Norman Porter aka JJ Jameson Parole
Here I sit in a cell with Norman Porter (aka JJ Jameson, aka “The Killer Poet”) and Ray Champagne. Between the two of them they have 80+ years in prison. Today, we’re discussing Norman’s parole hearing (and how poorly it went). Norman just said he, “Can’t do another five years in this place.” The emphasis seems to be on, “this place.” He’s referring to the institution from which I’m writing this, Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. But, with Norm’s deteriorating health and chronic mental fatigue I don’t think it would matter if he was recuperating on black sand in Hawaii. Norm has a year, or two, left to live. Before I moved back to the lifer’s block I bumped into one of my buddies who was living here. He said, “Hurry up and get back over there Nipp. I don’t know how much longer your buddy Norm’s gonna’ live, but he looks ten years older since the last time you saw him.”
Right here, right now, sitting across from Mr. Norman Porter I listen as he and Ray engage in a philosophical conversation about prison. Norm’s words come out in ragged gasps. He attempts to speak in a normal, calm, soothing manner, but he has a hard time drawing breath. He reaches for one if his three inhalers and takes a big gulp of gas and air. As his heart condition worsens his body has a difficult time processing oxygen. His lung capacity is a joke. My grandfather, who’s name happens to be Norman Knippers, suffered from the same condition. He died after his eleventh heart attack. I think Norm’s had two, or three, heart attacks. Can you imagine being locked in a cell knowing that if you have a heart attack and are unable to alert the one guard on duty (overnight) you’ll die a horrible, awful, painful death alone in your concrete cube? It’s inhumane regardless of what crime you’ve committed.
Even with the twenty or so pills Norm takes daily, his health continues to rapidly decline. At this point in his life he needs better medical care, but here at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, that’s just not an option.
Even though all essential / basic necessities are provided, and centric to our unit, Norm still finds it difficult to accomplish mundane tasks. For example, whether it’s walking to the chow hall, or going to the med window (where the nurse hands us our medication), or throwing a laundry bag in the landry cart, or even taking a shower, these tasks are difficult for Norm. When you use less than a 3rd of your lung capacity basic become difficult. In many ways it’s cruel to watch someone age in such a harsh place. Essentially, everything is provided for us. But, to call it a spartan environment would be an understatement. Norm’s failing health makes it virtually impossible for him to take care if himself. His cell smells horrible. His clothes need to washed. His breath smells and his hair’s an oily mess. At this point in his life Norm finds it difficult to shower more than once a week. That’s when I usually sneak in and clean his cell. See, and that’s the thing. Norm has so many friends we all pitch in to help him a little.
But, Norm’s extremely independent and hates to think of himself as having any kind of dependency. He’s a proud Polish man. While we offer to help Norman pushes us away. In jail accepting another person’s help can be viewed as weakness. At 79 years old Norm still lives in general population in the most dangerous prison in Massachusetts.
I know I already mentioned this, but he absolutely hates it when I sneak in and clean his cell while he’s in the shower. “What the hell are you doing Knippers, leave my cell alone!!” Although he’s grinning as he says this. Or when Dave Jefferson and I come into his cell and distract him while one of us wipes down his toilet and sink. “What are you doing! I told you guys that’s perfectly fine! Leave that alone.”
Now consider what I’ve just explained and picture the parole board accusing Mr. Norman Porter of being, “devious,” for using the alias JJ Jameson. What was he supposed to do, use his real name? He’s an escaped convict! And, although Norm swears he got the name JJ Jameson out of the phone book, I think he stole it from Peter Parker. He just doesn’t want to admit he was a comic book junky when he was a kid.
Of course the woman spearheading the movement to discredit Norm is the proverbial, “angry district attorney.”. She would’ve been in diapers about the the time Norm stole his first car. Yet, she has no problem pointing her finger and wagging her tongue at this 79 year old man in extremely poor health that preaches education and nonviolence to his fellow inmates. A man who teaches these things through actions as much as words. Norm has had no disciplinary issues since being returned to custody. Not a single disciplinary report. If he committed no crimes in Chicago, and he’s stayed disciplinary in report free here at SBCC, that means Norm hasn’t raised a finger in violence in over 25 years. This old timer who still loves life, loves learning, loves reading and writing poetry, and loves teaching others. I’ll forever hold this vision of dear Norman sound asleep with a book on his chest, reading glasses perched comfortably on his nose and his cell door wide open to the world. And yes, he’s one of the most stubborn, opinionated men you’ll ever meet, but I admire those qualities. Those are qualities inherent in boomers. It’s part of belonging to that generation.
