalism Award and two International Regional Magazine Awards. She founded her first book club at age nine. She lives in Toronto with her family.


  • A story of redemption and transcending the victim mentality. - New York Post Link to review
  • […] [A] lively and warm account […]. This book is a testament to what reading together can do in prison […]. Walmsley shows how reading and rehabilitation can go hand-in-hand.” - The Times Literary Supplement Link to review


  • Longlisted, 2016 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
  • Longlisted, 2016 RBC Taylor Prize
  • Winner, 2016 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction

Rights Holder

Rights Holder: Westwood Creative Artists



rights sold: China (Shanghai Joint Publishing Co. Ltd.), Japan (Kinokuniva Co., Ltd.), North America (Penguin Canada), UK & Commonwealth, excl. Canada (Oneworld)

rights available: World

Additional Information

number of pages: 304

publication date: 09/22/2015

Original language of pub: English

Materials Available: finished book