World’s 10 most publicized prisoners
America’s best known gangster, Al Capone was one of the most famous residents of the notorious Alcatraz. The man who had ruled Chicago with guns and blood during the roaring 1920s had several spells in different prisons. But it was “the Rock” that finally broke him. Capone was moved to Alcatraz in 1934 as he was serving a sentence for tax evasion. He entered the then America’s most brutal jail with his usual confidence but tight security, bleak prison routine and harassment from other inmates soon took their toll. His health severely deteriorated, his only distraction being a banjo sent by his wife. He even joined a four-man prison band. The former mob boss left Alcatraz in 1939 and died a broken man at his Florida estate in 1947.
Once Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year prison term for fraud and tax evasion. The former head of the oil company Yukos was arrested in October 2003 when security police stormed his private jet at a Siberian airport. Since then, Yukos had gone from a giant with global ambitions to bankruptcy after being hit with a multimillion dollar tax bill. A Communist activist turned oligarch, Khodorkovsky made his fortune during the controversial post-Soviet privatisation of state assets. His supporters claim the former tycoon’s dizzying downfall was a result of his political ambitions. Khodorkovsky is now awaiting trial on fresh charges of embezzlement and money laundering. While in prison he wrote a number of political articles and essays.
Nelson Mandela is known as one of the world’s most celebrated statesmen… and most prominent inmates. He spent 27 years as political prisoner in South Africa, much of them on Robben Island. Mandela was a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC), which opposed South Africa’s white minority government and its policy of racial separation, or apartheid. In 1960 the ANC was outlawed and four years later Mandela was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. Turning into a worldwide symbol of resistance to racism, he was eventually released and went on to become the country’s first black president in 1994. Mandela has received scores of awards, most notably the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. Since stepping down as president, Mandela’s become South Africa’s highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids.
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King was an American clergyman, Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the key figures of the US civil rights movement. King was catapulted to national fame in 1955 when he mobilised the black boycott of the Montgomery bus system against segregated bus seating. Becoming a passionate anti-discrimination campaigner, he advocated non-violent direct action. King was arrested several times but his arguably most famous spell in custody took place in 1963 when he was detained during mass protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Before he was released nine days after his arrest, King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – a paper that became the most quoted and influential of his writings. King was assassinated in April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.
One of the key political figures of the 20th century, Lenin led the 1917 Bolshevik take-over of power in Russia and became the first head of the Soviet state. But before his rise to power, Lenin experienced the Tsarist prison system and Siberian exile. Arrested in December 1875, he spent 14 months locked up in solitary confinement before being sent to Siberia. Prison didn’t stop him from working though as he gathered footnotes for a future book and wrote letters. The stories of him outwitting the guards were made widely popular by the Soviet propaganda. Prisoners were allowed books from home. But before they were returned, they’d be checked by prison guards. So Lenin used milk he’d get for meals to scribble between the lines. The virtually invisible writing would develop after a page was heated by a candle, and Lenin’s family knew the trick of deciphering his secret messages. To further mislead the guards, he’d make ink-pots out of bread and would eat them whenever he was caught writing.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a Russian novelist, dramatist and historian. His works exposed the vast Soviet labour camp system, earning him the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature and causing his exile from the USSR four years later. Solzhenitsyn was arrested in February 1945 for criticising Joseph Stalin in private correspondence with a friend. He was sentenced to an eight-year term in labour camps, to be followed by permanent internal exile. After his eventual release in 1956, encouraged by the loosening of government’s political and cultural controls, he published a short novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. It turned him into an instant celebrity but his period of official favour proved short-lived. Solzhenitsyn faced overt harassment from the authorities and was stripped of his Soviet citizenship in 1974. He lived in the United States until his return to Russia in 1994, where his works are now widely published.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Known as Mahatma or “Great Soul” in India, Gandhi is commonly seen as the father of his country. Leading the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, he developed a hugely influential doctrine of non-violent protest to gain political and social progress. Becoming a dominant figure in Indian politics, Gandhi was tried for sedition in 1922 and sentenced to six years of prison. He was released two years into his term after an attack of acute appendicitis – the British feared his death would cause India to revolt. Another prison sentence followed in 1932. While in jail, he undertook a “fast to death” to improve the status of the Hindu Untouchables. Millions fasted along with Gandhi for the first twenty-four hours. Gandhi’s plea eventually made Hindus to accept untouchables as citizens with equal rights. Having become the international symbol of a free India, Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu fanatic.
America’s favourite it-girl sent the media into frenzy in May 2007… and this time it wasn’t for her partying. Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in a Los Angeles county jail for violating her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case. Yet, just three days into her sentence the socialite was transferred from jail to house arrest on medical grounds. The decision caused accusations of favourable treatment and after a day of relative freedom, a judge sent the hotel heiress back behind bars. A weeping Hilton was led out of the court in handcuffs, calling for her mother and crying “It’s not right”. Her good behaviour ensured her an early release, after serving around half of her sentence. Hilton’s jailhouse fan mail was said to total 5,000 letters.
Marquis De Sade
The most infamous writer in the history of French literature, Donatien Alphonse François de Sade did most of writings behind bars. His scandalous private life and controversial works earned him many a jail term. By the time he died in 1814 he had spent almost three decades of his life in prison. A French aristocrat turned revolutionary, he advocated extreme freedom unrestrained by morality, religion or law. His works gave rise to the term “sadism” or enjoyment of cruelty. It’s said that in July 1789, during his stay at the notorious Bastille in Paris, de Sade shouted out of his cell’s window that his fellow inmates were being tortured and killed there. Less than two weeks later, apparently inspired by his outcry, rioters stormed the prison. De Sade’s contribution to the onset of the French Revolution remains a matter of historic debate though. De Sade spent his last years at an asylum and after his death his elder son burned many of his manuscripts.
Guy Fawkes is remembered as Britain’s most notorious traitor and one of the most famous prisoners of the Tower of London. Fawkes was a member of a group of Roman Catholics who in 1605 planned to overthrow the king and change the regime by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The plotters got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder and stored them in a cellar just under the House of Lords. The conspiracy that came to be known as the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, as Fawkes was captured in the early hours of November 5th while guarding the gunpowder. He was taken to the Tower, tortured and executed. On the very night that the plot was thwarted bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the king. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is marked every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.