Curtis Dawkins, an incarcerated author recently landed a six-figure deal with a top publisher.
The man, who is in prison for life, wants the money to pay for his children’s education, but the government has other plans.
In 2016, Curtis Dawkins’ agent sent out his manuscript, “The Graybar Hotel” to Scribner. The publisher offered a $150,000 contract for the book of short stories describing the lives of Michigan inmates. After 12 years in prison for murdering a man during a failed robbery, this was the single most exciting day he could have imagined.
For Dawkins, writing was an escape from the dullness of prison life. He wanted to publish, but he never expected to succeed so spectacularly. In fact, his book was abundantly praised by critics when it came out in 2017.
When he got paid, Dawkins put the money into an education fund for his children. But this model prisoner, who likes to spend his time writing, and wants nothing but to give his offspring a good future, run into an unforeseen obstacle: Michigan’s Attorney General.
Now, the state is seeking 90 percent of Dawkins’ assets, including not only what he received from Scribner, but also, any future payments and royalties from any upcoming publications. Michigan has estimated the cost of housing Dawkins in local prisons since 2005 at over $370,000.
But Dawkins has not only been deprived of the money he made as a literary author. The prison also froze the account his family used, to send him money for his monthly expenses, like phone calls and toiletries. Whereas he used to have about $200 or $300 per month from his family, he now has to live on $25, which is what the state has left him.
This can be interpreted as cruel and unusual punishment. Also, if Dawkins had received money from a less public source to pay for his children’s education, he might have been entirely off the Attorney General’s radar.
The case could also set a disquieting precedent for the government to further complicate the lives of the families of incarcerated individuals, by making their imprisoned relatives unable to contribute financially to their education and well-being.
Curtis Dawkins is a man who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. After he discovered his love of fiction through an AA acquaintance, he went into college to study English. But during a relapse, he got high on crack and ended up murdering a man he was trying to rob.
Curtis Dawkins should be in prison, because he took someone’s life, but after he showed incredible talent and incredible strength by completing a book project and becoming a celebrated author, the state now wants to keep the fruits of his labor.
This is wrong, and should not be allowed to happen.
It is almost impossible to find a way to pay for your children’s education from prison, but Dawkins managed, and he should not be punished for his initiative. As he himself put it, “It hurts my kids... I did wrong, but those kids are completely innocent.”
At Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, where he resides, Dawkins is already working on his next book: a dystopian novel about an obscure prison, where convicts are kept in a state of hibernation.
41 U.S. states have laws that allow them to charge inmates for room and board, as well as health care. In fiscal year 2017, Michigan managed to collect over $3.7 million from prisoners. The fact that there are over 40,000 people incarcerated in Michigan, and only about 300 were able to pay those costs, speaks volumes about the inequalities of the justice system. In other words, only the poor go to jail.
But if you stop being poor while in jail, like Dawkins, the state, we are learning, can quickly fix that.