John J. Lennon is serving a sentence of twenty-eight years to life, formerly at Attica Correctional Facility and Sing Sing and now at Sullivan Correctional Facility. He is a contributing writer for The Marshall Project, and his work has appeared in Esquire, Men’s Health, New York Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Quartz, Vice, Pacific Standard, Harvard Law Record, and PEN America. His forthcoming book, The Tragedy of True Crime, will be published by Celadon.
The first time I heard about Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water, I was in the Attica Correctional Facility’s auditorium-chapel, attending a twelve-step meeting.
Because of me, Alex will never realize his potential, never discover the man he might’ve been. I’m deeply sorry for that. And that’s the sort of existential shame I grapple with: Here I am, years later, sober and learning and writing and finding out who I can be, and yet Alex can never do any of those things. Because of me.
Ignorance is ugly, particularly in prison. It’s loud and obnoxious and violent. It tumbles into my cell right now as I write this. But for some, education can quell that.