15 Famous Criminals' Surprising Prison Pastimes
Life in prison is harsh, but you find little ways to get through the day, even if you’ve been cut off from the serial killing that once provided you your only joy. Maybe you discover a latent talent or passion or just find meaning in annoying the hell out of people. Either way, the most extreme criminals can find the most extreme ways to occupy their time served.
John Wayne Gacy Became an Accomplished Artist
At some point while serving time for the rape and murder of 33 young boys and men, John Wayne Gacy picked up a paintbrush and never really put it down. His art was … interesting, often depicting skeletons or his own persona of “Pogo the Clown,” but we can’t really comment on quality, considering a non-zero number of art galleries have shown and sold his paintings, one of which (a Pogo self-portrait) sold for $20,000.
Ed Kemper Narrates Audiobooks
On the off-chance that you were a blind audiobook fan in the ‘80s, you might be more intimately familiar with the voice of the “Co-Ed Killer” than you’d like. As part of a prison project to help the blind, Kemper narrated hundreds of audiobooks, including such well-known titles as Star Wars and even Flowers in the Attic. You’d think they’d keep him away from the sexually violent ones, but hey, it’s for a good cause.
David Berkowitz Wrote a Book
In 2006, the Son of Sam published the cringe-titled Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz, an account of his journey to Jesus behind bars. Ironically, thanks to the laws bearing his name, he can’t keep any of the money generated by its sale.
Anna Sorokin Finally Got Her Gallery
The famous “fake heiress” also dipped her toe in the art scene, which makes sense, because the whole reason she was in prison was for scamming money to open a gallery. From prison, she helped organize a show titled “Free Anna Delvey” at a Manhattan gallery that featured several artists’ takes on her whole deal, including a famous forger who recreated Sorokin’s own prison pieces in a sort of postmodern Russian nesting doll of art.
Scott Peterson is Basically Living in a High-Security Resort
Despite serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, the modern era’s most famous wife killer probably lives better than you. He reportedly has a steady cash flow that affords him luxury food from the prison commissary and lives in an “exclusive” area of the facility that includes ‘round-the-clock access to a rooftop deck with essentially a private basketball court. We’re not suggesting that you kill any pregnant women, but when was the last time you got to shoot hoops in the middle of the day?
O.J. Simpson: TV Critic
The Juice had the displeasure of experiencing the dramatization of one of the most controversial periods of his life while serving time for amazingly unrelated charges, and he was not happy about it. Though the Nevada prison where he was being held didn’t actually carry any channels that aired The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, he released a statement through his lawyer that he felt Johnny Cochran was “unfairly depicted as ruthless and overly ambitious” and allegedly went around telling people Cuba Gooding, Jr. was too short and his head was too small.
The Menendez Brothers Took Up Marriage
After being sentenced to life without parole for murdering their parents, Lyle and Erik Menendez accrued a collective total of not one, not two, but three wives, all of whom they met after the women wrote them letters in prison. Lyle married a former model in 1996 and then, after she found out he was cheating on her via U.S.P.S. and left him, a lawyer in 2003. Between his brother’s marriages, Erik married a deeply troubled older widow, but they’re still going strong, so many blessings to the happy couple.
Mark David Chapman Ran a Legal Library
During a 2010 parole board hearing, John Lennon’s killer revealed that he’d become “a certified law library clerk out of Albany” and spent his days helping fellow prisoners “with their law library work.” He presumably couldn’t work in the regular library for fear he’d discover that Salinger wrote other stuff.
Ted Bundy Helped Solve Crimes
In 1984, the team working to catch the Green River Killer received a letter from an unexpected volunteer: Ted Bundy, living on death row at the time, who had developed a (definitely gross) interest in the case. He was no Hannibal Lecter -- Gary Ridgeway remained a free man long after Bundy was executed -- but he did advise police to keep tabs on the killer’s body-dumping sites because he would probably return, which he did.
Charles Manson Released an Album -- With Henry Rollins
In 1984, the fearsome cult leader wrote to Henry Rollins after seeing him on MTV to say he thought Rollins was “pretty cool,” which is true, because in addition to all the other reasons, he didn’t drop the letter and run screaming in no particular direction like a normal, uncool person. Instead, he wrote him back, and eventually, Manson asked Rollins to produce an album of “acoustic pop songs” for him. Only five copies of the album were released, two for Rollins and three apparently for Manson.
Jeffrey Dahmer Was a Prison Prankster
Getting caught did little to humble the Milwaukee Monster, who -- despite taking a Bible correspondence course and getting baptized in prison -- enjoyed making everyone in the joint uncomfortable by sculpting his food into corpses that he decorated with ketchup blood and posting signs advertising “Cannibals Anonymous” meetings. At least one person was deeply unappreciative of Dahmer’s sense of humor: fellow inmate Christopher Scarver, who got so annoyed with Dahmer’s behavior that he beat him to death.
Charles Cullen Donated a Kidney
In 2005, Charles Cullen, a former nurse who killed at least 29 of his patients, petitioned the court to allow him to donate a kidney to the relative of a former girlfriend. The gesture wasn’t entirely altruistic: Some saw it as an attempt to manipulate the courts, as he refused to attend his sentencing -- that is, his victims’ families’ only opportunity to force him to face them -- if he wasn’t allowed to donate. It’s not like they thought that highly of him in the first place.
Al Capone Made Shoes
Capone may have been the big boss in Chicago, but at the Atlanta Penitentiary, he was the humble servant of a shoe factory, working the machine that stitched soles onto shoes. He was already suffering from the syphilis that would kill him, and he was bullied so badly by other inmates who tried to shake him down for the money they assumed he still had, he had to be moved to Alcatraz. Yeah: Alcatraz was a mercy.
Rose West and Myra Hindley Teamed Up, Then Faced Off
Myra Hindley, who committed the “Moors murders” of five children in the ‘60s, and Rose West, who murdered at least nine young women with her husband in the ‘70s and ‘80s, are two of England’s most notorious killers. They also wound up at the same prison at the same time, where they first fell in love and later became bitter enemies, battling for control of their territory. It was like Orange is the New Black but with scarier ladies and fancy accents.
The Unabomber Befriended Timothy McVeigh and the World Trade Center Bomber
After 17 years of unabombing, Ted Kaczynski arrived at prison and immediately found his people, specifically Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the horrific Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, both of whom happened to occupy the cells on either side of Kaczynski. They worked out together and, most concerningly, enjoyed debating politics and religion. Thankfully, none of them are ever getting out, so we have (mostly) nothing to fear from the terrorist Chipmunks.
Top image: FBI/Wikimedia Commons