This old man the news stations called, “Massachusett’s Most Notorious Criminal.” I guess that’s partly true now that Whitey’s gone. But, even so, it’s absurd to think that this man’s release could be detrimental to society. Yes, it’s true, he does have a violent history. But, let’s not forget, Norm has always claimed that he wasn’t the trigger man that day. He did not know anyone was going to be hurt. And, in twenty years on the lamb he committed not a single recorded act of violence. Consider this, when the Feds went to arrest Whitey he was surrounded by guns. How many firearms did they find in Whitey’s apartment? When the feds knocked on Norm’s door and asked him if he was Norman Porter (not JJ Jameson) he said, “You got me.”. He had no weapons. He had no money. Norman had numerous friends and he loved to write poetry. He was gainfully employed and volunteered in multiple facet’s of the local community. He was an involved member of his community.
Fifty years ago, perhaps, he may have been a desperado. But, during his twenty years on the run, Norman Porter, aka JJ Jameson, didn’t hurt a fly. He didn’t re-offend. He didn’t rob, cheat or steal. In fact, he did quite the opposite of all that. He volunteered at a local hospital, and sometimes at a community health center. Norman worked with people who had mental health issues. He also became a religious leader in the local community and started a daycare program for kids. At last count some 219 kids (and their parents) are benefiting from the daycare program Norm put in place. He published two volumes of poetry and participated in numerous poetry readings. Mr. Porter held various jobs throughout this 20 year period, but he was always employed. He volunteered at homeless shelters, he volunteered for the special Olympics, he attended community activism meetings and the list goes on. Norman was active in local politics and had the opportunity to hear Barrack Obama speak prior to his presidential campaign. In other words, here was a man who understood his past failings and was trying to make up for lost time. He was trying to pay penance for his wrongdoing. But, it wasn’t just that, it’s part of his nature to help others. He helps other inmates here in prison all the time. If you need a scoop of coffee, a ramen noodle soup, or a cough drop, Norm will give them you if he has them. I knew several inmates who were illiterate until Norm taught them how to read. Think about this old man. Think about this man with major health problems helping some young gangbanger learn how to read? Do you know what kid of patience that requires? He’s changing lives. Simply put, he’s just a caring person. Norman writes numerous letters and stays in touch with hundreds of people. In other words, he’s not some closed off bitter old man, even after everything he’s been through…Norman cares, be cares deeply.
And, perhaps most importantly, he’s changed. I don’t understand how a Parole Board, not this Parole Board, but another Massachusett’s Parole Board, granted John Cinelli (sp?) parole — the same John Cinelli who shot a cop during an attempted robbery — but will undoubtedly deny little-old, frail, can barely breathe, poetry lovin’ Norman Porter parole. He’s undoubtedly going to be given another set back and told he’ll need to serve another (3), or (5) years, before being reconsidered for parole. At this point we may as well consider this denial a death sentence. He has maybe a year, or two, to live. If he makes it to 2021 we’ll all be shocked.
I know Norman Porter. I speak with him everyday. We’re friends. And, yes, he’s a little whacky, he’s stubborn and he speaks his mind, but he’s about the least violent inmate I’ve met in my over seven years here at Souza-Baranowski Correctional.
I’ve witnessed Norm work his magic and talk inmates out of committing violent acts. When they say this man is devious, just who the hell are these people taking about? 23 year old Norman Porter, or the 79 year old man sitting in front of me. Ray and Norm just realized I’ve sitting in this cell for 30 minutes tap, tap, tapping while they’ve been yap, yap, yapping. They’re laughing at me for being a wallflower.
This man sitting before me is saddened to the core because he’s done everything in his power to turn his life around and received no recognition for any of his efforts. At least not from the people who hold the keys to his freedom. This old man who somehow became offender number one because he eluded police and didn’t reoffend. Norm spent twenty years outside these walls living in a community setting and did nothing but help others and better himself. It doesn’t take brain surgeon to recognize that the same board that has the power to free Norm is the one most threatened by Norm’s ability to live an honest life without their supervision. You can guarantee if he’d lived the same life on parole the board would be more than happy to take credit for his contributions to the local community. The parole ideal is to keep inmates like Norman Porter on track and in-line once they’re released. Ex-cons aren’t supposed to succeed on their own. That’s threatens the necessity and foundation of the entire system. You mean someone rehabilitated themselves without guidance from a greater power? Maybe less involvement by the parole and probation committees would have a positive effect on inmates? And that fear, that idea that this man behaved himself all on his lonesome drives the D.A. and this conversation to absurd measures to prove what a horrible person this man is! It’s important to distract everyone from his successes lest they get the wrong impression. The idea that Norman Porter, aka, JJ Jameson, isn’t a threat to society. The idea that if he did it for 20 years with no one supervising him, he could easily do it for 20 more years under the state’s thumb. Now that’s an opinion to consider.