With a movie prop in my waistband to simulate a handgun, I’d politely robbed a succession of chain bookstores and had started on banks before I was outwitted by a crafty teller. Even then I naively assumed I’d survive prison by being the same pious screwball I’d been in school, in the Army, and in general.
Boy was I wrong.
Four years, 1000+ Scrabble scores, a few bruises, and innumerable psychic shifts later, I managed to emerge from that environment relatively unscathed. I’d been writing daily as a way to cope with my circumstances, sure, but also as a way to record all of the bizarre, unbelievable, and sometimes downright funny shit that happens inside.
Most incarceration-themed entertainment will make you think prison is no more than rape, riots, and rotten food. Not so. Sure medical care would’ve been better handled through rituals and leeches. Of course job training was suspended by so many lockdowns that instructors rented movies and turned enrollees into thugish film critics instead. And yes, drug overdoses — one of the more common ways to die in prison — also meant subsequent estate sales. But from a total solar eclipse creating medieval chaos among the more pea-brained Yard apes to an unmonitored phone line making a mockery of facility security, there were too many characters and stories and WTFs in that crazy little microcosm to leave unmentioned.
So those were the things I wrote down as I went missing for months in L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail and became one of the first 100 guinea pig inmates to populate brand new Wasco State Prison. I wrote desperately when I was transferred up a security level to old Folsom and furiously when I was “rewarded” with a bed at CRC’s Hotel Heroin, then gratefully when the time came for me to be shoved out the employee entrance at the Federal Metropolitan Detention Center. Where Excuses Go To Die is a coming-of-age account of that journey and the memoir upon which this blog is based.
Advance praise for Where Excuses Go to Die
“John Nelson, in a very poor choice of maturity management options, had a momentary brush with the fast moving world of Crime. He found himself in prison, surrounded by some of America’s finest. Where Excuses Go to Die is an insightful and hilarious piece of work from a guy who is an extremely talented writer. I can’t think that prison is anyone’s idea of a good time, but it definitely gave John something to which to apply his very obvious talent. This is an excellent work that would also make a great screenplay.” –Henry Rollins