Malcolm X's parents were advocates for self-reliance and black pride, so he was brought up in a civil rights environment. He drifted into a life of drugs and crime, however, after dropping out of school. In the mid-1940's, during a spell in prison, he came under the influence of fellow convict John Bembry and began reading a lot to self-educate himself. He was sent letters from siblings that suggested he take an interest in the Nation of Islam, a recently formed religious group that preached black self-reliance and the eventual return of the African diaspora to Africa. In 1948, aged 23, Malcolm X stopped eating pork and smoking cigarettes and wrote to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad told him to renounce his criminal life and pray to Allah. Malcolm X did so, and soon after became a member of the Nation of Islam.