How Jan Kerouac 'Escaped' the Girls' Training School

jack_kerouac1.jpg

Legendary Beat Generation novelist and poet Jack Kerouac and his second wife Joan Haverty were separated when they had a daughter, Janet Michele Kerouac, on February 16, 1952. Mother and child lived just south of Albany for several years before moving to the Lower East Side in New York City. Haverty was pregnant while Kerouac was finishing “On the Road,” his Beat classic, and Jan’s early years coincided with Kerouac’s rise to fame.

Jan, who died in 1996,  only met her father twice, once for a blood test to settle paternity issues, and then, some years later, on a painful trip to her father’s hometown in Lowell, Massachusetts. Mostly, she lived outside her family, with an active street life that included homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, and prostitution. She published two books of her own and was working on a third when she died from surgical complications following years of kidney failure and dialysis.

jankerouac.jpg

Being poor, Jan Kerouac once said, was when “all your senses are more highly tuned.” Still, in her mid-teens, Jan spent some time at Bellevue, a psychiatric hospital in the mid-20s just north of her Lower East Side neighborhood. She also spent some time at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and at the Spofford Detention Home in the Bronx.

At 15 she was on probation when she became pregnant. As she told Gerald Nicosia, one of her biographers, “(P)robation officers would take routine samples of urine to see if girls were pregnant, and if they were, they’d send them right away to Hudson Girls Reformatory School, on the Hudson River, and they’ stay there till they were 21!”

“Just for being pregnant!” Jan told Nicosia.  “They’d take the baby away when it was born and give it to a foster home, and then I’d go into a girl’s reformatory with a whole bunch of dykes for six years, and that would be…wonderful. We couldn’t have that, so my mother had me bring a bottle of her own urine in to the probation officer. We switched the bottles. That way, they let me off probation, and we had this big yarn. Their father had already taken my sisters away at this point, and they were out in Washington somewhere. My mother wanted to get over there to try and get them back, so we told them that we were all going to Washington. We were turning over a new leaf and all this – and so they let me off probation, on the basis that I was going to Washington, but I didn’t go to Washington.”

In fact, Jan went to Mexico with her boyfriend after a short visit to Lowell to make her second visit with her father.

trainsong.jpg

More information about Jan and her life can be found in these books:

Jones, Jim (1999). Use My Name: Jack Kerouac’s Forgotten Families. Toronto, ONT: ECW Press.

Kerouac, Jan (1981). Baby Driver. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Kerouac, Jan (1988). Train Song. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Kerouac, Jan (1998). Train SongExpanded Edition. New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press.

Nicosia, Gerald, ed. (2009). Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory. Corte Madera, CA: Noodlebrain