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Let’s give the Shawshank Redemption some company and challenge the way we've been trained to recognize incarceration.

What this book is – and what it isn’t.

Where Excuses Go to Die is a professionally designed and edited memoir that’s about personal responsibility. It’s not a plea for sympathy for criminals and convicts.

It is a book about prison, written for those who don’t expect to be interested in a book about prison. It’s not about another hardened badass, and it’s not a celebration of my crimes. Nor is it about being soft on crime.

We all want to believe that when people get sent to prison they’re getting what they deserve, and that includes an option to rehabilitate. When criminals parole only to re-offend, however, none of us get what we’re paying for.

Believe me, I know not every convict cares about self-improvement. But why not give those who do want a chance to better themselves a shot at success instead of a guarantee of failure? We’ll all benefit – you, me, Joe and Joann Taxpayer – from giving better odds to rehabilitation than to recidivism.

It starts with having a better picture of the incarcerated and shedding the expectation that prisoners are only the sorts of losers depicted on so many custody-themed “reality” shows. Where Excuses Go to Die is about the discovery of personal ethics and those working with next to nothing to make that discovery possible. It’s also a relatable, entertaining ride.

See for yourself:

Or read this synopsis:

Initially described as “insightful,” “creative,” and “sensitive,” John Espinosa Nelson never learned how to make being a detailed, cross-examining questioner work to his advantage. By his teens, he was being called “mouthy,” “rebellious,” and “misdirected.” It was a long time before he understood what “too smart for your own good” meant.

Still, it was a hell of a surprise to otherwise law-abiding family and friends when John stuck a fake .38 revolver in his waistband and politely robbed a series of chain bookstores. With his ego checked by a California State prison sentence, encouragement from several unlikely sources showed him the difference between getting character and becoming one.

John’s focus on everything but the usual tropes to survive his circumstances emphasizes the humanity that exists “inside” and shows us how prison is a microcosm of the world in which we all live. By relying on character and the eccentricities of his family to set the broader context for his account, John examines his mistakes with emotional honesty in a memoir that will resonate strongly with those who have struggled up mountains of their own.

Where Excuses Go to Die is a testament to the evolution that lets us overcome the odds of making bad decisions a way of life, reminding us that, ultimately, the person we choose to be is up to us.

But first…

“Some people have to get in the box to think outside of it.”

I’m John Espinosa Nelson. When I was growing up I thought the rules didn't apply to me. I was bright but mouthy. I was attracted to smart girls with subversive streaks. I was never a bully, but I couldn’t stay out of trouble. I had no concept of how my actions affected others.

In my early 20’s, despite having no previous criminal history, I decided to rob a bookstore. And I so over-intellectualized this stupid idea that I thought choosing chain bookstores over family-owned ones would work out for me in the world where karma and armed robbery collide.

Needless to say, I was delusional and criminal. When I got arrested after a string of such robberies, I dragged my whole family down the rat-hole of incarceration with me. We all spent the next four years in the California Department of Corrections.

“Get character or become one.”

With the encouragement of those who saw more in me than I could in myself (and believe me, such people are the key to lowering recidivism rates in this country), I discovered that I have a voice, and I used that voice in writing to the few people back home who hadn’t let go of the rope. My letters were often funnier versions of my journal entries, but I also wrote about the things in prison that changed my life for the better, the lessons I learned, and the sorts of people from whom I learned ‘em.

It took me many years to turn those letters and my prison journal into Where Excuses Go to Die, the book. First I needed to become the kind of person who is even capable of telling this story in a way that can add value to people’s lives.

And this is where you come in.

What’s in it for you?

Memoir or not, Where Excuses Go to Die isn’t just a book about me. It rejects exploitive clichés to explore second chances, relationships, and getting over yourself. It’s a middle finger to the typical themes of rape, riots, and rotten food that are used to represent custody and detention in America. There is so much more to the story.

Besides, when 1 out of every 31 adults in the U.S. is under some form of custodial supervision, prison isn’t just for “those people.” Not when it costs us so much as a society. For instance, since 1980, California has built 1 college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state about $9,000 per year; a prisoner costs about $45,000 per year.

