Jimmy "The Shiv"

Death House Barber of Sing Sing


The above picture is of Jimmy and his daughter, Jodi, the author of the memoir.

PREFACE to the book

The stories about my father I was fortunate to have overheard as a child fascinated and intrigued me. It wasn’t until a lengthy illness necessitated my mother’s placement in a residential care facility that I uncovered a box of memories she had given me. Inside, a small package wrapped in tissue paper and tied with a satin ribbon were the treasured letters my father had written to her in 1936 and 1937.

I spent several days doing nothing but reading them and putting them in the order they were written. It was a difficult chore as my mother had cut the top of all the letters off, where Censored was stamped. There was a rectangle hole cut from the signature line where my father was required to put his inmate number. My mother could not bear to have it reminding her where he was. Once in chronologic order I reread each letter. They were filled with so much love for my mother yet overshadowed with frustration, fear, disappointment and painful memories. I could feel his pain as I held them in my hands. He was writing these letters to my mother who was his sweetheart while confined in the New York Tombs....tombs, a suitable name for the dungeon-like jail.

In a trance-like state, I found myself sitting beside him sharing the powerless hopelessness of the situation he was in, and with a broken heart, I read on.

Reaching the last letter, I saw his neat handwriting scribble. Going back to Sing Sing right now.

I then undid the second satin ribbon and began reading the packet of letters…After while in Sing Sing Prison in Ossining New York.

I became possessed to discover the truth behind my father’s imprisonment. In writing about my father in prison, I found it so difficult to image the isolation that, finally, I went down to my basement and put myself in an empty room with a chair, and turned off the light.

There, alone, in the damp cold air, I could begin to sense the solitude and anguish he had felt being cut off from the world.

Slowly, in my visits to the windowless basement room, I began to imagine myself in his actual cell, hearing his thoughts in the darkness and venturing back through his own memories in time.

It has taken me thirteen years to do the research to tell my father’s story. When I finished, I felt as though I had been his recording angel, noting the good and the bad, the sad and the happy, the love and loss of his life.

Many years have passed since I last saw my father, yet every line of his face is clear. I can still hear his voice resonating through the home where I grew up, yet nothing I recall of him is greater than his absence, an absence that left an hole in my heart where memories of him will live forever.

I hope here I can fill in that hole by imagining the life he led before he was taken from us, and share that life with you.