There's a long and honorable tradition of books written in prison -- Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, Oscar Wilde's De Profundis, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, possibly the letters of St. Paul. And why not? There's not much else to do there but reflect. Who knows what would have become of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Gandhi if they hadn't been allowed pen and paper while serving time?
Now add former state senator Jeff Smith to that list.
Smith, you may recall, was a young politician with a bright future until he got busted for violating federal campaign laws in his 2004 congressional campaign and then lying about it. He spent eight months in a federal prison in Kentucky and three more in the custody of a halfway house in St. Louis before being released last November.
Before he went off to jail, Smith was a huge fan of Twitter. But while in the pokey, he began expanding his thoughts from 140-character soundbites, and produced a 400-page handwritten manuscript called, appropriately enough, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What They Don't Teach in PoliSci 101. Smith and his literary agent are currently shopping the book around to publishers.
"I would say there's a healthy dose of analysis [in my book] of places where scholarly theory comports with reality that I encountered or does not," Smith told Student Life, the student paper at Washington University, where he once taught. "In a lot of cases, it kind of falls short."
For instance, nothing Smith learned in his academic study of political science prepared him for the shitstorm that arose when it was discovered that he sent out negative advertisements about his 2004 congressional election opponent, Russ Carnahan.
"I spent over a decade involved in community service in St. Louis and then public service," Smith said. "And because of a mistake that was pretty needless -- and ultimately didn't make a difference in the election that I was running -- I made a mistake in the heat of a campaign that really undid a lot of the good I had worked to accomplish.
"In the original mistake, the spotlight wasn't on at all," he continued. "It was a five-minute conversation in the middle of a campaign that no one was really paying attention to at that time," he said. "It was in a time before the spotlight was on me, in a time before I realized that it would come back to haunt me, was when I originally slipped up."
Smith hopes his book will be published later this year or in early 2012. In the meantime, he's on the academic job market and will be contributing to the Huffington Post with his thoughts on urban education and the federal budget.