Two Tonys Book Introduction

A thank you to my proof readers including Mark Coates for tearing apart my puny one-page intro to Two Tonys book, which has now been expanded as follows:

As a nerdy business-studies graduate moving to Arizona from the UK, I hadn’t planned on ending up in prison, where a Mafia associate classified as a mass murderer serving 141 years would befriend me. A few days before meeting Two Tonys in late 2004, I’d been attacked by a biker, an associate of a serial-home-invader-torturer who disliked me for being a “fish” – a new prisoner. When my cellmate found out about the attack, he suggested I meet Two Tonys, who was at the top of the prison hierarchy for murdering rival gangsters, and capable of protecting me. Waiting to meet Two Tonys over a game of chess, I was conscious of my heartbeat revving up and sweat trickling down my sides. I thought, Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. If I beat him, he might want to kill me. My cellmate brought Two Tonys, bespectacled and in his early sixties with hazel eyes and slicked hair greying at the sides. Slightly under six feet and with a medium build, he wasn’t physically intimidating, but as he got closer, and I heard his voice and saw his eyes, I felt uneasy. His gaze was fearless and aggressive to an extreme degree. I sensed that if he were pushed, his response would be limitless. The hardcore in prison communicated in gangster lingo. Lacking that ability, I worried I’d say the wrong thing and cause offence. My voice betrayed my nervousness as we chatted, but Two Tonys put me at ease by asking in a mock UK accent whether I’d ever had tea and crumpets with the Beatles.
After the game, I shook his hand. “I won because you kept speaking your mind. It gave me an advantage.”
“Me and my big mouth,” Two Tonys said, slapping the side of his head.

Two Tonys trusted me enough to ask me to write his life story. I felt honoured. Daily, I visited his cell with writing supplies. He dictated for hours. My parents posted some of his stories to the Internet. He quickly gained a following at my blog, Jon’s Jail Journal, which was inundated with questions and comments for him. Readers warmed to his voice. TV gangsters typically come across as uneducated thugs, whereas Two Tonys had evolved from that by spending decades reading in the Arizona Department of Corrections, rendering his voice – which I’ve written this book in – a blend of Mafia associate and philosopher. We spent so much time together that by the end of my sentence, Two Tonys said that I was like the son that he’d never had. There were moments when writing this book – reminiscing about our time together – I had to stop to clear away tears. The same happened when I said goodbye to Two Tonys at the chain-link fence just before my deportation. I still fall back on what he taught me about life such as appreciating small things instead of seeking excitement in all of the wrong places.

Meeting Two Tonys was a blessing because there was much more to him than his rap sheet. By using his influence with the gangs, Two Tonys saved several lives in prison– including mine. He got a hit called off on me that had been initiated by an Aryan Brotherhood gang leader who I’d unwittingly made an enemy out of by blogging about drugs in prison. What impressed me the most about Two Tonys was his devotion to his daughter and grandchildren who came to visit him, and his relentless appreciation of life.

When prisoners complained about our breakfast being cold or recreation not commencing on time, Two Tonys would jest that it was worse in the Siberian gulag, where they fought over fish eyeballs in the soup, and his favourite character from literature, Ivan Denisovich, resided. The Russians were worked to death in temperatures so cold that they lost fingers, noses and ears to frostbite. Those who refused to work were dragged to death by horses or thrown off cliffs. And they were mostly political prisoners who hadn’t harmed anyone. Two Tonys never complained about getting caught or made excuses for his crimes. He backed up his stoicism with quotes from the myths of Ancient Greece and philosophers such as Aurelius, Machiavelli, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, who he affectionately referred to in gangster nomenclature as The Schop. His favourite authors included Tom Wolfe, John Updike, Haruki Murakami, Gore Vidal, Hemingway, Tolstoy and Steinbeck. He even aspired to be a book critic.

