• Ex-Convict Becomes a Writer, Strikes It Rich

Ex-Convict Becomes a Writer, Strikes It Rich

Mar. 29 – Fourteen years ago Frank Earl Andrews robbed a New Jersey gasoline station, kidnaped two hostages and shot a deputy sheriff four times in an escape attempt.

He was sentenced to 55 to 67 years in state prison.

Like many prisoners, he began whiling away the hours by writing short stories and poetry.

Unlike many prisoners, however, Andrews became a success. Within a few years he had edited — and contributed to — two books of writings by some of the nation’s most talented prisoners. (“Voices from the Big House” and “Over the Wall”).

It was enough to convince prison authorities that Frank Earl Andrews was no longer a threat to society. He was paroled last May, at age 38, and hired as an editor by Pyramid Books in New York.

Now, he’s touring the United States, promoting his third anthology, “Prose and Cons.”

Andrews, who quit school in the sixth grade and has spent more than 23 of his 38 years behind bars, is having a fine time.

He’s making more money than he ever did robbing people, and he loves all the attention he’s getting. Makeup men paint his face for TV interviews with local celebrities. Newspaper reporters write down his words in little notebooks. His picture is in national magazines. He even gets a kick out of hearing his nasal New Jersey accent on taped radio interviews.

Not incidentally, Andrews is also fascinated with all the women — “classy broads, too” — who are falling all over him these days, swamping him with invitations to parties, luncheons and other, more private places.

“Man, I tell you, I dreamed about sex for 13 years in prison,” he says, grinning sheepishly, “and now these chicks are after me everywhere I go. I guess they figure convicts are animals anyhow, and when you throw in a little bit of literary talent, it really turns them on…”

Andrews says all this without a trace of arrogance. As he leans back in his chair, lighting another in a steady chain of cigarettes, he seems slightly amused by life beyond the bars, a friendly man, totally at ease with strangers, who might be just another guy, except for his language, which is mostly unprintable.

He’s working on cleaning that up.

“Because, man. I’m gonna be somebody! I want to write one book a year, earn about $50,000 annually, buy a new Porsche and live in a jazzy apartment. And, if I don’t rip anybody off again, if I work hard, I can do it.”

And he might, since literary superstars like Joyce Carol Oates are already hailing “Prose and Cons,” released last week, as “Remarkably varied, engrossing and disturbing…”

But, according to Andrews, not all the freedom, nor the fame, nor the fortune now coming his way can make him a wholly happy man.

He wants one thing more out of life.

He wants Leslie Van Houten too.

He wants her out of jail and he wants to marry her.

Leslie Van Houten, now 26, is one the three women who was sentenced to death, along with Charles Manson, for her part in the Tate-LaBianca murders in August of 1969. (Since the death penalty was abolished, Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle are now serving life sentences at the California Institution for Women at Frontera.)

“Man, you gotta dig it. She’s my woman and I’ve got to have her 24 hours a day before I can rest,” he says, practically beaming at the very thought of the woman he wooed and won two years before they even met.

As he tells it, Andrews, who was busy collecting stories for his anthologies, wrote to Van Houten at the request of one of her friends who thought she had talent. He didn’t even connect her name with the Manson family. They hit it off and proceeded to write letters for two years, sometimes two or three a day. They discussed everything from religion to prison anecdotes. They sent photographs, tapes, gifts and, eventually, admissions of mutual love.

In the process, he also persuaded her to write a short story for “Prose and Cons.”

When Andrews was paroled last May, he headed for Frontera where, after a few nervous minutes, the pair concluded that their letters had not lied. It was true love.

Since Andrews is on parole until 1999, he has only been able to visit Frontera twice, staying several days each time.

And, he says, squirming in his seat, it has been a bittersweet experience, having to hold hands and kiss and whisper in a waiting room jammed with other visitors and prisoners.

But, he adds in more graphic language, that’s all coming to an end soon, because whether Leslie gets out of jail or not, they’re going to be married anyway so he can make conjugal visits on weekends.

Meantime, he makes do. “Hell, I party every night till my knees fall off,” he says, “and Leslie understands.”

Actually, he adds, Leslie understands everything about him.

“She’s just a normal girl with a good mind,” he says.

But Andrews is convinced that, although Van Houten, along with Manson and the others, will be eligible for parole in 1978, she’ll probably rot in jail unless there’s a new trial. And he doesn’t know if there are grounds for a new trial.

The subject seems to depress him, despite his effort to appear optimistic. Perhaps because he secretly believes there’s no hope. Or maybe he’s just tired of having to defend his love affair with a former Manson family member.

And, without doubt, he takes far more heat nowadays over her crimes than his own. People vilify him periodically, especially on talk shows, he says, for being sick enough himself to find redeeming qualities in “one of those Manson monsters.”

Andrews sighs. “Sometimes I wonder who’s the sickest,” he says.

“I mean, how’s Leslie any different than Patricia Hearst? .. If she gets off on grounds that she was coerced — or, for lack of a better word, brainwashed — then why not Leslie, too? Because, basically, I think that’s what happened to most of those kids. They were so stoned on LSD every day I don’t think Leslie really knows what happened.”

Andrews, who writes better than he speaks, fumbles for words, then gives up. “Hell, America’s just lucky more of that screwy stuff didn’t happen in the flower child era.”

And, the important thing is “that both Leslie and Pat (Krenwinkle) have got their heads together now,”

That’s part of the reason, he adds, that “Prose and Cons” announces on the cover, in large letters, “First publication ever on the works by former Manson girls Patricia Krenwinkle and Leslie Van Houten.”

“Yeah, I know people will think I’m exploiting the whole bit,” he says. “But we want to sell what we think is a good book, and, face it, the Manson name is magic. And, like I said, we need to raise a lot of money for a top-notch lawyer, so we’d be stupid not to use it.”

Besides that, Andrews hastens to add, “Leslie’s got to stop trying to keep a low profile, hoping people will forget, because they won’t. She’s got to dig out with the same shovel she got buried with. And I think anybody who reads her story, and Pat’s poetry, will get a better insight into both of them. They’ll understand what happened a little bit better — that it could have happened to a lot of other kids from good families too.”

And finally, Andrews says, puffing up with a paramour’s shameless pride, Van Houten is “a hell of a fine writer” whose short story is the best in the book, which includes several pieces of his own.

That story, “Ima Fibbon,” is a semiautobiographical sketch of a young woman’s first experience in jail. Evidently, the adjustment was not an easy one for Van Houten, still remembered by some as Miss Monrovia High School.

As one passage says: “What a trip! What a place! Not even enough peace for a girl to sit down and have a simple cry.”


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