Preview of Norman Porter Documentary
This webpage contains information about JJ Jameson AKA
Norman Porter and related items from David Gecic,
Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of The Puddin'head Press.
Info about Lady Rutherfurd's Cauliflower
This is the picture which was stolen by the Chicago Sun Times
On February 11th, 2005 JJ Jameson, who we were to soon find out was Norman Porter, put on his last poetry performance feature in Chicago. He had been taking pain killers to dull the pain of an operation he had to remove a tumor from his shoulder. Several people approached me and asked me to follow him home and make sure he did not get in an accident. As I was running out thedoor, poet Marc Smith, founder of the world famous, Poetry Slam at the Green Mill, shook his head and called "you wanted to be a publisher!"
Since then I have done many things and had to make many decisions that I never intended to have to make or do, the least of which is following impaired poets home.On March 22nd JJ Jameson was arrested for being a fugitive who had been in prison on a murder charge and he became Norman Porter. Since then life has become hectic and confusing. The things I do are both a privilege and a nightmare.
For information about the September 27th pre-sentencing hearing and the judge's final October 14th decision, please click here.
In 1999, The Puddin'head Press published Lady Rutherfurd's Cauliflower by JJ Jameson. After careful consideration, I have decided that we will publish a new edition of this book. If you want information on how to order this book, please click here.
I am trying to piece together the story of these two men JJ Jameson and Norman Porter. I am still sorting out some info I received at the end of April. To learn about the story, please click here.
To read some pre-1976 Norman Porter poetry, please click here.
We are a publisher of books, and there are many fine poets we work with. To find out more about what we do please click here.
As you've undoubtably heard, JJ Jameson, whom we've now been told is Norman Porter, has been arrested as a fugitive from the state of Massachusetts. JJ was a fixture on the Chicago poetry scene. I first met JJ, the poet, at Puddin'head Bookstore, on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park in Chicago in 1991 or 1992. He would come into the store to buy history books and argue history and politics. We become friends the day JJ walked in while I was sitting at the counter going over some bills. JJ asked me what I was doing and I told him I was trying to figure out how to pay the rent. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a 100 dollar bill and told me to pay him back when I could. Several days later when JJ came in I returned the money and tried to give him extra money or credit for books but he refused and said. "Pass it on to the next guy." Over the years I saw JJ do many acts of kindness and charity and saw him pass acts of kindness done to him to the next guy.
He cooked meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas at homeless shelters and senior homes. He brought a sick friend every week to chemotherapy treatments, he dropped food off when that friend became blind and could not care for himself. He went to church on Sunday, and at one time was president of his church board. He was very involved in Chicago politics, and among his friends and associates were congressmen and aldermen. He worked in the Ukranian Village for Harold Washington's re-election. He fought for and failed to save Maxwell Street. Many times JJ called me to help a friend or to help someone enter alcohol treatment programs. He called it his "Christian Duty". When a poet friend had a stroke it was JJ who searched nursing homes until he found him and then visited him when he could. When my sister died it was JJ who let the poetry scene know because I could not. When Frank Bonnomo died JJ was vital to helping me overcome my grief. He was very kind and nurturing to young poets. He found shelter for battered women. He tried to find foster homes for kids that were sleeping on the floor of a police station.
Although we differed greatly in our political views he always respected mine. We pointed out each other's faults and failures. What always impressed me about JJ was that his acts of charity and kindness were not simply lip service but were part of his day to day life. He did not tell you where to go to get help, he was the help. Although I feel betrayed, I understand better now the demons that he lived with and that spawned the alcohol problems that plagued him and caused so many problems between us. I still believe that the JJ that I knew was a good man, and that he showed me how a good life should be lived.
March 23 PM
I am still trying to figure out what is fact and fiction in the life of Porter/Jameson. I know he is in bad health and hope they treat him well. He has had problems with both skin and throat cancer in addition to some strange enzyme disease. He said recently that he had been in Chicago for 20 years.
March 30 PM
After more requests for poetry and not being able to find any poetry published under Norman Porter, I have decided to add more poems to the above link. I wish to maintain the poetry of Jameson available in some form. I think it is of too much value to let it disappear.
April 1 AM
No one can know both Norman Porter and JJ Jameson. One man is a reality and the other an abstract. To know JJ Jameson, the man, is to know Norman Porter, the criminal and convict as an abstract. To know Norman Porter is to abstract JJ Jameson, fugitive and kind hearted soul. When we have the ability to abstract people, we can hate Mr. Porter, or dismiss Mr. Jameson. No matter which man we know, the other is dehumanized. I hope some day people will see more of the man who I have known.
