The first man I met in prison who made any positive impression on me whatever was a fellow inmate, "Bimbi.
He was a light, kind of red-complexioned Negro, as I was; about my height, and he had freckles. Bimbi, an old-time burglar, had been in many prisons. In the license plate shop where our gang worked, he operated the machine that stamped out the numbers. I was along the conveyor belt where the numbers were painted.
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Bimbi was the first Negro convict I'd known who didn't respond to "Wha'cha know, Daddy? Normally, white prisoners wouldn't think of listening to Negro prisoners' opinions on anything, but guards, even, would wander over close to hear Bimbi on any subject. He would have a cluster of people riveted, often on odd subjects you never would think of.
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He would prove to us, dipping into the science of human behavior, that the only difference between us and outside people was that we had been caught. He liked to talk about historical events and figures. When he talked about the history of Concord, where I was to be transferred later, you would have thought he was hired by the Chamber of Commerce, and I wasn't the first inmate who had never heard of Thoreau until Bimbi expounded upon him.
Bimbi was known as the library's best customer. What fascinated me with him most of all was that he was the first man I had ever seen command total respect…with his words. I had wanted his friendship, not that kind of advice. I might have cursed another convict, but nobody cursed Bimbi. He told me I should take advantage of the prison correspondence courses and the library.
So, feeling I had time on my hands, I did begin a correspondence course in English…Through the correspondence exercises and lessons, some of the mechanics of grammar gradually began to come back to me. After about a year, I guess, I could write a decent and legible letter. About then, too, influenced by having heard Bimbi often explain word derivations, I quietly started another correspondence course—in Latin.
On this day in , year-old Malcolm Little entered the state prison in Charlestown to begin serving a sentence for burglary. While in jail, he joined the Black Muslims, a new branch of Islam. Burning to know more about his faith, he began a campaign to improve his reading and writing. After copying an entire dictionary page-by-page, he read every book the prison library had in philosophy, history, literature, and science. He later said, "Months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned.
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In fact, up to then, I had never been so truly free in my life. His desire to read was so intense that he would slip out of bed after the 10 o'clock "lights out" order and sit on the floor near the door to his cell, where he could see dimly by the glow of a bulb in the corridor. Malcolm X, one of the most influential black leaders of the twentieth century, found his life's calling in jail. During the seven years he spent in Massachusetts state prisons, Malcolm X joined the Black Muslims, educated himself, and became an outspoken defender of black nationalism.
By the time he was paroled in , he was well equipped to advance the Black Muslim cause. Born Malcolm Little, he was the son of a Baptist minister from Omaha. Release Dates. Official Sites.
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