Henry had paroled from CCI Tehachapi and was living in a rented room on 12th Street in Santa Monica. He had immediately started back drinking. We would get together three or four times a week. He would usually make dinner, Italian food, of course—he was particularly proud of his tomato sauce: it was excellent. He would add some sausage or meatballs and it was pasta as delicious as I had ever had. We would have wine and beer with the meal and though I would caution Henry about his drinking he paid me no mind and was generally drunk by the time the evening was over. Read More
The warden at Tehachapi Prison asked that my writing class branch out. Could I do sessions on the medium security yard as well as the max yard? I agreed and soon we had a group of a dozen or so inmates in the class, not as dangerous nor quite as interesting as the murderers on Yard 4B, but an interesting enough collection of thieves, rapists, and strong-arm men. There was even an old Mafioso in the group, a man in his seventies who had been allied with Mickey Cohen. When I asked him how long he was in for, he shook head and said, “I’m never getting out.”
The class had been in existence two or three months and a new inmate showed up. He was in his sixties, small and glum-looking, with an aura about him of defeat. His name was Martin Lewis and when I jokingly said, “Jerry or Dean?” he looked at me with vague distaste: “I’ve never heard that one before,” he said.
I asked him, as I did with all new members, to tell the group what experience he had had with writing. Had he had any schooling, did he read extensively, what did he read, and how much writing had he actually done? In prison, I had discovered, there was an enormous gap in educational levels. Some had graduated high school or gotten their GED in prison. A number had barely gone above the third grade. Some had gone to college, even graduated.
And then there would be a rara avis, an inmate with an advanced degree. In my thirteen years of teaching in the prisons I had two men with a PhD and one man who kept bragging to me that he was a member of mensa.
Marty Lewis said in a very soft, thickly accented New York voice, “I’ll tell you at the break.” I thought he had misunderstood me, that he was under the impression that I was asking about his crimes and perhaps he was a child molester and didn’t want to proclaim that in front of the other inmates.
When we took a break, he came up to me and began to talk, but his voice was so soft and his New York accent so thick, that I could barely understand him. I did make out, “Nick Pileggi”, and a cocktail lounge in Queens called The Suite. I knew from reading Pileggi’s book on Henry Hill, “Wiseguy”, which was made into the film “Goodfellas”, that Henry Hill had had a club in Queens called The Suite, so I said as a joke, “You must know Henry Hill.” I figured Marty Lewis was showing me that he had read Pileggi’s book.
He leaned very close to me and said in almost a whisper: “I am Henry Hill.”