Though I regret the loss of my friend, I believe that Porter/Jameson is where he belongs, in the justice system. What his future status is, whether it is imprisonment, parole, or someday freedom, is something to be decided by the justice system and not by Norman Porter himself. I hope it treats him kindly and fairly. I will do my best to help make sure that it does.
I believe JJ Jameson is a reformed man, but whether he is or not should not have been Norman Porter's decision in 1985. Proving reform is a matter of building up evidence to prove that you have changed from the past. There must be an authority to observe that evidence, and keep score. Though I have seen goodness spring from JJ Jameson I am not a scorekeeper. I wish he could have added to his score here in Chicago.
I hope Mr. Jameson will remain my friend forever and I hope someday to introduce him at some open mike in a crowded bar just like I had until a short while ago.
Norman Porter may be able to serve his time and "debt" to society, but justice will never exist for JJ Jameson.
The final victim of Norman Porter is JJ Jameson.
There has been some hunting for the lost Jameson photo, here it is. People have searched our website for Jameson references and here are two of them. On the GOTO section of our index page we have a link to the 2004 poetry fest. The photograph is available there. This is the photo which was taken by several news outlets without permission.
The other is a poem that will be in the upcoming Melancholy Wonder by Lawrence Tyler. Lawrence and JJ had searched for a friend who had a stroke from nursing home to nursing home on the north side. He simply asked for the guy who plays chess all the time. He had had a stroke and most of his friends did not know where he was. JJ would hire him to do work after he found that he was nearly homeless. Lawrence wrote a poem for him. The poem is available here.
I am posting this on April 10th, 2005, however I will edit it freely from that date as I learn or add further information.
I once knew a man named JJ Jameson. I believe I still do but I struggle with this often. JJ was arrested for being a fugitive and became Norman Porter, a man who he once was. It has not been a complete transformation for me, nor do I believe it ever will be. It is very difficult to examine my doubts. I examine them over and over again. Here are some of my thoughts and remembrances and what I have been able to glean from many sources. There is an amazing amount of news reports amassing on the Internet and in print. You can find more details in them than I am providing here. I have tried to get the whole story out of the mass of info.
This is a story as I can piece it together from news reports, legal defense comments, discussions with reporters, and people who knew the man when he served time in the Massachusetts prison. It stems from newspaper articles both current and from the times that they occurred. I am basing some of this also on comments he had made about his childhood, and some comments in his poems themselves.
I am trying to understand who he was and is.
On January 28th, 1940 Norman Porter was born in Woburn, Massachusetts into a strict New England family. His father was a well driller. When people started getting "city water" the well business began to dry up and his father changed the business to moving houses. There was a local news report from his home town that said while Norman Porter Sr. was moving the houses Norman Porter Jr. was robbing them. When he was 14 or 15 Norman Porter broke into a neighbor's house and stole valuables and a gun. His father, who felt that the system could handle his son, turned him into the police.
After a series of other crimes, such as auto theft, Norman Porter was put into a strict reformatory, The Lyman Reform School for Boys, when he was released Norman Porter was not reformed and he got into even more problems with the law.
On September 29th, 1960, at 8:30 PM, twenty-year-old Norman Porter walked into a Robert Hall Clothing store with Teddy Mavor to rob the place. John Deveau waited outside in a getaway car. Robert Hall Clothing was not a high-end clothing store, and probably would not have a lot of cash. However it was a different retail world then and if people were buying clothes for the start of the school year, there would have been some cash there. There were no credit cards at the time. Why rob a clothing store?
Teddy Mavor had worked at the store and knew the layout. There were 20 or 30 shoppers in the store.
During the robbery attempt two people went into the store and lined up the people who were there. They not only robbed the cash register, they robbed everyone in the store, and robbed, or attempted to rob the safe. During the robbery two men were shot. John Pigott was killed. The other man, Ralph Fabiano, lived.
This was 45 years ago and I have found several versions of this story, most of them do not even mention the second victim. Most news reports state that the clerk was killed execution style. Some say he was killed as he reached into his pocket for his wallet. But there is a third story, which includes more details and includes the second victim.
