Lorton Correctional Complex--the District of Columbia prison system located in Northern Virginia--is now all but shut down, but it served me long and well. My access to the inmates began with the late John Allen, a convicted robber with a lot of influence on the inside. Johnny opened up to me as a favor to his lawyer, Philip B. Heymann, my former law professor at Harvard. Heymann once got Johnny off on a robbery charge, then helped Johnny write his autobiography and get it published.

Now, busted again--this time for a robbery he pulled while he was confined to a wheelchair (they respect that on the inside)--Johnny was happy to introduce me to his fellow inmates and vouch for me as "all right."

As former chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department, Heymann also helped get permission from the authorities for my research. Walter Ridley, director of the D.C. Department of Corrections at the time, allowed me unrestricted access to the prisoners. Wardens James Bragg and David Roach could easily have imposed crippling security restrictions, but instead they embraced my study.

And so prisoners were permitted to talk with me in comfortable settings--classrooms, trailers and administrative offices--unshackled and with no guards present. I could bring them candy and cigarettes; some sessions lasted all night. These meetings went on at regular intervals for 13 years.