Nelson’s book is a testament to the humor and heart that exists behind bars. Set in a ludicrous place where excuses are everywhere — and worth nothing — this is one prison story that finally isn’t about rape, riots, and rotten food.
Once dubbed the “Bookstore Bandit” by both the LAPD and the FBI for “using a movie prop revolver to rob bookstores and eventually banks,” John Nelson has written a memoir about his time in the California prison system. As many have pointed out, Where Excuses Go to Die is not your “typical prison memoir,” but is instead the story of one man’s journey to realize his own potential and “getting character instead of becoming one.”
One recent press release for the book explains:
Nelson served his first 10 months in the bowels of the L.A. Men’s Central Jail, where he survived everything the place is making headlines for today. When he was shipped to a brand new, yet-to-be-populated California State Prison at Wasco, Nelson found much more than what he expected or feared. A field of construction debris offered weaponizable scraps; electric doors stuck halfway, trapping inmates and staff alike. Lights flickered endlessly, and drinking water periodically ran black. Gang members, arriving daily, weren’t sure which parts of the facility to claim, since so much of it was unfinished. Administrators couldn’t spend money fast enough during this showcase stage; they hired musicians and standup comics to keep the restless and growing populace distracted.
Out of that profligacy came a chance encounter with the late comedienne Lotus Weinstock, with whom Nelson struck up a friendship. At Weinstock’s urging, he entered a statewide prison writing competition, placed third, and never looked back. Nelson also benefited from the tutelage of playwright David Scott Milton and a handful of civilian teachers, some of whom made the biggest impressions of all. The result, Where Excuses Go to Die, tells the poignant, irreverent story of these “first responders of rehabilitation” – strangers, friends, and family who saw a dumb kid’s potential and cared enough to tell him so. Along the way, Nelson, ever the instigator, defied penitentiary defeatism, bigotry, and cell house rules to become his own inmate and eventually his own man.
Where Excuses Go to Die stands in defiance of how the public has been trained by the media to recognize prison. As the popular adaptation of Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black shows, Americans are hungry for an updated perspective on life behind bars. Excuses will do for men what Orange is doing for incarcerated females.
Drawn from the pages of Nelson’s prison journal, it doesn’t rely on rape, riots, and rotten food for authentication. More “Road to Perdition” meets “Bad Santa” than victimhood and exploitation, Where Excuses Go to Die offers a much-needed reprieve from tough-guy prison tropes as it explores what it means to get character, rather than become one.
To learn more about Nelson’s story, and to help underwrite the publication, please go to his Kickstarter page and check out what he has to say about his experiences and the process of getting his story out into the world.
Photo: Courtesy of John Nelson