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Original Issue


There was a time in his life, recalls Malcolm Braly (Prison Games and Other Escapes, page 48), when he preferred being in prison to being in print. The phenomenon is a familiar one to penologists: an inmate gets so attached to the security and routine of prison that he cannot tolerate the uncertainties of life outside. Imprisoned for burglary, Braly had served his time and been on the outside only a few months when his moment of truth came. He had that night broken into a doctor's office and taken some trivial items. Surveying his worthless bag and reflecting on how he had strewn the burglary scene with clues ("I left everything but a signed confession"), he realized what was happening to him. And it was in that moment of agonizing insight that his career as a criminal ended and his career as a writer began.

He was caught, of course, but while at San Quentin began to read his way through the prison library. His reading led to a desire to write, prompted perhaps by a "pen" pal named Whitey who was selling Western novels. Braly got hold of a contraband typewriter and had most of a novel written before discovering that a) the typewriter was stolen and b) the novel was terrible. He rid himself of both and settled down to more serious (and licit) work.

Encouraged to continue writing by Knox Burger, then an editor at Fawcett Publications' Gold Medal Books who had seen the aborted novel, Braly finished a book called Felony Tank, which was published in paperback in 1961. It won an award from the Mystery Writers of America. Two more books followed, and when Braly was released from prison in 1966 he brought out the manuscript for yet another novel, On the Yard, a splendid prison story which Warner Bros. recently bought for a movie.

When given his parole, Braly came to New York and went to work for Burger at Gold Medal. There he reorganized the files and was soon getting manuscripts to read and criticize. He made the jump to associate editor at the publishing house in only four months.

Simultaneously, Braly succeeded in getting several magazine articles published, then was assigned to a screen-play in Hollywood by Paramount. He also got married and bought himself an old Cadillac. Last year he moved back to New York, and he now lives in Greenwich Village with wife, Cadillac and two cats.

Unsurprisingly, this writer finds his prison experience his most salable commodity, but he is not especially happy about that fact. When SI first approached him to reminisce about sporting life behind prison walls, he was doubtful. "My trouble was that I was more an observer than a jock," says Braly. "I didn't participate much, what with my reading and writing.... " Intelligent watching, of course, is another of the many things sport is about.