The Name - The Legend - The Man
Those exact words, or words almost exactly those, formed part of introductions of John Brenden Law to thousands of New York inmates during the '30s and '40s and again in the early '60s.
Since "John Law" was often used in those decades by criminal elements as a generic knickname for police, individually and collectively, the introductions so phrased invariably produced strong reactions among the assembled prisoners. There would be double-takes, disbelieving stares, and some barely muffled profanities from hardened cop-haters.
Once the mutterings and wisecracks died down, the speaker would reassure the convicts that truly was the real name of the person being introduced, a name honored in the annals of Notre Dame football history.
John Law, the inmates were told, had captained Knute Rockne's Fighting Irish to an undefeated season 1929 at a time illness often prevented Notre Dame's famous coach from managing in person on the sidelines of the field. Thus, Rockne relied heavily on Law, perhaps more than he had on any team captain previously.
John Law went on to coach Sing Sing's Black Sheep football to an undefeated season in 1933 and became a close aide to Sing Sing's most celebrated warden, Lewis E. Lawes.
Both Rockne and Lawes were legendary figures in the histories of their respective fields. Law had played a noteworthy part in both their legends. In the process, some of the aura of legend came to encompass him too.
But as he worked and talked with inmates, on and off the prison athletic field, they realized he in no way resembled that object of fear and hate they always associated with the term "John Law." Nor did he, they also realized, in any way resemble some remote, unapproachable, rarified figure of legend.
Rather, they recognized this John Law -- his name and legend aside -- was the rarest of human beings: "a regular guy."
Today a few might regard such a term as a put-down. But imates then used the phrase to describe a man without malice and without dupilicity, a man even-handed with everyone and with a helping hand for anyone. To them, there was no finer compliment to be paid a man. Precisely because this John Law was the epitome of "the regular guy," he would have regarded the term being applied to him as a high honor.
The life story of this son of Irish immigrants includes some fascinating correction history. In presenting these texts and images from the memorabilia his daughter, Dr. Suzanne Law Hawes, has entrusted to our care, NYCHS hopes our web site readers will penetrate beyond the formidable name and forceful legend to discover John Law, the man, the "regular guy."
The March 2005 unveiling of the first six pages of the John Law presentation formed an "Irish Americans at Sing Sing" package with the story of rescue mission pioneer/ex-inmate Jerry McAuley unveiled March 17, 2005.
Searching Sing for My Father by Dr. Robert L. Gold.
John B. Law was a member of the State Commission of Correction at the time of his death in 1962. To learn more about the SCOC, click its logo left to access its web site.
The image selections and captions on this web page are by the NYCHS webmaster.