Even though he was still serving time for murder, Norman A. Porter Jr. believed he had earned his freedom when he walked away from a nearby minimum-security prison 20 years ago and set out for Chicago. “I had done what they wanted me to do,” Porter told the Chicago Tribune during a prison interview near Boston. While serving life sentences for the 1960 shotgun murder of a department store clerk and the 1961 killing of a jail official during an escape, Porter received a high school equivalency diploma and college degree, became a poet and prison journalist, and made a name for himself as a jailhouse activist in an era when Massachusetts inmate councils helped draft prison policies.
To some, Porter was a poster boy for prison reform. Gov. Michael Dukakis even commuted one of his sentences in 1975. But after a second commutation effort fizzled in 1985, Porter said state officials made it clear to him that he would “never see the light of day again.” So, five years shy of his parole eligibility date, he just walked away to claim the freedom he thought he deserved. For the next two decades, Porter lived as a fugitive in Chicago under the name Jacob “J.J.” Jameson. He was a fixture of the city’s poetry scene.