The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell
Joe Loya

MEMOIR | 2003 | 350 pages

Growing up in a devoutly religious family with a father who believed in firm discipline and who was also studying for a Protestant ministry, Joe Loya seemed a blessed child. When he was seven, however, his life was drastically altered when his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Upon her untimely death, Joe's pious and studious father became increasingly violent, brutally beating his two young sons. For Joe, this was the starting point of a life of crime: petty theft, forgery, fraud, and ultimately, bank robbery. When Joe was finally arrested after holding up his twenty-fourth bank, he was sent to prison, where he would serve seven years, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. There, alone in his cell for two years, he was finally able to forgive his father, finding clarity, cultural insight, and redemption through writing.


Genuinely thrilling.
— The New Yorker
An astonishing true story and also a meaningful one. . . . What emerges is a complex temperament, at once writerly and beastly.
— San Francisco Chronicle, (selected as a Best Book of 2004)
Few experience the life that Loya has led and survive to recount it so compellingly. . . . His story carries no hint of victimization or senti- mentality.
— USA Today
It would be tempting to label this book a prison memoir, but it is more powerful than that. It is a book about doing what we must all do, one way or another: come to terms with ourselves.
— Houston Chronicle
Make no mistake: The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell is no postmodern novel posing as an outlaw’s confession—it’s the real thing.
— Austin-American Statesman
You’ll be taken with the energy and urgency of Loya’s writing and, above all, with the sweetness and beauty of his discoveries.
— Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Angela’s Ashes
I will be retelling Joe Loya’s story for years as a testament to the trans- formative power of writing. In his darkest moment, corrupted and blame- ful, he picked up a pen. The introspection required in filling up blank paper saved his soul in a way religion and family never could. His story will no doubt do the same for many readers.
— Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do with My Life?
Joe Loya made a lot of slick getaways, but none as compelling as his es- cape from his own dark unravelings. To read this book is to witness the strangulation, mutation, and last-ditch salvation of a human soul, a soul so honest and brave, and through it all, endearing, that you never—as black as things become—stop rooting for it. I strongly recommend that you do some time with Joe Loya.
— Mary Roach, author of Stiff
This is the most complete and unsparing portrait of a descent into wrongdoing and the painful climb back to civility that I’ve ever read.
— Mark Salzman, author of Lying Awake and Iron and Silk
This is a stunning memoir that I could not put down—it is funny, shocking, sad, wise, and, ultimately, deeply moving. It will linger with me for a long time. Joe Loya has performed a rare feat in both life and in his writing: he has understood and transcended his past.
— Abraham Verghese, author of My Own Country and The Tennis Partner