The Owlery

The features blog of The Temple News



April 2015



Behind bars, North Philly native writes to inspire youth

Written by , Posted in Arts & Entertainment

John Griffin grew up on Park Avenue and Dauphin Street. He learned to swim at Temple’s swimming pool on Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Growing up, Griffin would go to The Uptown Theater and watch stage shows.

In elementary school, Griffin started writing. This would be mostly poems for his mother, and later, his wife.

Griffin, known as one of the leaders of the Philadelphia Black Mafia, is acquitted for “one of the most heinous crimes of the 1970s,” according to the book’s press release, known as the “Hanafi Muslim Murders,” but has been behind bars for the last 40 years.

“After coming to prison, I would write letters and poems for other prisoners to send to their loved ones,” Griffin said in a letter to The Temple News.

Today, Griffin is a contributing author to a new book series titled “Gangster Chronicles,” where he hopes to “uplift today’s troubled youth,” according to the novel, “Sequence of Protocol.”

As a teenager, Griffin said he began listening to H. Rap Brown and Malcom X and was drawn to join The Nation of Islam. Griffin said it was through The Nation of Islam that he would “associate with brothers who would become known as The Philadelphia Black Mafia, though we never referred to ourselves by that name.”

Griffin said he feels obligated to “de-romanticize the thug lifestyle” attracting youth with his writing.

“So many of us have failed them by not being in the community to aid in their growth and development,” Griffin said. “If the transformation from boy to man is tampered with by the ills of society, the man will not develop.  He will be a male but not a complete man. Many of us now in prison could have made a great contribution to our communities.”

He said his goal in his contribution to “Gangster Chronicles” is to teach youth the importance of studying history and sharing it.

“If we allow others to tell our story, we will be defined by their interpretations,” he said. “I also hope I have inspired some of our young brothers and sisters to write their stories and to create and convey them in a respectful manner.”

“Sequence of Protocol” was written with Griffin still in jail. He said writing in prison has proven to be equally freeing and difficult ­– the stress he deals with is often times released through the characters he is creating.

“‘Sequence of Protocol’ differs from other novels written about black gangsters by showing the characters as multi-dimensional,” he said. “These men are family, religious and business oriented. They are not simply concerned with money, fancy cars and women. Although written in historical fiction, it’s based on the lives of real, black men of principle.”

Griffin said beyond inspiring youth, he hopes to earn back “the respect and appreciation of others, especially family and friends.”