Collins lived in [[Roxbury, BostonRoxbury]], a predominantly African-American middle-class neighborhood of Boston. It was the first time Little had seen so many black people. He was drawn to the cultural and social life of the neighborhood.
In Boston, Little held a variety of jobs and found intermittent employment with the [[New York, New Haven and Hartford RailroadNew Haven Railroad]]. Between 1943 and 1946, Little drifted from city to city and job to job. He left Boston to live for a short time in [[Flint, Michigan]]. He moved to New York City in 1943. Living in [[Harlem]], he became involved in [[Illegal drug tradedrug dealing]], [[gambling]], [[Racket (crime)racketeering]], [[robbery]], and [[Procuring (prostitution)steering prostitutes]].
When Little was examined in 1943 for the [[conscriptiondraft]], military physicians classified him as "mentally disqualified for military service".Carson, p. 108. He later recalled that he put on a display to avoid the draft by telling the examining officer that he could not wait to "steal us some guns, and kill us [some] [[Cracker (pejorative)crackers]]. "Malcolm X, ''Autobiography'',
His approach worked; his classification ensured he would not be drafted.
In late 1945, Little returned to Boston. With a group of associates, he began a series of elaborate burglaries targeting the residences of wealthy white families
On January 12, 1946, Little was arrested for burglary while trying to pick up a stolen watch he had left for repairs at a jewelry shop.
The shop owner called the police because the watch seemed too expensive for the average [[Roxbury, BostonRoxbury]] resident. Little told the police that he had a gun on his person and surrendered so the police would treat him more leniently.
Two days later, Little was indicted for carrying firearms. On January 16, he was charged with [[larceny]] and [[Burglarybreaking and entering]], and eventually sentenced to eight to ten years in Massachusetts State Prison.
On February 27, Little began serving his sentence at the Massachusetts State Prison in [[Charlestown, MassachusettsCharlestown]]. 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."Malcolm X, ''Autobiography'', p. 178; ellipsis in original.
Gradually, the two men became friends and Bembry convinced Little to educate himself.Perry, pp. 108–110. Little developed a voracious appetite for reading, and he frequently read after the prison lights had been turned off.Perry, p. 118.
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." Natambu, 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 joinNatambu, pp.
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.Natambu, pp. 138–139. For the remainder of his incarceration, Little maintained regular correspondence with Muhammad.
On August 7, 1952, Little was [[parole]] and was released from prison name
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."Malcolm X, ''Autobiography'',