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Friday, December 27, 2002


-I was born January 21, 1944, on a military base in Oscoda, Michigan. I was in and out of foster homes always from the moment of my birth. My formal education: I never completed the sixth grade. At age nine I began serving long stints in juvenile detention quarters. At age twelve I was sent at the Utah State Industrial School for Boys. I was ‘paroled’ once for about sixty days, then returned there. At age eighteen I was released as an adult. Five or six months later I was sent to the Utah State Penitentiary for the crime of ‘issuing a check against insufficient funds’
I went in with an indeterminate sentence of up to five years. About three years later, having never been released, I killed one inmate and wounded another in a fight in center hall. I was tried for capital offence under the old convict statute that requires either mandatory death if malice aforethought is found, or a sentence of from three to twenty years. I received the latter sentence. An ‘indeterminate term’ is what justifies the concept of parole. Your good behavior determines how long you stay in prison. The law merely sets a minimum and a maximum- the underlying assumption being that no one serves the maximum. A wrong assumption in my case. At age twenty-six I escaped for about six weeks. I am at this moment thirty-seven years old. Since age twelve I have been free the sum total of nine and a half months. I have served many terms in solitary. In only three terms I have served over ten years there. I would estimate that I have served a good fourteen or fifteen years in solitary. The only serious crime I have ever committed in free society was bank robbery during the time I was a fugitive.

Jack Henry Abbott- State-Raised Convict

ALDEN- New York (AP)
Author and convict Jack Henry Abbott was found dead on February 10th 2002 in his single cell at Wende Correctional Facility. He hanged himself with a bedsheet and shoelace and and left a suicide note, officials said.

When Norman Mailer was writing ‘The Executioner’s Song’, his fictionalized biography partly based on the interviews that Lawrence Schiller conducted with the executed murderer Gary Gilmore, he received a note by the literary agent Morton Janklow sent to him by Jack Henry Abbott.

In his introduction to ‘In the Belly of the Beast’ – Letters from Prison- by Jack Henry Abbott, Norman Mailer writes:


‘Out of Abbott’s letters came an intellectual, a radical, a potential leader, a man obsessed with a vision of more elevated human relations in a better world that revolution could forge. His mind at his happiest, wanted to speak from his philosophical height across to yours. Prison, whatever its nightmares, was not a dream whose roots would lead you to eternity, but an infernal machine of destruction.’


Mailer was struck by the tone and resilience of Abbott’s letter, and embarked on a correspondence with him. In his introduction to Abbott’s book Mailer compares Jack Henry Abbott as the book-devouring counterpart of Chauncey Gardiner, the protagonist in Jerzy Kosinski’s ‘Being There’, whose intellectual legend was defined by TV exposure


‘Yet what a prodigious meal Abbott has taken in. He has torn the meat of culture with his fingers, he has crushed the bones with his own teeth. So he has a mind like no other I have encountered. It speaks from the nineteenth century as clearly from the twentieth. There are moments when the voice that enters your mind is the clear descendant from Marx and Lenin untouched by any intervention of history. Indeed, Abbott, who is half Irish and half Chinese, even bears a small but definite resemblance to Lenin, and the tone of Vladimir Ilyich Oeljanov rises out on some of the pages.’


Mailer ends his introduction written in 1981 thus following:

‘There is never, when we speak of possible greatness in young writers, more than one chance in a hundred that we are right, but this one chance in Abbott is so vivid that it reaffirms the very idea of literature itself as a human expression that will survive all obstacles.’


Abbott’s book, an inside reader of the American penal system is divided in 14 chapters:

-State-Raised convict
-Varieties of Punishment
-The Hole: Solitary Confinement
-The Prison Staff
-The inmates
-Gods and Drugs
-Choosing Sides: Communists and Marxism
-American Violence/American Justice
-The Legal System
-Capital Punishment and Gary Gilmore
-Racism in America and behind Bars
-Foreign Affairs


-Abbott writes a hallucinatory narrative, clinical observation mixes with firsthand experience; at times the author appears muddled and confused, alternating between the nightmare that is his confinement, or switching to the insightful observer determined to escape his personal ordeal.

From the chapter ‘The Hole: Solitary Confinement:

‘The real world is out of place in the hole, but the hole is nonetheless really there. It is time that no longer moves forward in human experience. You can walk, placing one foot before the other, across eternity in time. All the space you need is six or seven feet. The hole furnishes only that provision; you are living a demonstration of the theory of the infinite within the finite; the dream within the reality. But the hole is not stuff of dreams, of fantasies: it is all quite real, so real it haunts you. Experience occurs seldom and only in extremes: vividly intense or drably monotonous. Surreal paintings have tried to capture- with some success, I might add- the relationships that are very real in life in the prison hole. It is not a dream. To you it is not a dream. Your words and your thoughts can only reflect this condition of your sensations, your feelings; they do not know their plight. Few thoughts in the hole are conscious of their true grounds.
You become silent, contemplative, because you become inverted. Your sense perception, having taken in everything, including yourself, within the finite confines of the hole, passes through the monotony and now rises up from the other side, the infinite, to haunt you with reality.’

