John J. Lennon is currently serving twenty-eight years to life at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and will be eligible for parole in 2029. A contributing writer for the Marshall Project, and a contributing editor for Esquire, he was a finalist for this year’s National Magazine Award in feature-writing and a finalist for the Molly National Journalism prize. (July 2019)
On February 10, 2002, in a New York State prison cell, the bestselling author and twice-convicted killer Jack Abbott hanged himself. That same day, the body of the man I murdered washed ashore on a Brooklyn beach. 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. Although he and I never met, I can almost picture us in adjacent cells in Clinton, holding hand-mirrors through the bars of our cell doors so that we could see each other to talk. In my imagination, I’d suggest to Abbott that what he was writing wasn’t the right story—it showed no remorse. Most likely, he would have rejected my advice, and we’d have never spoken again. It’s like that in prison.