As amazing as it was for me to experience Two Tonys' humanity, I never lost sight of the horror of his crimes, which were to various degrees business decisions and drug-fuelled outbursts. As a teenager, he recognised his tendencies, and so did the Mafia, which Two Tonys eagerly joined. To kill or be killed is the ethos of gangsters, and Two Tonys saw little difference between that and his contract with the US government during his days in the military. Knowing that he could be murdered by a rival at any time, he was quick to kill those scheming against him, which he credited for keeping him alive. The murders started after Two Tonys heavy cocaine use, and he constantly warned me to never go back to drugs. Working for the Bonanno Crime Family in the 1960s, Two Tonys was indoctrinated into a world of old-school Mafia values, including not harming women or kids, a far cry from the powerful Mafias of this day such as the Mexican cartels, who have decapitated entire families and posted videos of the massacres online. I’m not making excuses for homicide, but I feel that Two Tonys actions need to be understood in context.
During a recent interview, I was asked, “As a guy that was well into love and the rave scene, you spent a long time documenting the life of a killer who you cared for. How do you square that?”

“Prisoners are human beings,” I said. “In prison, I realised there is good and bad in everybody. I try to focus on the good in the belief that it helps it to come out.”

Shaun Attwood  


Here's a Getting Better Acquainted podcast I did discussing what I'm up to now, the war on drugs, Chasing the Scream my next book, Two Tonys, and much more. Click here to listen. 

From T-Bone (Letter 44)

T-Bone is a massively-built spiritual ex-Marine, who uses fighting skills to stop prison rape. T-Bone’s latest letter:

You wouldn’t believe the bugs in here. It’s like a horror movie. I woke up with one right beside my head. Every day they’re on the walls. Whoever was in this cell before me has put his gang warfare manifesto all over the walls and ceiling. The prison has the sex offenders make our food, and that means they put stuff like bodily fluids in it.

There is an institutionalized Native American guy who does things that are ingrained in his head like getting up early and banging his cup on his sink and washing his undershorts and shirt every day, regardless if he wears them. He constantly puts down black people and tries to promote himself as an intelligent man, but his heart is limited to hate. I’m like, wow, this guy is a wannabe Ku Klux Klan member. He laughed about the crazy dude killing the nine people in the church in Charleston, South Carolina. Listening to him, I kept my mouth shut. I know that he’s been brainwashed by evil.

Shaun Attwood  

From Renee (Letter 41)

Renee – Only a teenager, she received a 60-year sentence. Almost 20 years later, Renee is writing from Perryville prison in Goodyear, Arizona, providing a rare and unique insight into a women's prison.
I got moved to 18 yard, which I’m told has a lot of drama. Not by chance, either. At least nine lifers were moved. I’m no longer in a cell by myself. I have one roommate. Rumours from is they are going to use 14 yard for minimum custody overflow, which is curious because I really thought they could no longer have mixed custodies on a unit.
I can soon apply to the clemency board. I’m going to ask to be paroled to my last number that is in only six years. So should the universe decide to give me a break, I hope it is on the day of the hearing. I have an attorney who says he has been successful doing this type of thing. It really seems the closer I am to my shot, the more things seem to happen as if I am being tested. An example is the change in my living situation and having a cellmate. My roommate works maintenance for most of the day. When she comes back, I go out for a few minutes in the 109 degree heat for her to do whatever she needs to do.  

Two Tonys Prologue

I'm just putting the finishing touches to my book about Two Tonys, the Mafia associate who protected me in prison. Do you have any feedback or suggested improvements on the prologue below? 

