The Writer

The Writer You’ve Never Heard of That Made My Book Possible
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Whilst still a young pupil at primary school, one of his dreams was to become a journalist and he volunteered to put together a school magazine. During the years that followed Jim has written numerous theatre and concert reviews for a variety of publications, as well as many articles for magazines, including Labyrinth Magazine, of which he was joint editor and publisher. Along side that, Jim is also the writer and composer of many songs that he has recorded and performed over a long career as a professional musician.

Since stepping aside from his commercial musical career, Jim is now fulfilling a life-time dream and spending more time concentrating on writing. Once I start to write, I find that the words just flow. Then, in , Abbott wrote to Norman Mailer, offering to provide the famous author insight for a book he was writing about Gary Gilmore, with whom Abbott claimed to have served time.

He was paroled in April , at the age of thirty-six. Four months later, in short succession, Gilmore shot and killed two people in Utah. You try only to keep yourself together because others, other prisoners are with you. His meditation on the predicament of convicted killers would acquire a sad retrospective irony:. I know of no man who has walked away from death row, and life imprisonment, and then been convicted of crime again, much less of murder.

When you are defending your life with arguments and pleas you are engaged in a special struggle not given to many in any society. You come away from it more reserved, more considerate: you learn how precious, how fragile, life in society can be. Life in society did prove precious and fragile. He was released from prison in June , just as In the Belly of the Beast was published.

Mailer had again contributed an introduction , even more effusive in its praise. It concluded:. 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.

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I love Jack Abbott for surviving and for having learned to write as well as he did. He settled in a Lower East Side halfway house and started a job as a researcher. At a party for In the Belly of the Beast , Abbott was withdrawn, Silvers recalled: shy and taciturn, he stood with his back to the wall, talking only to people he already knew. I can imagine Abbott in those moments, craving something to take the edge off his anxiety, like the drugs he took in prison. After Abbott killed Adan, he went on the run. A detective tracked him down in Louisiana, where he was trying to get work on an oil rig.

Abbott was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to fifteen years to life. Since he had violated parole, he also had to finish the time owed on his federal sentence.

Yet Silvers still sent books to Abbott and corresponded with him in prison. Mailer stood by him, too. I was born in New York on April 26, After I was born, my parents fought a lot, and I was placed in a foundling home for some time. When I was one year old, my father left. My mom learned to navigate the housing system, filling out applications and waiting in lines. Eventually, we moved to a project in Sheepshead Bay, southern Brooklyn. Mom obtained vending permits, bought hot dog wagons, and hustled the avenue where fishing boats docked to entice the hungry anglers.

Soon, she snagged one. George, another Irishman, was a longshoreman and captained a fishing boat on weekends. He would wake me up to go fishing by tossing a wet rag on my chest. Seeing my purple tongue, Mom would ask where I got money for candy. When I reached fifth grade, Mom sent me to the Malcolm Gordon School for Boys, a boarding school housed in a converted nineteenth-century mansion, overlooking the Hudson River across from West Point.

About twenty-five of us lived there. Mom convinced the headmaster, a man with a big mustache and firm handshake, to give her financial aid. During summers, Mom sent me to a Jewish summer camp, receiving financial aid for it by changing her name to Feinstein.

From summer camp, it was back to boarding school. I was always away.

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Looking back, reading those reports from my cell in Sing Sing, another neo-Gothic structure overlooking the Hudson River, I can say that my aggression has subsided. Today, I bristle at the constant din and aggression. In seventh grade, during school break, news came that my father, at forty-nine, had died of a heart attack. I later learned that he had committed suicide, using a shotgun. George liked to tell stories about the Westies, the murderous Irish mob that had reigned there when he was growing up.

By the mid-Eighties, most of them had gone away to federal prison for life. Years later, keeping a journal in prison, I realized how much those stories had made an impression on me. My father had just killed himself.

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They were not talking about him. He mattered. When I was thirteen years old, I was expelled from another boarding school after attacking an exchange student with a knife. Mom enrolled me in a public high school in Manhattan. I never went. Instead, I ran around the city, rode the subways, and smoked weed with my friends.

