I just finished writing my memoir. One person I write about extensively in my book is in prison. Everything I wrote it absolutely true but he’s not going to like it. Since he’s in prison, he can’t sue me, right?
I am not an attorney. I’m just someone who’s been in the publishing business for 18 years and I’ve seen pretty much anything and everything, including authors getting sued after penning facts about past incidents in their lives. Please consult with an attorney for legal advice.
Just because someone is in prison doesn’t mean they can’t, or won’t, sue you. If they find out about your book, read it, and don’t like what you’ve written about them, yes, they can definitely sue you. And, since prisoners have a lot of time on their hands, he may very well decide to make your life miserable.
Not all attorneys are upstanding corporate citizens and many are happy to file frivolous lawsuits, hoping for a quick settlement and, subsequently, a quick payday.
If this person is violent, they may pursue something more daunting than a legal challenge to your book so you need to be very careful. Many authors, intent on sharing their stories with the world, insist that “telling the truth” will prevent any lawsuit but nothing could be further from the truth. The legal fees associated with just one lawsuit can bankrupt someone, even if you win in the end.
Before you decide to publish your book, I encourage you to hire an attorney to review your entire manuscript. You might consider writing under a pseudonym, and changing the names and locations of people and incidents in your story. However, even that won’t protect you if anyone reads that book, and can figure who he is. Another option is to completely fictionalize the events, and publishing it as a novel. You can even include a statement like this on the copyright page as part of your fiction disclaimer: “This novel is loosely based on actual events.” If you do that, I still encourage you to write under a pseudonym.