During the robbery a fight happened. One Boston paper at the time reported that one or both thieves were hit over the head with an aluminum ladder. Norman Porter's confession includes hints of a struggle. It seems that there was a fight in the clothing store and they tried to disable the thieves and take their weapons. During the fight the shotgun "went off" or the trigger was pulled, and a clerk was shot at close range. During the fight the manager, Ralph Fabiano, was shot by a revolver either in the chest or the abdomen. The manager lived. The clerk, John Pigott, died.
Ted Mavor the partner of Norman Porter was caught and said that he was not the man with the shotgun, he said that Norman Porter was the man who pulled the trigger and killed the clerk.
Norman Porter must have run for the hills. He was captured later in Albany, New York. That is where he wrote the confession. There is a Massachusetts local newspaper article available on the web about a woman who has a copy of the confession. There is a short excerpt, it states that he was wearing heavy gloves and couldn't feel the trigger and the gun just went off. It also mentions being hit by the aluminum ladder. The person hit by the ladder was the person who shot the manager. However during the capture or imprisonment in Albany Norman Porter may have been beaten and the judge in the later trial may have determined that it was a coerced confession. According to the trial transcripts it was never brought up in court.
It has been stated that Norman Porter was beaten for 16 hours before signing the confession. I am not sure the beating could have been that severe. I find it hard to believe in thay level of brutality. I have not seen the details of why the confession was not used in court. I am working on it. But you cannot accept both the confession, which says the gun just went off, and an execution style murder. And the fact that the person struck by the ladder did not pull the trigger on the murder weapon. I am trying to find more news reports from 1960 with more information about what happened. With the numerous stories I have read, it is unclear.
But twenty-one-old Norman Porter did not go on trial right away. He went to a jail and May, 1961, someone smuggled a gun to one of the prisoners in the jail. Norman Porter and Edgar Cook escaped. Norman Porter initially carried the gun, but Edgar Cook took it from him and shot the jailer, David Robinson. was killed.
He ran away again and after numerous car thefts, broke into a grocery store. He had been in four separate states. He broke into a closed grocery store and stocked up a car with provisions. He was arrested after he reentered the store to get one last six pack of beer Even though he had five six-packs of beer in the car he went back inside to get another six-pack. He was caught when he went back inside. It is strange how you can need beer that badly. How much of the young Porter’s life was ruled by his need for alcohol?
Edgar Cook, the man he escaped with, who actually pulled the trigger, committed suicide or was killed before he was captured. There were photos on the internet of Cook's body with a burning cigarette next to his body. There were also pictures of the police kicking down the front door of the apartment he was in. All these pictures appear posed.
Norman Porter went to trial for the second murder first. To avoid the death penalty the killing was plea-bargained to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Then he went to trial for the first murder. He again pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and again was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was also sentenced for armed robbery. Was this a plea-bargain? I do not know. However he pleaded second-degree murder to the other crime where the papers report he did not pull the trigger.
The two murders were separate distinct cases, with separate distinct verdicts. Strangely, he was not serving two concurrent life sentences or two consecutive life sentences but the second sentence was to begin after the first life sentence ended. It was a "from and after", a begin and end scenario.
It appears that Norman Porter who must have fallen in with the wrong crowd all his life, in prison, may have fallen into the right crowd.
There were some people at the prison who helped Norman Porter. He took correspondence courses in prison, and obtained his GED. Strangely his GED comes from his hometown high school, the same high school he would have graduated from he had not been in prison.
He went on to earn a degree from Boston University. I have not been able to find out what the degree was in. I’ve read lots of newspaper reports and it’s not there. He started a newspaper at the prison, and a radio station. Someone told me that the radio station did not broadcast its own signal 24 hours a day but was rebroadcast from another station.
When the prisoners in Attica, New York rioted the prisoners where Norman Porter was jailed rioted also. Guards were taken as hostages but Norman Porter negotiated with prison officials to get the prisoners released.
At some time in his imprisonment Norman Porter met with state lawmakers to talk about prison reforms. I do not know the year, that was but at that time in the 60's or 70's the budget for prisoner education in the state was $2.50 per prisoner, per year.
I have received e-mails from people who told me that he used to run clothing and food drives from the prison. He did some work at a local hospital.
He used to be allowed to leave the prison grounds to give and attend lectures.
PRISONEverybody expects a prison to be mean
(early poem by Norman Porter)
everybody wants a prison to be mean
to be the incarnate embodiment
of the very same evil
that they were designed to contain
cold, sterile lock-away
built and maintained
for the protection
hidden deep in the bowels
of the community
acting like lonely old crones
taking daily physics
to rid their tired bodies
of imagined lodged filth
and the reacting fearful community
dispenses cascading waves
through social strata
depressing the imagined lodged criminal
in the evacuation the flows
through justice colon
the half digested, the half formed
pass their usefulness expended
destined for the toilet bowl named jail
everybody expects a prison to be mean
everybody wants a prison to be mean
and they are.
