By Jean DePlacido
---- — For close to 20 years Beverly native Chris Albano worked on Wall Street at the highest level, and has some very interesting stories to tell about his experiences. Albano wrote his first book, not about his career as a trader for a hedge fund, but based on the three years when he was a guard at the old Lawrence Jail.
Albano’s book “Jail Bait” is based on characters and events that occurred when he was a guard.
“Everybody asked me about my time at the jail,” said Albano, who played hockey for the Panthers (Billy Hamor was his defensive partner, and his nephew, Nick Albano, now plays for Beverly along with Hamor’s son Matt). “Nobody was interested in hearing about Wall Street, but they all love my stories from when I was a young guy working at the jail. It was a fascinating time spent at a facility built before the Civil War to accommodate one third of the population that was there there in the ‘80’s.
“At the time crack (cocaine) was the big drug, and we got every socio-economic class. Young kids, who couldn’t make bail spent the weekend there, and somebody in for drunk driving would wind up in the same cell with a guy in for murder. The conditions were just awful with rats running around and the septic system overflowing. It was so outdated and so overpopulated things were unbelievable.”
The main character in the book is a star high school hockey player named Marcus Kelly, who dreams about a pro career, but winds up in jail after a party. He isn’t even sure what happened that resulted in his being sent to the Lawrence jail.
Albano, who grew up on Brimbal Avenue in Beverly was in his 20’s when he took the job at the jail and was shocked at the changes he saw in inmates in a very short time.
“It’s a cautionary tale for teenage males,” said Albano. “I saw how it changed kids even those not there very long. They’d come in wearing sneakers, change into jail house flip flops, and somebody would take the sneakers. It wasn’t a nice place to be.”
Albano based most of the characters and stories in the book on real people and happenings. He ran the kitchen on weekends, and recalled how they had to count the knives used to prepare the food for 400 inmates to be sure every one was accounted for, fearing if one was missing it could be used as a weapon.
One day Albano had to leave the kitchen briefly, leaving the inmate trustee there. When he returned the man was up on a table passing chickens through a hole he had made in the ceiling tiles.
“Bad decisions like that were common,” said Albano. “The guy was due to be released on parole in a short time, but he was willing to risk everything to do something stupid. He lost all privileges and was put in one of the worst cells there. It never made sense to me what the inmates did.”
Albano had to climb up a ladder to the tower to watch what was happening in the rec yard. He had a shotgun that he was told was unloaded and just for show. From the towers he could see a viciously contested volleyball game on the prison side of the wall, and a Catholic High School on the other side.
“Central Catholic was right next to the prison,” said Albano. “On one side of the wall people were getting punched and bloody in the game while life went on as usual on the other side. Now that the jail has been knocked down Central Catholic has expanded and taken it over.”
Albano’s dream was to become an FBI agent like his uncle, and after graduating from Westfield State he started to follow that path. After his experience at the jail he abandoned that plan and took a position with Fidelity where he worked with Jeffrey Vinik. When Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, he decided to bring the hedge fund with him to Florida.
“I didn’t want to go to Tampa so I decided to retire and work on my book. It is self published and came out last summer (available in paperback on Amazon and Kindle). Jail Bait got rave reviews, and that put some wind in my sails. I was surprised when a lot of the wives of friends picked it up and found it interesting; that was an audience I wasn’t expecting.”
Albano is now working on his second novel, a sequel featuring the main character Kelly and the effect jail has had on him in the brief time he spent there.
“I hope to finish the book this year and look for a publisher,” said Albano. “I’m also going to get an agent, who will take care of a lot of the things involved in publishing. I designed the cover of Jail Bait, and had to fight to keep it the way I had it. I’m still learning about the industry and find it fascinating.”