Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack Abbott: From the Belly of the Beast

Back in the Belly

When New York Judge Irving Lang sentenced Abbott in April 1982, he called his conviction "an indictment of a prison system that brutalizes rather than rehabilitates." The jury had felt that prison destroyed Abbott at an early age and for that, he received a certain degree of lenience. Judge Lang sentenced him to 15 years to life. But before he could start that new term, the judge also decided that Abbott had to be returned to Utah to finish serving the eight years on his original Federal conviction.

But the Mailer-Abbott affair did not quietly fade away. Special criticism was reserved for the literary elite, symbolized by Norman Mailer and New York City's book publishing community. "The problem is that American and West European intellectuals are hard put to find victims of repression in their own lands who can match the harsh experiences of dissenters elsewhere," wrote Walter Goodman in the New York Times. The fact that Abbott was a violent and dangerous man was never denied; he said so himself many times. "The evidence of that was everywhere," wrote Christopher Caldwell in The Weekly Standard, "Only an intellectual could have missed it." Mailer, to his credit, later recognized his tragic role in the story. "Another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in," Mailer said in 1992 according to the Buffalo News. "It was a study in false vanity," he added.

In 1990, a civil jury in Manhattan awarded $7.5 million to Ricci Adan, the widow of Richard Adan. By then, In the Belly of the Beast had already sold 50,000 copies in hardcover and over 75,000 in paperback. The award included all the money that Abbott made from In the Belly of the Beast and all funds he may receive in the future related to the crime. A second Abbott book, titled My Return, received strong negative reviews and was a commercial failure. During the civil trial, Abbott told Mrs. Adan that her husband's life was "not worth a dime."

On March 27, 2000, Abbott was assaulted in Attica prison by another inmate. This time, it was he who suffered the worst. He had to undergo surgery and complained of constant pain in his neck even after treatment. A Department of Corrections spokesperson told the press that Abbott sustained a jaw injury in the attack. But his lawyer, Michael Kuzma told the Buffalo News that it was far more serious. He said surgery lasted seven hours and his client had multiple facial fractures. "We don't know exactly what happened," Kuzma said, "but we know there was one inmate involved, and we believe the guards were involved" (Feb. 17, 2002). Shortly after this attack, Abbott was transferred to Wende Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Western New York, not far from Buffalo.

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