Prison for Writers: How Romania promotes Literature

When bloggers don’t write it’s not for lack of ideas. If that was their problem, they would never have had the idea of harassing the rest of the world – innocently and unsuspectingly stumbling through the internet – with their thoughts without being asked to do so in the first place. They don’t write for lack of time, lack of a quiet place or lack of money. Because the lack of the latter forces them to sell their time in other ways, prostituting themselves to clients instead of writing for a Pulitzer.

When starving writers meet, sooner or later you will hear one of them say “I would need to go to prison for half a year in order to write without any distractions”. As someone who has actually been to one of these institutions – albeit only for a week, during which I had no access to paper or pencil outside of interrogations, thus not permitting me to use that time productively – I always found this idea slightly inappropriate.

But Romania has made this writer’s dream come true and even provides incentives to creativity that expresses itself in writing. Inmates in Romanian prisons can shorten their remaining prison term by writing and publishing. Hence the saying “publish or perish”. You get 30 days off your sentence for each scientific work. And the inmates really do write. 76 books by inmates got published in 2014, often several by the same author. Fraudsters, money launderers, bribers and bribees suddenly turn creative.

But when fraudsters become creative, experience suggests that this goes beyond the actual writing. Just like they did with their Bachelor and Masters theses, they hire ghostwriters who churn out book after book. Quality doesn’t matter in this program, it’s only the volume and the number of publications that count. The content isn’t checked. Thus it comes as no surprise that it is mainly politicians and managers, of whom there are many in Romanian prisons – still not enough of them, my Romanian readers will interject -, who avail themselves of this opportunity. They have the money to employ “research assistants”. Meanwhile, some of the other inmates can’t even properly read or write.

As much as this unjust system deserves to be criticized, at least one aspect has improved since Ceausescu’s time. It used to be that writing got you into prison, now it gets you out of prison. And maybe one of the books will turn out to be a good one. After all, Romania lays bare literary talents in the most unexpected places, as Varujan Vosganian, the former Minister of Economy and Commerce, proved with his novel The Book of Whispers.

I am writing these lines in the park in Bolyai Street, outside of the prison in Targu Mures, but I am not creative enough to contrive a crime that I could commit spontaneously, that wouldn’t really harm anybody and that would – considering my flimsy criminal record so far – lead to more than a fine, but to less than the death penalty. Additionally, it should be something special, because just like you don’t want to toss off a boring romance story, you don’t want to commit a commonplace crime. It should make the evening news or the Romanian equivalent of the Criminal Justice Review. For Christmas, I would like to get a copy of the Romanian Penal Code to stimulate my creativity.

“I have written all of these myself.”

(This article also appeared in Medium. – Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Books, Law, Romania and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Prison for Writers: How Romania promotes Literature

  1. Pingback: Gefängnis für Schriftsteller: Literaturförderung in Rumänien | Der reisende Reporter

  2. Gary says:

    Hello , I was born to an American father “military” and a German mother my brother was born in Germany and carried dual citizenship which he had to give up at the age of 18 so he could remain in U.S. So me and my sister never tried to get dual citizenship ! Could we still get it? How long would it take and cost ? My mother didn’t recieve u.s. Citizen until I was 5

  3. Roxana says:

    It’s even funnier using a still photo from one of the best films of all time, Shawshank Redemption, yet no one notices even that. So it must just be post-Trump win mass hysteria. Not a good time for writers anywhere when no one’s listening. :)

  4. It is terrible the fact that quality is not considered.

    • Multumesc!
      I may have to go for Art. 382, 383 next Halloween. And I see that as a spy, I was actually running a huge risk (Art. 400). Art. 427 is beautifully antiquated.
      The Penal Code is always a very interesting book to read, even for non-lawyers, I think.

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