With the number of Americans in prison right now – 2.1 million and climbing – we need a better understanding of both those behind bars and the challenges parolees face when they return to their communities. Where Excuses Go to Die provides an intelligent, new perspective.

With your help, we can give Shawshank some company.

The Shawshank exemption: Shawshank is America’s favorite prison movie, and it’s mine too. Why? Because it’s not like everything else you see. It’s not mean. It’s about redemption and loyalty and self-reflection and personal triumph. It’s about friendship. It’s about people. Where Excuses Go to Die offers the same value.

The thing about Kickstarter is, unless we meet our goal we can’t collect on anyone’s pledge. So we need your help! If I deliver the goods, Where Excuses Go to Die will have its chance to enter the national dialog on prison reform. And you’ll be treated to an uplifting and original look at an environment usually marketed through rape humor and violence.

My wife and I started an independent press – Highrise Press – to publish this book on our terms (it’s set to come out on September 12). It’s been professionally designed and edited, and we’re working with a publicist to get the word out via TV, radio, and the Internet. We’ve got a distributor in Michigan who’s handling the print and eBook sales. To check out some of my writing (including excerpts from the book), take a look at my website and blog at www.whereexcusesgotodie.com.

Please consider a contribution.

If you like what you’ve seen and read, please help us reach our goal. You’ll allow us to increase the number of books we print (volume significantly affects cost), ship more books from the printer in California to the distributor in Michigan (pallets of books aren’t cheap!), and generally step up our campaign for a more informed understanding of incarceration and rehabilitation via readings, talks, book signings, and interviews. I’ll continue to do as many media appearances as I can to increase the momentum we build together here.

I couldn’t have gotten this far without support, and I need just a little more help to make Where Excuses Go to Die everything it can be. I hope you’ll see the value in contributing to the discussion that Where Excuses Go to Die can create.

Speaking of discussions, we’ve included two discussion guides in the back of the book, one aimed at high school students (at the urging of some enthusiastic teacher friends), and the other for book clubs. Both are designed to encourage others to embrace better choices rather than excuses. Because when you’re surrounded by excuses – and many of us are – you start to see how little they’re worth.

Please help spread the word and join us in getting Where Excuses Go to Die out there. And for just considering it:

Thank you. Now reward yourself!

Planning to contribute? Take a minute to pick out the perfect Thank You from among our rewards. Everything is listed on the right with a short description, but we thought the rewards below needed special emphasis. Check ‘em out and get inspired!

Where Excuses Go to Die Apology Stationery (Reward for $30 pledge). When it’s time to come clean, your best friend is the right format. Where Excuses Go to Die Apology Stationery offers no blink-of-an-eye delivery, no spell check, and no room for excuses. Let your reward be the attention you pay to what you say. You’ll score major points, and the NSA will never know what you’re apologizing for. Shown here with sample apology; you get 25 (blank) sheets and 25 matching envelopes.

Where Excuses Go to Die Apology Stationery
Where Excuses Go to Die Apology Stationery

“My Excuses Die Here” Journal (Reward for $40 pledge). What do bees have to do with prison? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but let’s just say they’re a symbol of John’s realization that his sentence gave him the gift of growth. Kickstart your own self-reflection by choosing your preferred color scheme! We found a sturdy, 32-page, 5”x8”, 100% recycled, college-ruled, chipboard journal for our custom cover and logo. (Choice available at time of delivery.)

"My Excuses Die Here" Custom Journal
"My Excuses Die Here" Custom Journal

Rare, Vintage CDC Shirt (Reward for $150 pledge). An authentic uniform shirt from an era before the California Department of Corrections thought they could simply tack on “and Rehabilitation” to make it true, these babies are nearly impossible to get your hands on. Flying Cross has been in business for over 170 years and their stuff holds up well. This is likely a Men’s L, but we’ll locate a tape measure if you’re thinking of pledging.