Sometime in this period of time Norman Porter tried to reopen his case from 1960 on the grounds that he was not the triggerman. He never succeeded in reopening his case.
In 1975 his lawyers were working with governor Michael Dukakis to try to get Norman Porter released. It was thought that both his life sentences were to be commuted, however, it was learned at the last minute that he could not get the second sentence commuted since he had not begun to serve any time for the sentence. His good behavior in prison could not be applied to a sentence he had not even begun to serve.
So the second crime, the death of the guard, was the sentence that was commuted for the thirty-five year old. After that was done his lawyers expected the second to be commuted in weeks, then months, it finally led on to years before they would give him another hearing.
By that time Michael Dukakis had his eyes on the White House, and abandoned Norman Porter.
And then there was Willie Horton. Willie Horton was a convicted rapist who was on a work release program. He found the girl he had previously raped and he murdered her.
Michael Dukakis had his eyes on the White House and could not continue with his liberal stance on prison reform. He abandoned Norman Porter.
Norman Porter spent his last years in prison in very minimal security prisons. They have been described to me more as halfway houses than prisons. He could sign himself out often and would go visit his family often. He always had to be there for roll calls.
In 1985, the 45-year-old Norman walked out of prison. If you read the numerous interviews he has given recently, he said he saw a bus going by and said that he should be on it. The previous year he had failed another attempt to get his sentence commuted and there had been a petition of 5000 signatures to keep him in jail for a twenty-five year old sentence.
SOMEWHERE ELSEIn my barred ringed room
(early poem by Norman Porter)
I often dream of being somewhere else
where I could shed this shadow
I lean upon and act myself
without benefit of pretense
cowed under by degrees
to the man's psycho-whip
as I keep myself in good standing
even though sold out
what a need to escape all that
and take myself to the woods
on leaves of mental image
like someone feigning Napoleon
and trip across the fields
barefoot in flight on hoarfrost
gone quick in the morning light
like my thoughts
gone quick in hearing
the screw's whistle
up in evaporation
not at all like
the solid state
of my barred ringed room.
He has said he jumped from bus to bus traveling around the east coast. He has said he traveled randomly for a few days and always took the next bus that was leaving at every terminal. The first purposeful trip, that he choose the destination, was to Chicago. As far as I can tell he then became JJ Jameson.
He said in one interview that he wanted to become the man his strict parents expected him to be.
He worked on the Harold Washington campaign in 1987 and had an autographed photo of Harold Washington on his wall thanking him for his help.
He moderated discussion groups, served on his church board, started a food pantry, counseled youth for the city of Chicago, taught poetry in a senior center, started an AIDS home, but I saw him do numerous things for individuals on a one-on-one basis that were good deeds.
I am trying to take this in person steps trying to humanize him as I go along. He is a man who wears incomplete flesh. I am trying to learn who Norman Porter is and trying to remember who JJ Jameson was.
I first met him in 1991 or 1992 when he walked into my bookstore in Wicker Park, a working class neighborhood of Chicago that was well on its way to gentrification even then.
I met a vast array of characters at the bookstore and JJ Jameson was one of them.
A lot has been said about Porter/Jameson and his affection for the work of Nelson Algren. He was an Algren fan but I don't want to put too much emphasis on this fact, or feed the myth, since he was a fan of lots of different authors. He was a great fan of Thomas Paine.
However, the bookstore was near the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Nelson Algren Avenue, right around the corner from Nelson Algren's old house. Porter/Jameson went to meetings of the Nelson Algren Commitee also. He also knew two individuals who knew Nelson Algren well.
The most fascinating man man I ever met was Larry Goldberg. Larry was a quiet, laid back older gentleman who went to many poetry readings and rather than read poetry would simply listen. He saw lots of Chicago poets read but most poets did not know him. Larry had been the manager of the University of Chicago bookstore during the sixties and had the uncanny ability to meet people. He met everyone, from JFK to a young Richard Daley, from Steinbeck to Henry Miller. He got drunk once with the pope. He was also a friend of Nelson Algren in his early years in Chicago. He and Neslon Algren wrote a screenplay together for The Man with the Golden Arm that was so bad they gave it back and hired a screenwriter to write the script of the Frank Sinatra movie. To hear more about Larry Goldberg please click here. I remember Porter/Jameson and he often talked about Algren.
