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Free Study Guide-The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X-Free Notes
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Chapters 10 & 11

Notes

These two chapters give the readers an idea of Malcolm's years in the prison. At the same time readers also learn about the state of prisons in the U.S. during that time. The conditions of the State prisons (except for the Norfolk Prison colony) depicted in the book only reinforce the statement that Malcolm makes that prisons can never reform a man. For here, he is locked up like an animal behind bars and his identity is limited to a number given to him.

Despite these shortcomings the prisons serve as a university for Malcolm, where he re-educates himself and improves his English. It is here that he learns about Elijah Muhammad, his teachings and is converted to Islam. He enters the prison as a foul-mouthed, convict hooked on drugs, and leaves the prison totally transformed. In the prison Malcolm gets an opportunity to reflect on his past and his hustling days in Harlem.

It is interesting to note that despite all his crimes, Malcolm's family members, be it Ella, Reginald or Hilda, all are there to help him. The support system created by his family was one of the factors responsible for the change in Malcolm. That is not to undermine Malcolm's own determination and will power. If it were not for his strong will and indomitable spirit, he could never have been able to break the habit of drugs. Later, when he sits and looks back at his past (his evil ways), he genuinely feels remorse and prays for forgiveness. This incident reveals Malcolm's honesty and clear conscience.


As far as the teachings of the Nation-which tell Malcolm that whites are 'devils', is concerned, Malcolm rejects them later. However, when he was in the prison the idea (of whites=devils) had its attraction. After all, right from his childhood, whites had harassed his family-the Ku Klux Klan members, the white population of Lansing which refused to give work to Malcolm's mother, the patronizing Swerlins, the white school teacher who hurt Malcolm by telling him to take up carpentry instead of law. Later, the white police who were always chasing him. All these factors made him accept the idea that all whites are indeed devils.

In fact, Malcolm states that most black youth, who had suffered at the hands of the racist and unjust system in America then, would have readily accepted the idea. That is perhaps the reason why a large number of ex-convicts joined the Nation of Islam. Another reason for so many ex-convicts joining the Nation was the manner it accepted all its members, forgiving all of their past sins and giving them an opportunity to change. This aspect is important because no society accepts an ex-convict easily. The label of 'criminal' stays on even after the person has served his sentence.

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