Vintage CDC Uniform Shirt
Vintage CDC Uniform Shirt

Freak Chic Tattoo (Reward for $200 pledge). John preferred to parole without souvenir ink, but he appreciates good work when he sees it. Freak Chic artists are known for their outstanding techniques and renderings. Discuss your vision with the shop’s proprietor to choose the right artist, and John will make you laugh at least twice during your session to take your mind off the pain. (Regarding the tattoo, think fist-size; no cover-ups, no elbows, and don’t plan on gettin’ sleeved!)

Freak Chic Tattoo. Hollywood, CA
Freak Chic Tattoo. Hollywood, CA

Folsom Prison Baby Booties (Reward for $500 pledge). Hand crafted out of filterless Camel cigarette packs, these were given to John when he left Folsom by an old Lifer with wishes for a better future. Since that future came true, John feels the time has come to let these go to someone else, with the same wish.

Handmade Folsom Prison Baby Booties
Handmade Folsom Prison Baby Booties

Bring Me the Bust of Elvis Presley (Reward for $700 pledge). After desecrating a Plaster of Paris bust of Elvis Presley in a jail hobby shop, John narrowly avoided the ensuing sh*tstorm it created among his fellow inmates and the jailers who united against his ill-advised statement on idol worship. At the time, this resulted in one of the book’s principal messages: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” But John is ready to go again. Using this very rare, unfinished, and 100% identical plaster statue, he will gleefully recreate the original. OR get inspired to let your own creativity loose with a signed copy of the book and the blank bust of Elvis – your choice. Will you save Elvis, or Satanize him?

THE Bust of Elvis
THE Bust of Elvis

30-Minute Photo Shoot with Edward Colver (Reward for $1500 pledge). Known for capturing the early California punk scene, Edward Colver is the most published and imitated punk rock photographer in the world. He's also one of the most intelligent and genuine dudes you’ll ever meet. John is proud to call Ed a friend. Together, they'll meet you at an agreed-upon public location in downtown L.A. and you (alone, no bands) will enjoy a 30-minute photo shoot with Edward. All images will be delivered digitally and yours to keep/use/own.

Photo Credit: Edward Colver Photography
Photo Credit: Edward Colver Photography

Thank you again for checking this out, spreading the word, and helping us reach our goal for Where Excuses Go to Die.

Want more? Subscribe to the blog or follow Where Excuses Go to Die on Facebook!

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Given that Where Excuses Go to Die has been written, rewritten, professionally edited, designed, proofed, and is on track to meet its September 12, 2013 publication date, we genuinely don't foresee any risks or challenges to completing this project. Meeting this goal means taking the book that much farther, giving you a chance to be a part of something that can have a real impact on the public's expectations.

FAQ

  • Yes! It’s easy to support Where Excuses Go to Die via Kickstarter, and if you have an Amazon.com account you’re already halfway there. And don’t worry if you don’t; we’ll walk you through every step:

    1. First off, please know that your pledge will remain a pledge until August 11 when this campaign ends – and even then, you won’t be charged anything unless we meet our $7,000 goal in time. If our project isn't successfully funded, which would make us sad, no one will pay anything. You can also change or cancel your pledge any time before the end of this project.

    2. Once you’ve decided how much you’d like to donate and which reward you’d like to receive, click on the box containing that reward amount and description (in the right hand sidebar).

    3. You’ll first be prompted to confirm your pledge amount and reward. If everything looks right, click “Continue to Next Step.”

    4. You’ll be taken to a screen that lets you login if you have an existing Kickstarter account OR lets you set up a new Kickstarter account (you also have a third option to login with Facebook). We recommend filling out the form under the heading “New to Kickstarter?” in the middle column (you’ll be asked to input your name, email, and a password). Then click the green button that reads, “Sign me up.”

    5. Now you’re the proud owner of a Kickstarter account – but you’re not finished yet! You’ll next be taken to a page that reads, “Check out with Amazon.” Here again you can verify your pledge amount and reward; if all looks good please click the green button that says, “Continue to Amazon.” Don’t worry if you don’t have an Amazon account: you’ll be given a chance to create one in order to make your pledge.