The peep slot on my door slammed open. A pair of eyes gazed in. “You’ve got a legal visit. Back up to the door and don’t try anything stupid.” A key rattled. A latch clicked. A hatch unfastened.
I placed my book down, got up from the metal bunk, put my hands behind my back and fed them through the hatch. Handcuffs clicked on tight. Two pairs.
“Step away from the door with your back to us.”
The metal door squeaked open.
“Come out with your back to us. Any sudden moves and we will face-plant you into the concrete.”
I ended up between two guards packing pistols, trained to remain aloof, probably told, “If you slip and fall, don’t think a prisoner won’t grab your gun and kill you.” Chains jangled as they were secured around my belly and ankles. The door clanged shut and was locked.
“Down the corridor. Go!”
Curses and sewage smells rose from the cells as the guards boots clunked forward.
When they guided me past Visitation, I knew something was up. “Where are we going?”
“We can’t tell you for security reasons.”
They brought me to an office, and opened the door. “Can we bring him in lieutenant?”
 I shuffled inside: beige walls, a fluorescent strip light, no windows. 
“Three homicide detectives and a county attorney from Anchorage wanna talk to you,” said an overgrown redneck sweating through a tan uniform. “Have a seat.”
The plastic chair slid towards me scraped the concrete. Restricted by chains, I sat slowly. “Do I have to talk to them, lieutenant?” I asked, playing dumb.
“Then I don’t wanna talk to them.”
“I’ll call the gate to see where they’re at.” He got on his radio. “They’re on their way up. When they get here, tell them you don’t wanna talk to them.” That was his ploy to get me in a room with them.
With the three Alaskans was Dirk Taylor, a Tucson homicide detective who I’d been jousting with for well over a decade. In a beige shirt, brown pants and snakeskin boots, he tilted his cowboy hat, revealing his face, leathery and tanned, and a bulbous burnt nose.
“How’re you doing?” Dirk asked with a southwestern twang.
“Just fine, but I don’t wanna talk to you people.”
“We’re just looking to close some old cases,” the Alaskan attorney said. “We’re not gonna charge you with any crimes. We know you’re never getting out. Indicting you would be a waste of taxpayer’s money.”
Dirk steered his brown eyes, small and severe, towards the lieutenant. “Can you make him talk to us?”
 I kept my expression deadpan, but every fibre in my body itched for me to say, “What is it you wanna talk about?” But if you ask that question – I was taught a long time ago by the Mafia – you run the risk of dialogue with them, so you say nothing. It’s always best to take the Fifth Amendment, even if they only ask for your address. To come all the way from Alaska to Arizona, it had to be serious. Someone must have ratted me out for whacking members of The Brothers, a deadly biker gang that stepped on my toes in the cocaine business.
The lieutenant shrugged. “OK, you can go.”
Glad to get away from them, I stood.
“Wait! Don’t you wanna save yourself from the death penalty?” Dirk busted open a manila folder and slapped down a photo of a big bald dude on a hotel-room bed, a fucking mess, blood coming from his mouth, some of it congealed, his eyes closed, one foot on the floor, one on the bed, the majority of his brains on the ceiling. “We found your prints at the scene. Is there anything you’d like to tell us?”
Gazing impassively, I thought, Who’s Dirk trying to fool?
Dirk slapped down another photo: a biker stabbed to death in a prison cell. “How about this one?”
I shook my head.
Slap! Slap! Slap! Bodies unearthed from the Tucson desert. “How about these?” Dirk snatched a folder from the county attorney. He slapped down another photo: a biker frozen in Alaska with a chunk of his head missing. “How about this one?”
I shrugged.
Slap! Another frozen biker. “And this one?” Slap! A biker with his throat slit. “This one?” Dirk gathered the pictures together like a hand of cards and waved them in my face. I savoured his desperate expression. “You left a trail of corpses from Arizona to Alaska. Tell us something, anything.”
“OK. I have something to say.”
They gazed at me intensely. The detectives’ eyes were as cold as the corpses I’d left behind in Alaska. I wondered if hunting motherfuckers like me had injected ice into their hearts. “Don’t ever show up here uninvited without bringing me a soda and a burger.” I smiled at Dirk, who scowled. “Can I go back to my house?” I asked the lieutenant. He nodded at the guards with the pistols to return me to maximum security.
As if he’d got his fucking swagger back, Dirk said in a wise-guy tone, “When they sentence you to death, would you prefer the gas chamber or lethal injection?”

Shaun Attwood