There was another friend of Algren who showed up at the bookstore named Stu McCarrell, who knew Nelson Algren in his later years in Chicago.
There were poets and artists and writers and musicians who showed up. People came in with stories about Ray Bradbury and Henry Miller and the Haymarket riots.
Porter/Jameson listened to all the stories.
Wicker Park is a neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. It was a different neighborhood in the early 90's than it was today. The crime rate fell enough to make the neighborhood safe and the rents were low enough that many new residents were able to move into the neighborhood. The neighborhood became an incubator for new businesses and restaurants. Many now well-known restaurants and taverns were just starting up. Many established businesses were remodeling and changing. Prices for buildings were low and affordable. Lots of rental space was available. Lots of small jobs and re-hab opportunities opened up. It was the perfect neighborhood for artists and other creative types to live. It became a hotbed of Chicago poetry.
It was not simply because there were "arty" businesses and taverns, poets and artists could actually afford to live in the neighborhood. The per-capita population of poets in Wicker Park was higher then it ever was or had been in Chicago.
There was poetry on Monday nights at The Bop Shop, Wednesday nights at The Gallery Cabaret, and readings at The Chopin Theater, and Kill The Poets Coffeehouse, and The Czar Bar, and Ckub Dreamers and the coffeehouse Urbis Orbis and Lit X, and other readings at other locations. Tuesday nights were special in Wicker Park. It was called the triple crown of poetry. There was a reading at Puddin'head Books, followed by a reading at The Borderline, followed by a reading at Estelles. The readings ran into one another, one was starting before the last was ending. It was seven or eight hours of poetry readings within two blocks of one another on one night. Poets would go from one reading to the next.
After the bookstore closed, I ran the reading at Estelle's. At its peak, I would have 25 to 30 poets read every Tuesday night. I would occassionally get as high as 35 poets reading in one night. In the early 90's on Tuesday night I estimate there were at least 50 different poets reading somewhere in Wicker Park.
There were readings in other parts of the city. The "Uptown Poetry Slam" was going strong at The Green Mill, the "Westside Poetry Slam" was at Fitzgerald's, there was the Monday night reading at Weeds, readings at The Heartland Cafe, and many other places, but Wicker Park was "Ground Zero" for poetry.
I don't remember the first time I heard JJ Jameson read poetry. He read at numerous venues around Chicago and told me he originally met me at Fitzgeralds in Berwyn in the late 80's. I do not remember hinm then. He read a lot of classic poems and introduced me to many poems I had never heard before. He liked to read the poetry of George Starbucks, Whittier, Sandburg, and others. The poetry he read that he had written was competant but was not as memorable as what was to come. He had a conservative style of performance. He was very conversant in poetry and poetic techniques. He appreciated over the top performance styles but did not perform in an over the top style. And then came "Jjennifer Two".
JJ liked to make productions of his poetry. He would work on a piece carefully and for a long time before he would perform it in public. He did not believe in writing a poem on the way to the reading or reading the latest thing in your journal. But Jjennifer Two was a different poem for him.
I saw him on his back porch one day, sipping coffee, surrounded by dozens of open books, and dozens of pieces of paper. Most of ther books were open to a page plus had numerous pages marked. The place was in pandemonium. I asked what he was doing and he told me he was writing a poem. He started quoting what different writers had said about poetry and poetry performance. He talked about how poetry needed to be comtemporary and must speak to an intended audience. I think he finally got the concept of performance poetry. I saw him several hours later and he was still at it. He was writing down notes on little scraps of paper and writing and re-writing a poem. I'm sure he took a break in the middle of it but he was back at it the next day. As he was writing the books were closing one by one and the notes were becoming more organized. Finally the poem emerged.
I had seen many poets write but this was the most driven and dedicated writing I have ever seen. He performed that poem for the first time at Estelle's. It may have been the birth of his free-wheeling performance style poetry. After "Jjennifer Two", his poetry was not the same.
JJ's poetry was free-wheeling and entertaining. You never knew what was going to come next. I hope that in some way he can continue to perform and entertain.
Much has been said and discussed with me and around me about sin and forgiveness. When I think of his crimes, I am not drawn to the simplicity of Cain and Able, but rather to the story from the life of David. David decided he wanted a woman as his wife and arranged to have her husband killed during a battle. After his crime he and those who knew him suffered. He asked for God’s forgiveness, and God forgave him. We know this because David went before the Arc of God in remorse and God accepted him back into his grace. God forgave his sin. God does forgive terrible sins.