    6. The next page you see contains both Kickstarter and Amazon logos. This is where, if you HAVE an existing Amazon account, you can simply put in your email address and your Amazon password. Remember that your Amazon password is probably different from the password you just created for Kickstarter – and be sure that if Amazon prepopulated an email address for you it’s the correct one. If you can’t remember whether or not you have an Amazon account or if you’re sure you DON’T have an Amazon account, please input your correct email address, select the radio button that says, “I am a new customer” and then press “Sign in using our secure server.” [PLEASE NOTE: Amazon has a much better memory than most people we know. If you’ve ever bought anything on Amazon, you probably have an Amazon account that you’ve forgotten about. But fear not – Amazon will tell you this! If the email address you enter for them is already on file, they will give you the opportunity to have a password reminder sent to that email address. You can then follow those directions to log directly into your existing Amazon account and continue with your Kickstarter pledge (see step 8, below.]

    7. Just like Kickstarter did, Amazon will prompt new users to provide a name, email address, and password. If it makes your life easier, you CAN use the same name and password you provided to Kickstarter.

    8. Next, Amazon will take you to a series of pages asking you to input your billing information (a valid credit card is required here). Remember that you’re not actually being charged at this time, but Amazon will securely keep your account on file. (Feel free to look up their stellar security record.)

    9. Hit submit, and Congratulations! You’ll be taken to a page that fully confirms your Kickstarter pledge and acknowledges you as an official backer of Where Excuses Go to Die. You can choose to share your pledge with others via social media or simply close out of the window. You’re done and we thank you for taking the steps needed to make your pledge.

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    SINCERE THANKS. Seriously, every donation counts, and yours has already helped to get Where Excuses Go to Die out to a wider audience. Many thanks!

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    PUBLIC THANKS. We appreciate you; now be appreciated by others as well. We’ll add a special “Contributors” page on the Where Excuses Go to Die website just to thank you publicly.

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    BONUS THANKS. Enjoy an unpublished “bonus” chapter of our choosing (delivered electronically). This will be handpicked from stories John hoped to include in the book, but that had to be sacrificed in the interest of keeping the main narrative moving. Don’t let them fade away! Save a chapter and be thanked on the Where Excuses Go to Die website.

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    HEADED FOR HANDCUFFS? Let John arbitrarily predict whether or not your adorable child will end up in cuffs. Increase the accuracy of his prediction by sending him 3-6 bullet points on behaviors of concern. If he’s right, you’ll have gotten a jump start on saving for bail. If he’s wrong, you’ll receive a free e-copy of Where Excuses Go to Die. Either way, you’ll be thanked on the Where Excuses Go to Die website!

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    CHOICE THANKS. One thing convicts don’t get a lot of is choice. Celebrate your freedom with an unpublished “bonus” chapter of your choosing (delivered electronically) and be thanked on the Where Excuses Go to Die website. Choices include: “Maximum Security Liposuction,” “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Chuy,” and “Journey to the Center of a Sandwich.”

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    THE BOOK AND NOTHING BUT THE BOOK. Where all DID John’s excuses go to die, anyway? Get the whole story when you receive a personalized print copy of the book. Of course you’ll be thanked on the Where Excuses Go to Die website as well. (Shipping extra)

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    WHERE EXCUSES GO TO DIE APOLOGY STATIONERY. When it’s time to come clean, your best friend is the right format. Where Excuses Go to Die Apology Stationery (see pic, left) offers no blink-of-an-eye delivery, no spell check, and no room for excuses. Let your reward be the attention you pay to what you say. You’ll score major points, and the NSA will never know what you’re apologizing for. (25 sheets/25 envelopes. For significance of bee image please see “My Excuses Die Here” Custom Journal Reward, below. Reward includes thanks on the Where Excuses Go to Die website.)

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    “MY EXCUSES DIE HERE” CUSTOM JOURNAL. What do bees have to do with prison? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but let's just say they’re a symbol of John’s realization that his sentence actually gave him the gift of growth. Check out the pics to the left for color choices and kickstart your own self-reflection! (Reward includes thanks on the Where Excuses Go to Die website.)