She dragged me to AA meetings and put me on antidepressants. So that I could work in the Broadway theaters as an usher with the other neighborhood kids, George took me to a guy who gave me forged ID papers that said I was older. I started selling dime bags of weed. In , after a brawl involving friends outside a bar called Irish Eyes, our hangout, I was picked out, arrested for assault, and sent to Spofford, a juvenile jail in the Bronx. I was fourteen. She was right. I was holding a pistol for a friend when detectives jumped out of a yellow cab, found the gun, and booked me. The judge sentenced me to one year on Rikers Island.

There, I was a white, I was the minority. On my first day there, in a large holding cell, I got jumped, had the sneakers ripped off my feet, and my face smashed against the bars. The side of my eye split and I bled a lot. The more I showed that I was willing to go there with anyone, at any time, the more peace I had. That was the sick paradox of it. Of black Panamanian descent, fluent in English and Spanish, Alex was on another unit, awaiting trial on a drug-related murder charge.

But there were no eyewitnesses, and in a jury acquitted him. It was three years before I next saw Alex, on the outside. We were both stopped at a red light in Brooklyn, each in a flashy car. A small guy with a big reputation on the street, Alex sold PCP, or angel dust, in liquid form soaked into Newports for smoking.

I sold heroin and cocaine. We thought we were living the high life. It soon caught up with us. A couple of years later, I learned that Alex had started shaking down one of my top sellers. The Russian kept coming up short; eventually he told me why. I had to act. On a cold December night in , I took Alex for a ride in a rental car, bringing along a cocked and loaded AR in the trunk. Alex seemed leery, so to offset his suspicion, I picked up a Puerto Rican girl from Bushwick with a neck tattoo and big hoop earrings who used to bag up drugs for me.

We pulled over on a deserted street in Williamsburg. Alex was distracted, talking on his phone. Then I drove away, with Alex dead in the passenger seat. The girl jumped out at the next red light and ran. I picked up an old heroin addict with construction worker hands to help me get rid of the body. He wrapped, he taped, he tied. I remember driving away from the pier in Sheepshead Bay, high on heroin myself, taking deep drags on a Newport, thinking about next steps.

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No body, no crime scene. An associate of mine who owned a body shop fixed the bullet holes in the rental car. When I picked it up, I told him I was never there. He nodded. A month later, I was picked up on a warrant for a gun charge and was back on Rikers. Once locked up, I kept getting rearrested. An indictment came down for selling heroin to an undercover officer who had infiltrated my circle.

Then, that summer, there was another indictment—for second-degree murder. The girl with the neck tattoo had told another drug dealer, who got busted; he told detectives about a white boy who had killed another dealer. My mother, by then a real estate broker in Brooklyn, hired a good lawyer. She knew I did it.

She told me to keep my mouth shut—that keeping a secret was a sign of maturity. I felt for Mom. If I won at trial, I was definitely going to continue being a criminal. I hid behind my lawyer with my chin tucked to my chest. I felt horrible but I played my part, feigning incredulity when witnesses pointed at me, staging outbursts of indignation, committing perjury. The show almost worked: the first jury deadlocked; the secondjury convicted.

I received a sentence of twenty-five years to life for the murder, and three more years on top for selling drugs. I came up with a ninth-grade education, passed the high-school equivalency, then there was nothing to do. I used heroin to cope, and manipulated my mother into making Western Union payments.

I hung out with the in-crowd white guys and joined in the prison politicking.

This all went on in the yard. According to a New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision report, Clinton had an average of seventy-one inmate-on-inmate assaults every year from to , many involving a shank an improvised blade or ice-pick.

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I had not been there long when I saw my first stabbing. A Puerto Rican gang member told me to stay off the Flats, a football-sized area in the yard, because someone was about to get stabbed. Moments later, one of his crew did the hit. Stabbed twice under the arm, the wounded man stumbled over to the guards.