By Glenn Langohr
As most of your readers already know, you’ve spent some time in prison but have now turned your life around. Can you tell us what happened to land you there and how your change/rehabilitation came about?
Two good parents raised me, but they divorced when I was 12 years old. Being a momma’s boy, I was brokenhearted when I didn’t go with her. I called my dad out for ruining everything and that didn’t work out well for me. I ran away. I got into selling drugs. The law interrupted me, many times.
I spent 10 years in some of California’s worst prisons with 4 years in solitary confinement for riots and investigations.
The prison system didn’t rehabilitate me, writing did. California has 35 state prisons and they are violent and gang riddled. While “doing time” it is all about surviving. I started waking up at 4 am to write before surviving another possible riot took over my being. Eventually, I built up enough momentum writing books to know in my heart that I had a new life.
You are obviously quite (rightly) dedicated to highlighting the plight of prisoners in the US correctional system (as well as the abuses therein). Your personal experiences aside, anyone who has had dealings with it can understand why this is such an important cause to you, but most people don’t have any such experience. How would you respond to critics who would argue that prisoners get what they deserve – do the crime, do the time types?
First I would say that some crimes are worse than others. I think we are too easy on Child Molesters and Rapists. But, are we the Leaders of the Free World? No, we are the leaders of the incarcerated world. In California alone we have 35 state prisons that are bursting at the seams, with more people behind bars than any other country other than China! [Editor’s note: Actually, while China does have a larger total prison population, we more than double theirs, per capita.] Why? Because we are locking humans in prison who are addicted to drugs, or who are below the poverty level, and therefore undesirable. That could be your kid, your mother, and your neighbor.
In prison, that addiction is bred into an affliction much harder to escape, where gangs are the solution, spitting out tattooed-down, displaced humans, without any job placement or anywhere to live.
So really, most of the prisoners are not getting what they deserve, because we look at drug addiction like alcoholism these days – like a disease. They need treatment, not prison. I am working on adapting one of my books, My Hardest Step, into a TV show about Addiction and Recovery. One of the girls who did a casting call has been to prison. It didn’t help. A drug treatment center did work. She has been sober for over 2 years and has her son back in her life.
What do you see as the way forward in terms of prison reform? How does this come out in your books?
Prison reform isn’t going to happen until there isn’t enough tax money to keep the current system going. I’m just being real. The Politicians and Media promote the need for prisons to keep the rest of us safe. To get elected, you have to be tough on crime. To stay elected, you have to be tough on crime. This starts with the D.A. In one of my high profile drug cases, the head D.A. at the time had aspirations to become the Attorney General for the U.S., and for that to even be a possibility, he couldn’t look weak on crime, so he made sure he had a 99% conviction record. Ten years later, his son is doing time for heroin addiction.
My books take you inside of prison survival between the gangs and politics and what life looks like Inside.
If real prison reform were to happen, it would have to be extreme. How about work programs instead of prison? How about prisoners actually learning how to get a job while in prison with computer training, resume training, job placement, housing placement and a real chance upon release?
How about only sending people to prison for violent crimes and giving the rest programs for treatment and self-help?
It is also clear that you are a man of faith. What role has that faith played in your work? How does it come out in your characters? How is it part of your ideas for reforming the prison system?
Thank you for bringing this up. I read the Bible in prison every day and found hope that God restores the hopeless.
My characters are divided into two groups, those who are trying to find their conscience, and those who aren’t, with a good cop verses bad cop theme as well.
In my books, my main character chases redemption by knowing he has to help other lost souls find hope and a new life away from prison and the drug war, yet just surviving takes almost all of his attention.
How have you been able to partner your efforts with research and/or faith-based organizations to spread the word on your mission?
Not that well. The church I attend is amazing because of a few things. The worship band is out of this world. Our teaching Pastor is amazing also. He loves my books. But they and most churches don’t want to face their own issues, drug addiction in their family and their community.
My writing has progressed from 10-Drug War and Prison books that are in Print, Kindle and Audio Book, to 4 Prayer Books, to my most recent self help books. My Hardest Step is based on the Twelve Step Programs.
Most, if not all, of your books are based on real-life events. How much did you write while you were still in prison? How do you deal with the possibility of getting sued by people who may recognize themselves, particularly the more well-known you and your work become?
I spent 7 years writing my first book, Roll Call, in prison – on the back of my trial transcript paperwork. Once out of prison, I turned down a couple of big publishers to self publish. I got a review from Kirkus Discoveries Nielson Media out of New York, that blew my mind. “A harrowing, down-and-dirty depiction–sometimes reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic–of America’s war on drugs, by former dealer and California artist Langohr. Locked up for a decade on drugs charges and immersed in both philosophical tomes and modern pulp thrillers…”
As for being sued for writing such raw and penetrating content, I use this quote in TV interviews: “I paint with the true colors of life on a fictional landscape to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.”
My newest Prison book, The Art of War: A Memoir of Life in Prison, is the most controversial yet. While I was finishing up my sentence at a hard-core prison on the California border of Mexico, there was so much violence, you just wouldn’t believe half of it. Being a White inmate where over 80% of the population is Mexican or Black, it wasn’t easy. We had a prison guard who gave us information about other inmates, one of which was a notorious “Child Molester”. You’ll have to read the book to see what happened. It is on sale for 99 cents, in Kindle format, at Amazon.
What one thing you would like for our readers to know about you? Your work?
“Jesus is my landlord.” I got that quote from a homeless woman who told it to the police who were harassing her for living in her car. They stopped dead in their tracks and let her go. I used that quote in one of my books. God bless you.
“I went from obsessively pacing my cell to realizing that if I find a way to write what’s in my head, I can find a way out of this hole.” — Glenn Langohr
- ‘5 Questions’ Interview With Glenn Langohr! @rollcallthebook (randomizeme.net)
- Glenn Langohr Spent 10 Years in Prison, With 4 Years in Solitary, Before Becoming a Best Selling Author (ireport.cnn.com)
- Orange is the New Black stars make prison reform the new hot topic (tv.msnbc.com)
- The Farm: Angola USA (The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison) (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com
- Felix’s Story Serialized Pt. 2 (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Pam Bondi has her “Cat in the Rain” Moment (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- The Ultimate Bullying Target: Deaf in Prison (lipreadingmom.com)
- Hey, They Made Their Choices… (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Book:The U.S. Federal Prison System (en.wikipedia.org)
- Netflix hit ‘Orange is the New Black’ stars talk prison reform on Melissa Harris-Perry (thegrio.com)