-At the end of the chapter he writes-

‘There is a thing called death and we have all seen it. It brings to an end a life, an individual thing. When life ends, the living thing ceases to experience. The concept of death is simple: it is when a living thing no longer entertains experience. So when a man is taken farther and farther away from experience, he is being taken to his death.’

-In the epilogue of the book Abbott ends with a sober and detached remark about his impending freedom-

‘…I do not know how I feel at being given a parole. The thought of legally being free from prison receded from my mind, my feelings, so long ago that I honestly do not recall a time I ever had plans or hopes of ever being a free man in this country again in my life. Maybe later I can write about it, but not now.’


As Abbott’s parole came up Mailer certified that he was fit for release, and that he would guarantee him employment in New York. In early June 1981 Abbott was transferred to a New York halfway house.
During his stay at the halfway house Abbott became a focus of the New York literary society.
He was a guest on ‘Good morning America’ and was introduced to New York’s upper circles.

Only six weeks after Abbott moved to New York he stabbed to death Richard Adan, a New York Café night manager and aspiring actor outside Lower East Side’ Binibon Cafe. Abbott felt that Adan was carrying a knife, resulting in Abbott’s pre-emptive assault. After his arrest he was subsequently sentenced to the maximum penalty: 15 years to life.
While in prison Jack Henry Abbott wrote a second book ‘My Return’ published in 1987, which received mixed reviews.

Abbott would not have been eligible for parole until 2003. In 1991 he lost nearly $7.6 million in a court judgement to the victim’s family, who had sued Abbott for proceeds of the book.

In a comment issued after Abbott’s suicide, Mailer wrote:

‘His life was tragic from beginning to end, I never knew a man who had a worse life’.


posted by Walter at 12/27/2002

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Small Change

At year’s end when we analyze past trials and tribulations, it makes sense to compare lists of shared experience, which at best constitutes small change for a better world
Cairo born, Canada/England raised Industrial designer Karim Rashid’s book ‘I Want to Change the World’ holds (among other things) a list of 50 such personal axioms and tenets that define his approach and style-

1 Don’t specialize
2 Keep your desk neat, clean and empty, this means you’re on top of everything
3 Treat your employees and clients the way you would like to be treated
4 Return every E-mail, phone call and fax the day it arrives, regardless where you are
5 Before birthing anything physical, ask yourself if you have created an original idea or if there is any value in what you plan to disseminate
6 Know everything about your current project- then forget it all when you design something new
7 Never say “I could have done that,’ because you didn’t
8 To be is to build (Heidegger)
9 Unveil an actuality: Create a surprise, a ‘phenomenological’ event
10 Good Karma
11 Observe everything, everyone and every moment
12 Work is fun, beautiful and rewarding
13 Don’t work with someone if you sense different views just because you believe there is potential, because there possibly isn’t
14 There is no potential in everything or every project
15 Don’t work on your weaknesses, work on your strengths
16 If you don’t like your job, quit
17 Laziness is the Antichrist
18 If you aren’t good at what you do, do something else
19 Reduce the carbs: take fillers out of your life
20 Carry one credit card and no coins
21 Own thirty pairs of the same socks, so that socks always match, and thirty pairs of the same underwear. Then do your laundry once a month
22 For everything you buy, give away another thing so you stay at an equilibrium and never accumulate more than you need
23 Don’t consume or overeat because you are depressed
24 Consume experiences, not things
25 Do six things at once- multitask
26 Don’t use words like taste, class, boredom, ugly or mass
27 pleasure is more psychological than physical
28 Minimalism is boring: sensual minimalism is friendly
29 More is more
30 Form follows subject: object follows object
31 Don’t dream it, be it
32 Celebrate technology
33 Normal is not good
34 Never be satisfied with your work
35 Perseverance, consistency and rigor constitute success
36 Being famous should not be a priority-work should be
37 Pay your dues; learn from others
38 There are three types of beings: those who create culture, those who buy culture- and those who don’t give a shit about culture
39 Work is life
40 Think extensively, not intensively
41 Think relaxed, not rigid
42 Omnia vincit amor, omnia vincit amok
43 Experience is the most important part of living; the exchange of ideas and human contact is what life is. Space and object can encourage increased experience or distract from your experiences
44 Be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi)
45 Edit your life
46 Accomplish addition by subtraction
47 Think before you endorse
48 There is no more brand allegiance
49 The past is pointless
50 Here and now is all we’ve got

Let me conclude with some of my own (negotiable) beliefs

1 Learn to be alone with yourself
2 Mirror the legacy of your parents best qualities
3 Stay away from handheld devices, only slaves use them
4 Lack of curiosity is a deadly sin
5 Always refresh your bed sheets prior to a leisure trip
6 Avoid narcissistic ornamentation in social affairs
7 Memorize a set of fresh quotes every week
8 Never feel quilty about romantic impromptus
9 Your passion is your universe
10 If you travel with your wife, don’t treat her as if she is


posted by Walter at 12/22/2002