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    TELL ME ABOUT THE CATS, JOHN. Curious about feline infestations in prison? Ever wonder which self-help books are popular “on the inside”? Drawing on content from his own prison journal, John will write you a personalized “letter home,” complete with decorative envelope. (Reward includes thanks on the Where Excuses Go to Die website.)

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    YOUR NAME IN PRINT REDUX. You will be thoroughly thanked in the print edition of Where Excuses Go to Die and on the web. John will also write you a personalized “letter home” based on his experiences (see "Tell Us About the Cats," above). Zesty and authentic!

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    YOUR NAME IN PRINT. John will thank you profusely in the print edition of Where Excuses Go to Die and on the web. Don’t believe him? He’ll send you a personalized copy of the book to prove it.

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    COLLECT (ON A) CALL. Hold a 30-minute phone call or Skype session with John at a mutually agreed-upon time. A perfect choice for book clubs, teachers, and writers, you can use the time to share experiences, dissect excuses, or get help navigating the world of self-publishing. (Reward must be redeemed within 1 year and includes acknowledgement in web and print versions of Where Excuses Go to Die.)

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    RARE, VINTAGE CDC UNIFORM SHIRT. An authentic Corrections Officer’s shirt from an era before the California Department of Corrections thought they could simply tack on “and Rehabilitation” to make it true, these babies are near impossible to get your hands on. How John came to possess this one is a story he’ll only share with the person who selects this reward.

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    FREAK CHIC TATTOO. John preferred to parole without souvenir ink, but he appreciates good work when he sees it. Freak Chic artists are known for their outstanding techniques and renderings. Discuss your vision with the shop’s proprietor to choose the right artist, and John will make you laugh at least twice during your session to take your mind off the pain. (Regarding the tattoo, think fist-sized; no cover-ups, no elbows, and don’t plan on gettin’ sleeved! Location: Hollywood, CA)

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    SHARE YOUR STORY. One way John navigated prison was by helping guys -- some more literate than others -- write letters home. Why not let him teach you to turn your experience into a readable story that might give others some food for thought? Whether your tale is sarcastic, romantic, embarrassing, or sad, for just $400 (John no longer works for cigarettes and stamps), he’ll help you come clean, ‘fess up, and share your lessons learned. Reward includes a 30 minute phone conversation, assistance with shaping and refining a 1200-word story via email, and the creation of a page dedicated to your fearlessness on the Where Excuses Go to Die website. You retain all your rights and can decide against going public if you chicken out. (Reward must be fully redeemed within 30 days of initial call, which must be set between Oct. 1 and Dec.1 unless otherwise agreed.)

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    FOLSOM PRISON BABY BOOTIES. These are special; they were given to John when he left Folsom by an old Lifer with wishes for a better future. Since that future came true, John feels the time has come to let these go to someone else, with the same wish. (See pics and description to the left.)

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    BRING ME THE BUST OF ELVIS PRESLEY. After desecrating a Plaster of Paris bust of Elvis Presley in a jail hobby shop, John narrowly avoided the ensuing hassle it created among his fellow inmates and the jailers who united against his ill-advised statement on idol worship. At the time, this resulted in one of the book’s principal messages: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should." But John is ready to go again. Using this very rare, unfinished, and 100% identical plaster statue, he will gleefully recreate the original. OR get inspired to let your own creativity loose with a signed copy of the book and the blank bust of Elvis -- your choice. Will you save Elvis, or Satanize him? (Shipping extra)

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    30-MINUTE PHOTO SHOOT WITH EDWARD COLVER. Known for capturing the early California punk scene, Edward Colver is the most published and imitated punk rock photographer in the world. Not only did he develop his craft by learning from his mistakes, Ed is also one of the most intelligent and genuine dudes you’ll ever meet. John is proud to call him a friend. Together, they'll meet you at an agreed-upon public location in downtown L.A. and you (alone, no bands) will enjoy a 30-minute photo shoot with Edward. All images will be delivered digitally and yours to keep/use/own, and if you’re nice you might also get an autographed copy of Ed’s book, Blight at the End of the Funnel. P.S. John’s author photo was shot by Ed.

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