“The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict” has been authenticated by scholars at the first known example of Black prisoner literature. Written in 1858, under the name of Robert Reed, the manuscript of Austin Reed is a part of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Described as “beautiful and haunting,” the manuscript tells of Reed’s incarceration as a juvenile and as an adult. Hardly, a model prisoner, Reed writes of pulling a knife on a warden. The memoir tells of whippings and an early form of waterboarding.
Reed learned to read and write in prison. His yet unpublished memoir sheds light on what it was like to be a black man, and a prisoner, from the 1830’s to the 1850’s.