Whitefox author Adam Leigh visits HM Wandsworth Prison to talk about his books and share a collective passion of reading.

By   Zoila Marenco 4 min read

Whitefox author Adam Leigh recently had the unique opportunity to speak to the book group at HM Prison Wandsworth about his two self-published novels. In what proved to be an inspiring and insightful session, Adam was able to share his books with an entirely new audience and hear from a readership demographic he hadn’t interacted with to date. During this visit, he discussed a vast array of topics and themes with the group, who showed not only enthusiasm for his novels but also a deep understanding of his work. The experience served as a reminder of the power of literature to transport readers beyond their circumstances. 

Leigh’s first novel, The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus, was published in 2021, followed by Chicken Wars in 2023.

Adam Leigh Whitefox

A different kind of book group

Recently, I was asked by an old colleague who runs the monthly book group at HM Prison Wandsworth if I wanted to come in to discuss my books. Since I am often told by my family that a captive audience is needed to enjoy my sense of humour, it seemed the perfect opportunity to inflict my comic novels on a group of men unable to escape from my jokes. 

In the run up to the day, I got carried away and imagined that when they read Chicken Wars, the tale of a kosher butcher falling in love with a vegan café owner, it would be as redemptive for them as Tim Robbins defiantly playing ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ over the public address to the inmates of Shawshank. 

This self-aggrandisement was punctured by the reality of going into a crumbling and grim Victorian jail. As I passed through the complex security procedure, all I could hear in my head was the metallic clank of giant doors and Ronnie Barker’s voice saying: ‘Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence.’ 

The Category C wing where the library was located was exactly as you’d expect; noisy, cold and chaotic. The tiny cells had bunk beds and a toilet with a flimsy shower curtain for (in)adequate privacy. There were not many guards visible and a few prisoners leaned over the railings looking bored. 

Yet when I entered the library, everything relaxed. Any worry about the reception my Jewish-themed book might receive evaporated when the first prisoner arrived. An exuberant American with a kippah on his head, he clutched my book to his chest as if he didn’t want to share it and shouted ‘I luuuuuved it’. Later, he asked the question we all want answered: ‘Can a rabbi be good-looking?’

Adam Leigh Books at HM Wandsworth Prison

Ten people attended, and they had all read at least one of my two books, which we had sent in advance. Articulate and insightful about the themes of both, they did not hold back in making valid observations about the limitations of my characterisation or plotting. Above all, they were tremendously polite and extremely grateful that I was there.

The conversation was funny and unpredictable. When I asked if they had ever lied in the pursuit of love, the core theme of Chicken Wars, I was regaled with tales of infidelity and managing relationships concurrently that displayed high levels of ingenuity if not moral integrity.

Half the group had come straight from their creative writing course in the morning and told me about their various projects. Two charming individuals, a bit younger than the rest, announced that they were writing a series of dystopian novels about AI taking over the world and took copious notes after asking a series of questions about the publishing process. I bluffed a few answers that will be revealed as total nonsense when a smart agent gets them a massive publishing deal and sells the film rights.

I was told not to ask why they were there. Not knowing made the afternoon much more interesting, allowing us to focus on discussing the power of storytelling. On average, they read two books a week to relieve the monotony of their incarceration and all that mattered was discovering engaging and well-told narratives that transported them somewhere else. 

When it was time to leave they asked me to sign their books, which I always find an embarrassing experience as I have forgotten how to use a pen, let alone write legibly. And as for a decent message, I couldn’t think how to say anything meaningful.

I never found out who any of them were other than their first names, nor why they were there or how they felt about their life inside. But, for a very happy hour, we shared our collective passion for reading and acknowledged the wonderful distraction and the wisdom it can provide.

Isn’t that the hallmark of a great book group?

Zoila Marenco
Zoila Marenco
Zoila has five years of experience in client management. She transitioned from working in an organisation offering talent management services to a tech startup specialising in behavioural change in teams. Her experience with clients and communities prompted her move to marketing, taking on the role of a community manager to help Whitefox build, expand and oversee online communities.