An Inmate Serving a Murder Sentence Made a Historic Math Discovery


murder sentence

Christopher Havens, who’s serving a 25-year murder sentence, published a new mathematical study in Research in Number Theory earlier this year.

Prisoners frequently mail requests to publications and publishers because access to particular books and whole genres of books even is exceedingly minimal in prisons. The guidepost is convoluted, and inmates’ rights organizations hold up circumscribed access to books as an instance of a First Amendment violation. It’s in this context that professor Marta Cerruti’s partner and chemist got a note from Havens requesting a yearly subscription to the journal Annals of Mathematics based in Princeton.

As luck would have it, Cerruti’s dad is a number theorist who opted to take a chance on the man serving a murder sentence, who was attempting to teach himself number theory and calculus without any accessibility to a certified teacher. In The Conversation recently, Cerruti wrote: “To test him, he gave Havens a problem to solve. In return, my father received a 120-centimeter-long piece of paper in the mail, and on it was a long and complicated formula. [T]o his surprise, the results were correct!”

Professor of mathematics at the University of Torino, Umberto Cerruti, is one of the other authors of “Linear fractional transformations and nonlinear leaping convergents of some continued fractions,” Havens’ published paper. With 16 more years in his sentence and an academic publication under his belt, Havens has a chance to continue to expand his mathematical gifts—providing he can continue connecting with the proper pen pals.

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Aaron Granger

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