When Henry Roi first told me about Roy Harper and Tool's Law I was intrigued because crime fiction written by folks with first-hand experience is often extra potent, gnarly, authentic or unflinching. The following piece was written by Roi about Harper's experience writing the Tool's Law novels and does not focus on his crimes or multiple escapes. You can learn more about those elsewhere.
The Afflictions of Outlaw Author Roy Harper
(Previously published as Tribulations of an Author Convict)
by Henry Roi
PR Manager, Crime Wave Press
Tool's Law was written in a hostile environment, a Mississippi Supermax, where the strongest of minds deteriorated from incessant chaos, government oppression, and inhumane treatment condoned by local culture.
In 2004 Roy wrote a novel. Money was the original motivator for penning Tool's Law, though as the process developed, it became an outlet, an escape from a harsh reality. Far more than just a way to make money; the project became a source of pride and the first legitimate hard work Roy had ever embarked on without grinding his teeth in reluctance.
No computers, word processors or typewriters were available. Paper was hard to get, and because of the high-security environment "regular" ink pens were banned. 1,162 pages handwritten multiple times to render a final clean draft with a "flex-pen" (a plastic ink cartridge with a soft, flexible rubber shroud). It took years to complete.
Unit 32 was filled with the worst-behaved prisoners in the state. Mentally ill or terribly disruptive, the psychotic, violent and juvenile actions pervaded the buildings without interruption, exacerbated by policies and staff that offered no incentives for good behavior – no T.V., radio, fans, or even shoes. They acted like animals because they were treated as such.
High Risk inmates like Roy can expect weekly shakedowns as well as movement to different cells. Officers routinely trash property, out of spite or under orders, and do not care about the perceived value of a prisoner’s property. Family photos, artwork, cherished letters from loved ones, legal work, poems, and manuscripts like Roy’s were commonly destroyed or taken during these movements and shakedowns.
It takes several days to get mentally adjusted to a new cell, with new neighbors, noises, smells, critters, floods, fires, and fears of being scalded, stabbed, or assaulted with excrement. After acclimating to a new cell, Roy worked on Tool’s Law during lulls in the chaos.
In 2006, the ACLU took interest in several lawsuits filed about inhumane treatment in Unit 32. Roy worked closely with the Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project, Miss Margaret Winter, who used a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling filed by Roy in previous years to supplement the class-action that eventually closed down Unit 32.
A federal judge ordered MDOC to provide Long-Term Segregation inmates, including High-Risk, incentive programs that allowed well-behaved prisoners a chance to earn more privileges and freedom of movement.
In 2008, Deputy Commission E.L. Sparkman created the High-Risk Incentive Program. Roy was the poster-man Mr. Sparkman used to promote the program, “selling” it to other states and even the federal system. Mr. Sparkman’s change of correctional philosophy – from take everything and lock ‘em down to providing them incentives for good behavior – was a national success, and the Supermax facilities around the country began closing as other states took note.
Out of appreciation for Roy’s help and good behavior during the development of the High-Risk Incentive Programs, Mr. Sparkman helped Roy with Tool’s Law, appointing a deputy warden to have the manuscript scanned and burned onto DVDs.
In 2012 RAW TV producer Jenny Evans contacted Roy to interview him for a feature in National Geographic’s Breakout! series. RAW TV wanted to do a documentary about Roy’s May, 2000, escape from Unit 32 Supermax. Miss Evans could not pay Roy for the story, but offered to help with Tool’s Law. It was her idea to use Facebook for recruiting friends to help type it up, and over the next six months the entire manuscript was typed by more than a dozen awesome, caring people Roy had never met and would never know.
Three more years went by before any more progress was made. The handwritten pages were typed, but they needed to be edited, proofread, and submitted to publishers. The Incentive Program had more privileges, but Internet access was off-limits. And Roy had no help on the outside… but he had help on the inside.
After only selling a handful of books in a matter of months they changed their strategy and began submitting to publishing houses around the world.
As escape risks housed in maximum security they operated under constant fear of the phone being discovered. The Incentive Program did not lessen the frequency of shakedowns. Their manuscripts, queries, sample chapters – every file created for submitting to publishers and agents – was at stake.
Crime Wave Press. With Tom Vater's editing the first two volumes of Tool's Law were released in 2016 (Shank in May, Heist in November). Roy has completed a prequel to the Tool’s Law series and fans have another Roy Harper crime thriller to look forward to in the near future.
Listen to Roy speak with Greg Barth on Noir on the Radio
Watch Breakout - Escape From Supermax about Roy at National Geographic.