The Murderer, the Writer, the Reckoning

John J. Lennon in the New York Review of Books:

A view of the Hudson River through a window at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York, February 24, 2017

On February 10, 2002, in a New York State prison cell, the bestselling author and twice-convicted killer Jack Abbott hanged himself with an improvised noose. That same day, the body of the man I murdered washed ashore on a Brooklyn beach in a nylon laundry bag. My reason for connecting these two events is to try to account for my crime, to understand better why I did it, and to describe what Abbott’s legacy, as a prison writer of an earlier generation, has meant for me as a prison writer in this generation.

Jack Abbott was one of America’s best-known prison writers of the twentieth century, though it can be hard to tell how much this was due to the merits of his work, to the high profile of some of his supporters, who included Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, and Norman Mailer, or to the public’s fascination with his propensity for violence. Writing gave Abbott a second chance in life, and in 1981, after serving eighteen years, he was released on parole. Shortly thereafter, he killed again. He never came back from that. His supporters, and even his will to write, deserted him. He died, much as he had lived, alone and angry.

When I started my stretch behind bars in 2002, I had never heard of Abbott. After I read his work, I came to identify with parts of his conflicted character, and I have at times taken inspiration from his writing.

More here.