The Pen Life

Welcome to The Pen Life! The official Eddie St.James blog. Join me, each week, for posts that highlight some aspect of what it takes for me to cultivate a writing career from a prison cell.

Now, if you’re wondering why this blog is worth your time to read, here are a few good reasons to check out my posts:

1.) From time to time, I’ll expound upon the many literary, social, cultural, and humanitarian contributions made by”game changing” jailbirds that have inspired me to write with purpose.

2.) On other occassions, you’ll get a “behind the scenes” glimpse of my writing process when I post excerpts and/or updates about my writing projects.

3.) And finally, some posts will give you a unique insight about the limitations, struggles, and hardships associated with prison life which I must overcome to succeed as an incarcerated writer.

Thank you for taking the time to visit this site. Enjoy reading the posts. And, by all means, please spread the word about Eddie St.James.


Nearly twenty-six years ago I came face-to-face with a new reality: incarceration. For years, I loathed the sight and sound of a cell door bejng slammed shut to lock me into a tiny room. Everytime it happened I thought about what that door represented to me: profound loss.

During the span of my imprisonment I have sustained a lot of loss. The most significant ones being a sense of personal fulfillment, broken relationships, and a meaningful career. I once believed the deprivations could never be restored. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Several years ago, I confided to a fellow inmate how the sight of a cell door made me feel like a total failure. His sage advice? He re- cited a familiar adage: “When one door closes, another one opens”

At first, I felt insulted. The reply seemed to be nothing more than a thoughtless platitude. I told him as much. That’s when he told me to consider all that I’ve achieved while doing time. I did. What I discovered was how writing has been a metaphorical “open door” leading to empowerment and restoration when literal doors confined me.

For instance, in 1998, the IDOC ended its college program for inmates (like me) serving long-term sentences. Immediately, I launched a letter writing campaign seeking financial help to continue my education. It worked. Thanks to the collective benevolence of many I eventually earned a Master’s degree, as well as college level Certifications in Victim Advocacy and Paralegal Studies.

Getting an education was just the start to bigger and better things. By 2008, my sister, some inmates, and a few prison staff encouraged me to utilize my life experience, academic success and knack for writing to help others. During the past thirteen years, I have done this in two main ways.

First, my writing skills have been instrumental when I assist indi- gent inmates draft legal pleadings to protect what few rights they have to medical care, safe living conditions, and religious practice. Second, my passion for restorative justice has inspired me to cre- ate a literary legacy that helps those impacted by crime (victims, offenders, and communities) to restore the web of relationships broken by an offense. Thing is, finding ways to balance my ambi- tions with the reality of how prison life limits my opportunities to do more is a huge challenge

Behind closed doors I still struggle with haunting regrets, fears of enduring more loss, and insecurities about my future. Oddly enou- gh, when I feel trapped, I think about that 16th Century proverb illustrated by the alternating Chinese trigrams K’un (closed door) and Ch’ien (open door). Symbols of the universal rhythem.

Prison is my K’un. Writing is my Ch’ien. With a pen I strike balance between the plight and possibilities I face everyday. This is some- thing I will continue to do until my ink runs dry.


I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.