A friend of mine and I often talked about the discrepancies we saw between Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo. My friend felt that we have total freedom of will in whatever acts we did and responsibility of our actions was solely our own. I felt that our actions were guided by the will of God and free will was just an illusion we create. I believe God’s will has precedence. I have since thought the opposite in this belief also, until I see God’s will again. It seems it is like layers of an onion. Just when we think we are free we see God’s hand guiding us.
Porter/Jameson would be fascinated by these discussions, but he had a darker view. He felt that we were victims of fate and what we did was a result of our personal histories. We really have no choice in what we do. Where we came from and what fate threw at us make us what we are. I did, however, see him fight to help people change their lives.
JJ Jameson tried to be at every funeral for every friend even if they had a very short acquaintance. He showed up at one funeral covered in plaster dust apologizing profusely. Something about leaky pipes and having to tear down a wall and needing to get back to the job. An hour or so later at a memorial reading for that dead poet, he showed up again for a few minutes just to show more respect. Then he went back to his plumbing.
When my sister died he called up everyone on the poetry scene to let them know. When a friend died I often found out from him.
I am not sure of his belief in God. I remember a heated argument at a luncheon after a funeral when a poet said, “if you don’t believe in God, what are you doing here?” He said that he was here for the deceased and his respect was given regardless of his belief in God. I believe he was not attending funerals out of remorse for lost souls but to sincerely remember the living. He was caring and helpful to everyone during these times.
I was closest to him in the early 90’s when my own personal beliefs were in doubt and I was looking closely for God. I would come across some strange coincidence in my life that was guiding me on a path and I took that as evidence of God’s power. He would tell me it was just a co-incidence. But he would occasionally call me up when some unexpectedly fortuitous happened to someone we knew. He would tell me he ran into another one of my “God things.” I would tell him that God was there and he would tell me to quit scaring him with that Twilight Zone stuff. But I know he watched for these things and paid attention to them. I believe he believed in the existence of a higher power. A belief in a personal God appears in some of his poetry.
He attended church regularly, and if not devout, he was a great humanist. He did things and stood for things he felt were right for other people. He helped people overcome the restraints of their past.
I was surprised during a session of the short-lived and sporadic Wicker Park Egghead Society, that he and a well-know anarchist/atheist poet were both members of the Unitarian church. They both explained to me how you can have compassion and care for your fellow human being and did not need a higher power to base it on.
JJ suffered from his alcohol addiction and it was the greatest factor in my drifting away from him over the years and the ending of several relationships and friendships. He drank. He drank more than some people thought and less than others thought. He told me once that he had gone over a year and a half without drinking. This was at a time when his life seemed the most stable and happy.
Many people have stories of his public drunkenness. When he really started drinking, he drank alone, he drank shamefully, he drank in the dark all alone in his bed with the curtains drawn, not answering the door and with 30 messages on his answering machine.
We know one demon that made him drink. I don’t think we know all the demons. He tried to quit. I know he sought help often, sometimes several times a week. Sometimes he would seek help in the middle of the night. He did not casually try to quit. He really tried hard. If you knew him at those times realize that he suffered. Think of the vast majority of times when he defeated his drinking. After a bout of drinking it would be a long time before he would drink again.
He counseled people on their addiction problems. He saved drunks. He called me up in the middle of the night one night and said to meet him, we were going to save a drunk. I picked him up and he indicated that we should stop at a liquor store. I said I thought we were going to stop someone from drinking. He explained that you had to be drunk enough to get into a treatment center. We picked up his friend and brought him for treatment. I helped him drop off several drunks.
I his better days he would take someone with an alcohol problem and put them to work and feed them and let them stay at his apartment. He used to keep them sober. They would get paid when the job was over and that meant that they had no money to drink until the job was done. He was always quiet about this, but I know he did it several times in the early and middle 90’s.
He was not always quiet when he showed up at someone’s house and told them it was time to quit drinking. He would bring them for help or ply them with coffee or drop them off for treatment.
