Life on the Inside: Roy Harper Talks About the Origins of SHANK and HEIST

shankShank started life December, 2004, entitled Tool’s Law, Book One, The Pendent. I was incarcerated in Mississippi’s one and only supermax. A place better known as Unit 32. People housed there were those who were difficult to control, dangerous or escape risks.


Unit 32 was a place where you encountered wild people. Crazy people. Dangerous people. People with nicknames like Graveyard, Psycho and Boogerilla. Violence and the screams of the insane were commonplace.


The deafening bang of non-lethal guns was frequent and it was all in a day’s work when you wake up with burning eyes, gasping for breath due to air laden with smoke from a fire, mace or gas. Often you spent the entire day dealing with the effects of multiple fires, floods and staff asserting their control with weapons and chemicals.


In addition to this normal madness I was subjected to a weekly procedure which was designed to keep me physically and mentally disrupted. Off balance.


Once a week I was moved to a different cell and “shook down”. Often my property would simply be dumped out like trash and scattered across the cell, disregarding even the pretext of searching for contraband. All property, including manuscript, slung in disarray around the cell.


heistWhen the weekly moves and shakedowns began I feared they might continue a month or two… I was wrong. They continued for 14 years.


It was difficult to keep anything useful as research because reading material was routinely confiscated as non-essential or excessive property.


Pencils and pens were not allowed. The only writing instruments allowed were “flex pens – a non-rigid pen designed to prevent use as a weapon.


From this tortuous madness I needed relief. Unable to run or saw my way to freedom I had to find another form of relief. Taking stock of the sparse items I had to work with the options were few. I had flex pen, paper, my mind and stubborn determination.


Conclusion: I was physically defeated and controlled. Though my ass was locked down they hadn’t yet managed to control or destroy my mind. My thoughts. My creativity.


I decided to write. But there were problems. No means of recording my work. No word processor. I had only flex pens and my cursive to work with… One thing at a time, I decided, and started writing.


The story became my reality. My job. My escape.


With a lengthy criminal background and three prison escapes behind me people have suggested I write about my escapes or my life history. Uncomfortable with the idea of letting the world into my head and life I turned instead to fiction, and created a protagonist imbued with my own personality and code of conduct – however twisted it may be.


Building from my own experiences in life, crimes and  prison, protagonist David “Tool “ Roney was brought to life and now remains a very real person to me.


[For readers who might be interested, the prison characters in Shank were based off real people. The character Madman has since been executed. The crazy old black man, Abe, and Choke had their death sentences commuted to life. Abe died in prison a few years ago; he was in his 90s. And the kid, Choke, I’m happy to say, has since been paroled and  now lives a crime-free life in another state.]


The story was completed on October 2005. Completed but far from ready. It was 1,168 pages of my cursive handwriting, and no means of getting it digitally recorded.


41apeh-YgdL._UX250_A number of generous people stepped up to solve the problem, but primarily it was Jenny Evans who really got it done. Jenny came into my life as a film producer for Raw TV but has since went far beyond the requirements of the profession and made a stalled dream reality. She got the manuscript typed and recorded – ready for a publisher. I’m forever indebted to her and thankful for her friendship.

Shank is free for Kindle Unlimited readers. Heist is also available on Amazon.