Monday, July 04, 2022

PaperBack: “Next Time Is for Life”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

Next Time Is for Life, by “Paul Warren,” aka Frank Sandiford (Dell, 1953). Cover illustration by Robert Schulz.

Described as a “shockingly graphic autobiography,” this pulpy work—“a mix of authenticity and exaggeration”—tells the story of Frank Sandiford, who was born in London in 1916 and immigrated to the United States at age 8. Donna Seaman writes in her book Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists (2017) that the scrawny, buck-toothed Sandiford “was a misfit in school,” that he started shoplifting and joined up with a gang, and that he was jailed at 17—the first but not only time he would be incarcerated. Behind bars, Sandiford became an “ardent reader” and reorganized the prison library. While serving time in Illinois’ Stateville Penitentiary, he also met the notorious “thrill killer” Nathan Leopold Jr., who, in 1924, had helped fellow University of Chicago student Richard Leob kidnap and murder a 14-year-old boy. Leopold brought Sandiford books “and trie[d] to enlist him as a teacher,” says Seaman.

Released in 1944, Sandiford met and wooed Chicago painter Gertrude Abercrombie, often referred to as “the queen of the bohemian artists.” Four years later, according to Seaman—who includes Abercrombie among her profile subjects in Identity Unknown—Abercrombie divorced her then-husband in order to wed Sandiford, who by that point had earned some minor attention as a music critic (and friend of jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker). The new couple had been together only five years when Next Time Is for Life was published. “This explicit tale of crime and punishment, this sensational exposé of prison violence and sexuality among incarcerated men, hit with the power of a sonic boom,” observes Seaman. Even former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt found it a proper subject for discussion, remarking in a January 1954 newspaper column:
You may read this book and feel as I did that it is rather hard to be interested in every step of a criminal career. How you come to stealing and how you carry on becomes eventually repetitious, but the psychological development from the time that [Sandiford] felt rejected by his family as a boy, and in the detention home found a little circle of which he could be a part, that is most interesting.
Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner, too, was attracted to Sandiford/Warren’s memoir. He provided it with a brief foreword, remarking in its pages that “the story has the ring of truth. The author knows the inside of prisons and he knows the confusion and frustrations that are inside of a convict’s mind.”

In 1959, Abercrombie and Sandiford reportedly provided American author James Purdy with the models he needed for painter Eloise Brace and her ex-con husband, Jerome, two of the characters in his debut novel, Malcolm. However, the pair divorced in 1964. As far as I can discern, Sandiford never penned another book.

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