Prison was a vocational hazard, though in 1927 it appears he enjoyed something of an epiphany. Sentenced to eight years inside for his part in a heist, it was while serving his stretch in Warsaw’s Rawitsz Prison that he was inspired by Stanisław Kowalski, a graduate of the teacher’s college close by. Encouraged to set his escapades down on paper he wrote Zyciorys Wlasy Przestpcy (Autobiography of a Criminal) as Urke Nachalnik while inside. The prison governor gave the green light for it to be published in 1933, and was so impressed by Nachalnik's commitment to turning over a new leaf that he was released two years early. The book hit bestseller lists immediately, and was even serialised in Jewish papers in New York. His exposure of the Jewish criminal class won him both plaudits and enemies, and within a year his work had been adapted for the stage. However, on the third night of performance all the props and stage equipment vanished, doubtlessly stolen by those he had fallen out with. A quick word with his underworld contacts saw the gear recovered, and in the best traditions of show biz the show did indeed to go on. His work was apparently largely of mixed quality. Some critics adored Nachalnik's rough street style, while others slammed it for its gratuitous content. Nachalnik was undeterred, and continued to write, most often now in Yiddish.
After pursuing a quiet life in Vilnius he found himself in Otwock, just 15km south of Warsaw, at the outbreak of WWII. It’s here that accounts once again vary. One source says that Nachalnik’s luck ran out in 1939, when he was betrayed to the Nazi authorities after rescuing Torah scrolls from the burning synagogue; along with two accomplices he was forced to dig his own grave and executed in the woods near Otwock. In another account, the gangster author became a prominent member of the Jewish resistance in the capital, coordinating attacks on collaborators, organising smuggling operations in and out of the ghetto, and sabotaging trains to Treblinka back in Otwock; arrested in 1942, he was shot dead in Otwock after attacking his captors and trying to flee their custody. Whatever the case, his grave has never been found. His legend, writing, and even some of the music from his plays, however, live on.