Nabat Books is an obscure publishing company “dedicated to reprinting forgotten memoirs by various misfits, outsiders, and rebels.” In 1926, the company printed, You Can’t Win, a memoir of Jack Black’s (not the actor) life on the road and living outside the law.
Every locked up person should study this life-changing turn-around adventure.
Black’s mother died when he was a teenager. Shortly thereafter, he parted ways with his father. Years later he reminisced: “I had not spent one hour in the company of an honest person. I had lived in an atmosphere of larceny, theft, crime. I thought in terms of theft. Houses were built to be burglarized, citizens were to be robbed, police to be avoided and hated, stool pigeons to be chastised, and the thieves to be cultivated and protected. That was my code; the code of my companions. That was the atmosphere I breathed. ‘If you live with wolves, you will learn to howl.’”
You Can’t Win is loaded with colorful con artists, thieves, and hustlers who teach Black the meaning of integrity, honor, and respect given to and between “old school” convicts.
The beggars, bums, and thieves back-in-the-day were not dirty rotten crazies running the streets. In Black’s world, “…beggars are the most reliable and trustworthy, the most self-sacrificing and the quickest to help of any class of people outside the pale of society.”
Black notes. “The beggar minds his own business, settles his own feuds, and I cannot recall ever seeing one of them in court testifying against anybody for anything.”
However, it was only a matter of time before life as a professional burglar and thief landed Black in prison.
The anguish shackling has on wrongdoers resonates just as strongly nine decades ago as it does today, as Black reports the psychological impact of his incarceration.
“You start doing time the minute the handcuffs are on your wrists. The first day you are locked up is the hardest, and the last day is the easiest. There comes a feeling of helplessness when the prison gates swallow you up – cut you off from the sunshine and flower out in the world – but that feeling soon wears away if you have guts.”
In Black’s later years as a criminal, he realized the adage “crime doesn’t pay” truly applies to his life. He recognized the value of education and how important it is to stay within the law.
However, when Black assessed how the justice system treated him he wrote, “It seemed to me that the blind goddess got a tough deal herself. Everybody connected with the case outraged her. The first judge took money. The coppers framed me in. The witnesses perjured themselves. The second judge was so feloniously righteous that he stood in with the framing. My lawyer was a receiver of stolen goods—even stole some from me. And the police told me that the Jeweler’s Association beat them out of the reward…It frequently happens that the initial loss in dollars and cents is as nothing compared to the wrong and injury that radiate from such crimes like ripples on a pond.”
Black said he could only stop using opium by understanding that “the worst hold the drug gets on a man is the mental hold…A man has to keep a hard grip on his mind; he has to want to quit, first, and keep wanting to quit all the time; then he can do it.”
Black appreciated ending his criminal career and his life changes by writing, “I have seen many miraculous reformations. One man may be reformed through a woman, a woman’s plea, a mother’s love. Others might be reformed through the assistance of kindness of friends. But still another might be reformed by an act of kindness from some unexpected source. I believe that one who has been brutalized can be turned right by an act of kindness and be regenerated. It looks reasonable.”
Juan’s Book Review