I recently received a note from someone who had a terrible addiction problem. I knew him and sometimes got phone calls from his wife asking me to look for him. He would disappear for days and I would search bars and street corners looking for him to bring him back home. If anyone remembers me running out of the Sun Café the first time I was there it was because of that. This man had lost his family of 14 years due to his addiction. He lost several jobs. No one really wanted to be around him at the time. JJ fed him a Christmas dinner so he would not be all alone. Two lonely people who had lost things because of their addictions. After the dinner JJ handed him his present. JJ had realized that this individual was having a problem reading and gave him a pair of reading glasses. This person is now in college and is getting his life back together. I do not know if JJ’s acts of kindness to him were the critical factor that changed his life, but it was vitally important.
I received a note from someone who JJ introduced me to over ten years ago. He wasn’t just a stray that JJ picked up off the street. JJ saw some potential in him and taught him the building and rehab trades. He spent a lot of time and generosity trying to help him. He was one of the people that we dropped off together at a treatment center. He said that JJ saved his life and he was going to college now.
He did not simply give lip service to his ideas. He did not simply tell people where to go. He actively sought to help people transform themselves for the better.
It was a shame that he could not overcome his problems. He would have been a better man if he could have stayed sober. I think he tried to make up for his problem by successfully saving people from the very problem that he had. I have heard from several people who have said he saved their life by helping them with their drinking problem.
Some people have told me that JJ was never really sick he was just always drunk. This is far from the truth. He was sick often and very badly. I saw him one day and he told me they found a spot of cancer on his leg. He pointed to a mole-like object on his leg. He later said he had several of them removed. He got treatments for throat cancer. Once he told he told me the cancer was back, they found another spot. Curious, I said I never saw cancer before. He said well look and stuck out his tongue and showed me an ugly ragged-edged ugly thing that looked just like it does in the textbooks. He was always knocked out after a chemotherapy treatment.
He told me he had some sort of enzyme disease that was similar to a disease that Mediterranean Jews get. He probably told me more details about it but I don’t remember. He used to go to the public hospital for treatments when the enzyme levels got too out of whack. The initial treatments were very difficult for him and I would see him very weak afterwards. Over the years they gave him milder medications that did not take such a bad toll on him. I met several people who dropped him off for these treatments; he would spend entire days at the hospital. This was the reason that he often had tumors that would have to be removed.
He told me that the treatments and growing up in an area that was high in arsenic had taken a toll on his immune system and he got sick often. He would tell me he had fevers up to 105 degrees. He would go down to the hospital and they would keep him overnight. He missed many readings and appointments because of this. His rehab business suffered often. He was susceptible to everything that was going around.
Sometime in the mid-90’s I was at home on the phone in the middle of the night and I heard my fax machine go off. I checked my fax and I had a note that said. “I need your help now - JJ.” I called him up. He was living in the apartment a lot of poets probably remember; it was the one with the roof over the garage where he had an occasional reading or event, he called them soirées. I remember one reading he had on the roof; he said it was for his birthday. I’m trying to remember the date, but I thought it was summertime. It was a nice night. Lots of music and poetry and good food.
Someone had broken into his apartment through the window over the garage. He ran after them, tripped, and hit his shoulder on a granite slab he was saving for a future rehab job. He broke his shoulder. The one hospital told him it was just a hairline fracture, but it was worse than that. He later told me he had it “glued back together” at another hospital. It was fractured in many places and he had the seams around the cracks sealed with some sort of polymer. Because of this he had a difficult time raising his arms over his head. They recently removed one of the many tumors he had from his shoulder. They did not know about the “gluing” and affected a nerve in his shoulder. He had a loss of feeling in his arm for quite a while.
He fell off a ladder once and broke his leg. Shortly after that healed he was knocked down by a van in a parking lot and badly damaged the other leg. He was often struggling to get money for medicine. He went to numerous hospitals.
He was a man who even though he was very sick, he still often got out of his sickbed to do things for other people.
A friend of mine who worked at public aid said that JJ often would call him up to ask about advice for people who were having problems getting assistance. My friend would explain policy to him and give him advice. He said JJ called him up several times over the years. This would not be unusual except for the fact that they greatly disliked one another. JJ overlooked that dislike to talk to him about someone else’s problem.
A friend of his had gotten fired from her job and JJ decided it was a case for age-discrimination and encouraged her to call the EEOC. She tried but got no-where. JJ said he picked up the phone and called his congressman who remembered him from working on Harold Washington’s campaign. Whether he did or not the woman had a call from the EEOC the next day.
The things he did and tried to do for his church were numerous. I know he helped to start a day-care center, an AIDS program, a food kitchen, and a scholarship fund.
I remember when a friend of his died he contacted and brought Studs Terkel out to the church for the service.
