BOOK REVIEW: Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates


Title: Shakespeare Saved My Life
Author: Laura Bates
Publication: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 291


Barnes and Noble


SYNOPSIS: (From Goodreads)

Just as Larry Newton, one of the most notorious inmates at Indiana Federal Prison, was trying to break out of jail, Dr. Laura Bates was trying to break in. She had created the world’s first Shakespeare class in supermax – the solitary confinement unit.

Many people told Laura that maximum-security prisoners are “beyond rehabilitation.” But Laura wanted to find out for herself. She started with the prison’s most notorious inmate: Larry Newton. When he was 17 years old, Larry was indicted for murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. When he met Laura, he had been in isolation for 10 years.

Larry had never heard of Shakespeare. But in the characters he read, he recognized himself.

In this profound illustration of the enduring lessons of Shakespeare through the ten-year relationship of Bates and Newton, an amazing testament to the power of literature emerges. But it’s not just the prisoners who are transformed. It is a starkly engaging tale, one that will be embraced by anyone who has ever been changed by a book.


This book has been sitting on my shelf for at least the past 3-4 years.  It’s rather embarrassing now that I think about it.  I got this from the free library at my sister in laws store.  Our local library donates books to it and that is how I got it.  We recently decided that for book club we would add a non-fiction book to our reads every three months.  It was my turn to pick the book out and I knew now would be a good time to read it.

Larry Newton was a man who was put in prison at 17 for murder.  Laura Bates was a College English Professor who wanted to teach Shakespeare in the segregation unit.  She gets her wish to start the program and they meet.  This was such a good read.  Yes, some chapters read quickly, with some being maybe a page and a half at a time.  I was amazed by how much the prisoners understood and comprehended Shakespeare.  Most of the time it was understood more than the people who spent years studying the Bard.  It was truly an eye-opening read.  Education truly is lacking in prisons.  I guess I never thought about education.  I mean I knew that they had it, I have seen it on documentaries that I have watched.

What struck me the most was how similar the author and Newton’s upbringing was. They both grew up in tough areas and were living their life rough.  However, look at the life the author chose to follow compared to what Newton has.   I really liked Newton.  Yes, I know he is a convicted killer but his personality is honestly enjoyable. I know we didn’t know him prior but still. I honestly enjoyed the whole book there wasn’t anything that I thought needed to be different.  I was amazed by all of the workbooks that Newton wrote for the author.  He took his job seriously. What I really wish is that we got more of a what Newton is doing now.  Did he apply for his appeal?  Did he get it?  Was he able to stay out of segregation?  Was he transferred back out of  Wabash again or was he able to stay there?  Did the author and Newton stay in touch?  I need to do some digging to find out what happened after!!

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