“Doing Time” by Jack (Murf the Surf) Murphy

The-SLAMMER.org is greatly honored by having our very first commentary written and contributed by perhaps the nation’s most well-know ex-inmate, none other than Mr. Jack Murphy (Murf the Surf), a renowned author and widely recognized speaker on the issues related to incarceration. He has appeared on the Larry King Live show, and in 1997 was inducted into the Surfing Legends HALL OF FAME. Murf is currently the International Director of the Champions for Life, the Bill Glass Prison Ministry. In that role, Murf has spoken in over 2,000 prisons across America, Mexico, England, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Peru, Ukraine, South Africa, and Brazil. Welcome to The-Slammer, Jack.


With full support, I welcome “The-SLAMMER” to the bizarre world of Doing Time. (Bizarre: strange, weird, peculiar, wacky, and grotesquely odd, out of the ordinary…) those definitions barely scratch the surface of life and survival in all the “slammers.” With over 2.5 million men and women incarcerated in our rapidly growing prison system, we need an ear to the wall and a voice for the masses to shed light on the awesome tragedy of corrections, rehabilitation and recidivism in America.

To most people, the industry of corrections is a mystical necessity, much like the local garbage man. We don’t care how, what, or who handles our garbage; somebody just do it. Keep it out of sight, out of mind, we don’t want to know. Until, lo and behold, someone in our family, or a friend, or the neighborhood is personally touched by the tentacles of crime and punishment.

In 1978, Psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a compelling treatise, “The Crime of Punishment,” in which he declared that “punishment was a brutal and inefficient relic of the past.” At about the time this revealing book came out, I was just beginning to take a serious look at life and the ominous reality of despair and defeat in my own life. In my early 40’s, I had already spent over 10 years in prison, but the demon of denial and pride had kept me swaggering and styling through the calendar as though the clock wasn’t ticking.

John Wayne had taught my generation how to stand up like a man and keep swinging. I was a survivor. Sure, with much introspection, after staring at the ceiling and pondering ‘what am I doing here’ for a decade, I realized that I was a product of my own choices. I knew the fiddler had to be paid for the foolish decisions made during my wild and rebellious younger years. But damn, how does one ever get off this racing train to no where?

Fortunately for me, I came from a family of pioneers, farmers, patriots, and strong, caring folks. When the newspapers and 6:00 pm news blared “the Museum has been robbed!,” my people didn’t cut and run as my photo surfaced as the culprit. When the media vultures frenzied over the “Eva Gabor Robbery” and “Whiskey Creek Murders,” family and friends shared the pain and humiliation of courts, evaluations and convictions. I mention this because doing time is never something done alone. There are always the loved ones, family, friends, and the victims who are attached to the consequences.

Unfortunately, crime is a young person’s game. The average age of the American prisoner is under 23 years old. Ask any old timer in prison; they began their convict career when they were a jitterbug, a kid. And then, the curse of recidivism smothers any dreams or initiative. Whatever set in motion the habits and situation that brings a person to prison, is only inflamed by the prison experience.


I remember coming out of Riker’s Island prison in 1967. Oh, I had taken some classes in Substance Abuse and had gone to Alcoholics Anonymous, had even attended chapel and played on a ball team, but that was just stuff to do to kill the time and get out of the cell. As far as Corrections, rehabilitation, programs, etc., I really wasn’t a candidate for a ‘new program.’ I just wanted OUT.

What influenced me the most was the LOSERS LIES. For 2 years I had listened to these constant excuses one hears in jail and prison as to why an ex-con cannot succeed legitimately. I was so convinced that because of my record it was impossible to make it, that I hardly even tried when the plane landed in Miami. After all, I was still in my twenties, I had been to the joint, and I wasn’t going back! No one ever believes the recidivism stats of 70% would pertain to them.

Do programs work? Absolutely! But the student must want them to work. There needs to be opportunities to prepare a person for success, but again, programs only work for those honestly seeking help. Unfortunately, with the present financial crisis affecting the Nation, good prison programs are the last concern on corrections budgets. And it is only going to get worse.

So people ask me, “How were you able to survive? What happened that you were able to beat the odds and make a success out of the mess you were in?” Good questions. But, as most success stories usually claim, it wasn’t done alone. When the judges loaded me up with 2 life sentences, it was a totally different situation than the chump change 3-year bit I did in New York. Double Life plus 20 years for the State of Florida, with a parole date of November 11, 2244. And then, another 5 years for the Feds? Now, that will get your attention!

The stars were in the right position or someone was praying, or whatever, I happened to be in the right place at the right time. The Secretary of the Department of Corrections, Louie Wainwright, opened the prison doors for programs. A group of volunteers who ‘Believed that a person could Change’ showed up. The legendary Chaplain, Mighty Max Jones, arrived with a passion for prisoners. The interesting thing about this revival in programs at FSP, the End of the Line, was that most of the convicts did not believe there was any hope for them. But, how wrong they were.

The catalyst for change with the volunteers was their focus on the finish line, not on the starting line. The theme of the programs was ‘Get out of the rear view mirror; plan for the future.’ In my case, I was learning and doing well in the programs, but the lights came on when I became interested in the issue of Faith in God. Bill Glass, former Cleveland Browns football star, brought a group of athletes to FSP. They played ball and then shared about the important role that God plays in a person’s life.

The combination of education and Faith in God were the determining factors that turned my life around. Like looking into a mirror, the mirror doesn’t smile until you do. And the world doesn’t change, until you do. As my input became healthier and my attitude became more mature, my behavior noticeably improved. Then, the world around me began to change.

Chaplain Max Jones said, “Be God’s man, and in His timing, He will open the gates wide enough for a freight train to go through sideways.” In 1986, after 21 years in prison, the doors finally opened and I was released on life parole. Today, as the International Director for Champions for Life, the Bill Glass Prison Ministry, I am privileged to share the love and encouragement that others have handed down to me. The greatest wisdom that I learned in prison was, “If you are not doing God’s business, no matter where you are, you are just serving time.” Jack Murphy – June 16, 2009

The-SLAMMER (http://www.the-slammer.org) is an online forum where all individuals actively involved in or impacted by the corrections systems can meet to air their opinions, concerns, ideas, and recommendations aimed at system reforms, such as improved rehabilitation and reentry programs for inmates, all directed to reduce recidivism rates, while also optimizing staff work environments, and at minimized cost to taxpayers. Copyright 2009 The-SLAMMER.org.

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  • Dick Witherow said:

    Great article!

  • Bart Madison said:

    This is a well-written article, and my kudus to “Murph” for how far he has come. I was his cell-mate in 1968 in Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is truly an inspiration to those of us who come from those places so lacking in hope. Corrections, as he so eloquently says, in other words…never “corrected” anything. With a little desire and a commitment to change…anybody can.

    When will those “powers that be” who make the laws, and spend our tax dollars, ever get it??? If corrections was a business (many say that it is) it would have gone broke years ago! Well, except for the fear tactics perpetrated through, and distributed by the media, so that the money to run the “machine” can pour in from the public. What a mess.

    With the help of God and a new understanding, perhaps things can change? The solution is certainly not to close down more schools, libraries, and parks, so that more money can keep funnelling into corrections!

    God Bless you Murph!


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