The Prison Mental-Health Crisis, Viewed From the Inside

By David A. Graham

Several years ago, when I was editing politics coverage for The Atlantic’s website, a fellow at the magazine dropped an unusual envelope on my desk. He’d been sifting through submissions in the magazine’s slush pile and thought I might be interested. The envelope was hand-addressed and had a big red stamp on it reading “ATTICA CORREC FAC.”

Enclosed was an essay, typed in Courier font on an old-fashioned typewriter. Over 900 words, the writer recounted the murder that had landed him in New York state prison years earlier, and used his own experience to argue for tighter gun controls. It was a tight balancing act: Such an argument could easily seem self-absolving, as if he were blaming lax legislation for making him kill a man, but it didn’t do that, and the writer was clear-eyed and contrite about his choices. And the writing had an ineffable voice—if not yet fully formed, clearly polished and distinctive. Who was this guy? The name on the envelope was “John Lennon,” which was pretty tough to Google—especially because Mark David Chapman, the Beatle’s assassin, was also locked up at Attica. Eventually I tracked down the New York state prisoner database, and everything checked out.

You don’t have to take my word for the quality of the copy; although we exchanged a couple drafts—a painstakingly slow process over U.S. mail, especially for someone accustomed to editing in real time and immediate turnarounds—the final product that I published closely tracks Lennon’s original. He just didn’t need much editing.

Lennon’s strength as a writer was partly personal, someone grappling with his own worst experiences and actions in a serious way; and partly systemic, the product of educational programs offered behind bars. A former juvenile offender, he’d taken up the craft of writing seriously. It …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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