Malcolm X is paroled and released from prison
On February 27, Little began serving his sentence at the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown.
While in prison, Little earned the nickname of "Satan" for his hostility toward religion. Little met a self-educated man in prison named John Elton Bembry (referred to as "Bimbi" in The Autobiography of Malcolm X). Bembry was a well-regarded prisoner at Charlestown, and Malcolm X would later describe him as "the first man I had ever seen command total respect ... with words." Gradually, the two men became friends and Bembry convinced Little to educate himself. Little developed a voracious appetite for reading, and he frequently read after the prison lights had been turned off.
In 1948, Little's brother Philbert wrote, telling him about the Nation of Islam. Like the UNIA, the Nation preached black self-reliance and, ultimately, the unification of members of the African diaspora, free from white American and European domination. Little was not interested in joining until his brother Reginald wrote, saying, "Malcolm, don't eat any more pork and don't smoke any more cigarettes. I'll show you how to get out of prison." Little quit smoking, and the next time pork was served in the prison dining hall, he refused to eat it.
When Reginald came to visit Little, he described the group's teachings, including the belief that white people are devils. Afterward, Little thought about all the white people he had known, and he realized that he'd never had a relationship with a white person or social institution that wasn't based on dishonesty, injustice, greed, and hatred. Little began to reconsider his dismissal of all religion and he became receptive to the message of the Nation of Islam. Other family members who had joined the Nation wrote or visited and encouraged Little to join.
In February 1948, mostly through his sister's efforts, Little was transferred to an experimental prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts, a facility that had a much larger library. In late 1948, he wrote a letter to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad advised him to atone for his crimes by renouncing his past and by humbly bowing in prayer to Allah and promising never to engage in destructive behavior again. Little, who always had been rebellious and deeply skeptical, found it very difficult to bow in prayer. It took him a week to bend his knees. Finally he prayed, and he became a member of the Nation of Islam. For the remainder of his incarceration, Little maintained regular correspondence with Muhammad.
On August 7, 1952, Little was paroled and was released from prison. He later reflected on the time he spent in prison after his conversion: "Months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I had never been so truly free in my life."
While in prison, Malcolm earned the nickname "Satan" due to his hatred towards the Bible, God and religion in general. While there, he met a self-educated man named Bimbi, who convinced Malcolm to educate himself. Malcolm developed an appetite for reading. After receiving a letter from his brother, Philbert, he began learning about the Nation of Islam. The letter stated, "Malcolm, don't eat any more pork and don't smoke any more cigarettes. I'll show you how to get out of prison."
For the remainder of his sentence, Malcolm maintained contact with Elijah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's leader. He started to gain fame amongst the prisoners, but remained under the eye of the authorities. He was denied early parole.
In February 1948, Malcolm was transferred to an experimental prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts, that held a much larger library. On August 7, 1952, Malcolm received parole and was released from prison.
In the prison in Charlestown, Malcolm X soon earned the nickname "Satan" for his seething hatred and cursing of God, the Bible, and all things religious. His sisters visited and wrote regularly, urging him to embrace the "black man's religion."
They introduced him to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Black Muslims. Malcolm was powerfully drawn to Muhammad's claim that the white man was the devil and that the history of the world was one long story of white men "pillaging and raping and bleeding and draining the whole world's nonwhite people."
As he absorbed Elijah Muhammad's teachings, Malcolm's confidence and dignity began to grow. He wanted to learn more, but his limited reading and writing ability made it difficult. He decided to educate himself.
He borrowed a dictionary and began systematically reading it. "In my slow, painstaking, ragged handwriting," he later remembered, "I copied into my tablet everything printed on that first page, down to the punctuation marks. I believe it took me a day. Then aloud, I read back, to myself, everything I'd written on the tablet. . . . I woke up the next morning, thinking about those words — immensely proud to realize that not only had I written so much at one time, but I'd written words that I never knew were in the world."
He proceeded to copy the dictionary's next page and eventually copied the entire book. When he was finished, he "could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying."
Through the efforts of his sister, Malcolm was transferred to an experimental prison in Norfolk, which had a large library. He spent the next five years reading. "No university would ask any student to devour literature as I did when this new world opened to me, of being able to read and understand."
His desire to read was so intense that he would slip out of bed after the 10 o'clock "lights out" order and sit on the floor near the door to his cell, where he could see dimly by the glow of a bulb in the corridor. "At one hour intervals the night guards paced past every room. Each time I heard the approaching footsteps, I jumped into bed and feigned sleep. And as soon as the guard passed, I got back out of bed onto the floor area of that light glow, where I would read for another 58 minutes. That went on until three or four every morning."
Malcolm read broadly, from Socrates and Ghandhi to Herodotus and W.E.B. DuBois. He wanted to test his new faith against the writings of historians, philosophers, and scientists. Years later, he wrote in his autobiography, "I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in my prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. . . . My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America."
When Malcolm X was paroled in 1952, he went to Chicago to meet Elijah Muhammad.