The Abbott Impact

Jan 23, 2012 - by J. J. Maloney

Jan. 23, 2012

Jack Henry Abbott

Jack Henry Abbott

Jack Abbott sold himself to Norman Mailer as the “Super Convict.” Mailer turned the letters Abbott sent him into the best-selling book, In the Belly of the Beast, and assisted Abbott in gaining parole in 1981. Six months later Abbott stabbed a waiter to death in a New York restaurant.

 by J.J. Maloney

Jack Henry Abbott started as a boy in a training school, worked his way up through the system-—getting in trouble here, being transferred there, getting into more trouble until, ultimately, he spent virtually all of his life in some form of reform school or prison.

When it became known in 1977 that Norman Mailer was to write The Executioner's Song, about Gary Gilmore, Abbott, who was incarcerated in the same Utah penitentiary, wrote to Mailer, suggesting that Mailer could make use of the observations of someone like Abbott, someone who had lived in the world Gary Gilmore inhabited.

Mailer began to correspond with Abbott, and apparently began to care about him. Abbott wrote long, grandiloquent letters, in which he discussed his fantasized perception of himself as a Super Convict. He claimed to have been subjected to more brutality than other convicts, to have risen higher above the situation than other convicts, to have been more philosophically correct than other convicts.

Mailer bought it; for his own reasons, he wanted to believe what Abbott was saying. And, of course, there was some truth in many of the things Abbott said about prisons. 

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