A friend of ours, a well known poet and puppeteer, who struggled with some mental impairment during his life, but was actually rated #14 in the city as a chess player at one time, had a stroke and most of the people who knew him did not know where he was. JJ went from nursing home to nursing home until he finally found the guy who liked to play chess. He stopped by to see him several times.
JJ had taken an interest in him when he learned that he was often sleeping in a car. Later, there were more wonderful people who helped this poet, but JJ sometimes put him to work and let him stay in his basement apartment at times.
There is a long list of people that he occasionally would put to work so they would have some extra cash.
During the early and middle 90’s I met a lot of people involved with trying to save Maxwell Street. I remember JJ threw himself into that struggle. Involved in that struggle was my friend Larry Goldberg. When Larry had a stroke and we did not know where he moved to, JJ searched until he found Larry.
It may seem unusual that poets in Chicago do not know that much about one another’s personal life but we primarily talk about poetry and words and events and ideas. In general we do not even know about what people do for a living. It does not really make a difference. Though there are lots of friendships, they are mostly about poetry. We spend a lot of time together talking about poetry. We work together to set up shows. We don’t often meet people’s cousin from Philly. Most of my relatives at least, beyond my immediate family, could care less about my poetry.
Some people have suggested to me that Porter/Jameson's arrest was a right wing conspiracy to crack down on free speech. I have not seen any difference between how left and right wing police do their job. It is unfortunate that JJ is not here in Chicago. But the police were just doing their jobs. There was no political or pro-war or anti-speech conspiracy. I hope my friend can continue to live a good useful life in the justice system. Now that he is there I hope he finds justice.
And I hope he finds peace.
GETTING UPSitting here in this solitude
(early poem by Norman Porter)
on the rock hard bunk
of my prison cell
I feel constricted
as if loneliness
robbed me of my strength
to face the day
and I see through with eyes gone crimson
like the iron bars.
I cross my legs
I uncross my legs
nothing seems right
in belonging here
in this prison world
of ritualized procedure
in a thousand copies
and memorized by heart
to start and stop
by whistles, bells and gongs.
I write these words
out of sheer desperation
to fill the void
that echoes so empty
inside of me
pounding my life forces
to crippled functions
that grow tired and weary
just to get up in the morning
and I have to gasp
to avoid suffocating.
March 22nd: Porter/Jameson captured at his church in Chicago.
March 23rd: Porter/Jameson waived extradition and agreed not to fight his return to Massachusetts.
March 24th: Porter/Jameson pleads not guilty to escaping from prison.
Porter/Jameson went before a judge for a pre-trial hearing. There was some discussion but no action was taken or decisions were made. There will be another pre-trial hearing on May 12th. There has not been an actual trial date set. There is a possibility of reopening the trial from 1960. There could also be a plea bargain. The maximun sentence for escape is ten years. There are five years of imprisonment remaining until he is eligible for parole on his prior conviction.
September 27th, 2005
Porter/Jameson's last pre-trial hearing was on Tuesday, September 27th.
There were several protesters outside the courthouse. At the beginning of the trial the prosecutors presented their case for the maximum sentence. They asked for 9 to 10 years additional sentence. There were witnesses from the family of the two murdered victims. The defense presented its case reading letters from people who JJ Jameson helped and interacted with in Chicago. Their witnesses included: a young woman who Jameson helped obtain an apartment and later a house after she left an abusive relationship, prison officials, Jameson's ex-minister, a documentary film-maker, and an aged woman who he delivered groceries to. Judge Isaac Borenstein announced that he has received a lot of information and woudl read all of the many letters he has received. He will announce his sentence on October 14th.
October 14th, 2005
Porter/Jameson appeared before Judge Isaac Borenstein. He announced his sentence of three years and recessed the court for Porter/Jameson to consider the sentence. When court resumed Mr. Porter pleaded guilty to the escape charges and ended further court action. Judge Borenstein sentenced him to three years time to be served in addition to his life sentence. He is eligible for parole in three and a half to four years for his life sentence. He is eligible for parole for his escape after one year. So he is eligible for parole in four and a half to five years time, and can possibly regain his freedom.
Norman Porter AKA JJ Jameson's address in prison is:
Norman A. Porter, Jr.
PO Box 100
Mass. Corrections Facility
South Walpole MA 02071-0100
The Puddin'head Press E-mail address is:
Our address is:
The Puddin'head Press
PO Box 477889
Chicago IL 60647
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