Archives for john espinosa nelson


On Where Excuses Go To Die, a Memoir by John Espinosa Nelson

Where Excuses Go to Die by John NelsonI have been amazingly fortunate. Two writers from my prison classes have produced exceptional works. Ken Hartman, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, worked on a memoir in my class at Tehachapi Prison. It was eventually published as Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars.It won the Eric Hoffer award for a memoir and received spectacular reviews. It’s a powerful work, profound, frightening, moving. And now another student of mine, John Nelson, has come up with an equally stunning work, also a prison memoir: Where Excuses Go To Die.

Where Excuses Go To Die” is funny, touching, wise. Nelson gives you the desperate, grinding prison reality in fire-cracker language that has you shaking your head in admiration. This guy has an eye and an ear and an instinct for what really goes on behind the walls, what criminals are truly like, the relationships between staff and convict, how the whole circus cartwheels along. Want to know how a bright, middle-class kid ends up a convict, serving seven years for bank robbery? Want to know, feel, taste the innards of California prisons in hilarious, disturbing detail, how one survives or doesn’t in fantastical situations absurd, brutal, terrifying? I spent thirteen years teaching in maximum-security prisons. My one-man show, Murderers Are My Life, is a revelation of that world—I thought I had seen it all– but John Nelson pulled the curtains aside and showed me the core of incarceration, stuff that I never could have imagined.

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The Bank Robber and the Teacher: A Tale of Redemption

John Nelson, former bank robber and student of DSM

John Espinosa Nelson, former bank robber and student of DSM, is now a well-respected and award-winning author.

Not too long ago I had tweeted about my blog on the hunger strike in California prisons. Someone responded and said it was thoughtful and on the nose, and they mentioned in passing that they had been a student of mine. I didn’t recognize the name, John Nelson, or the photo of the tweeter and assumed it had been someone who studied with me at USC. I taught graduate playwriting and screenwriting for 33 years there and from time to time one of my old students would contact me and often I had no memory of them.

The tweeter responded to my reply tweet, asked for my e-mail address, and a sense began to stir in me of who this might be. 23 years ago I had had a very young man as a creative writing student in Wasco State Prison. He had been serving time for bank robbery and the name John Nelson brought up an image very different from the picture on his twitter page. I tweeted back asking him if he hadn’t been young and thin and in Wasco prison for bank robbery. Hadn’t he shown an early literary bent by robbing bookstores, eventually moving up to banks?

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