An Inmate’s Love For Math Leads To New Discoveries

There are many examples of mathematical progress in prisons. Probably from the most famous French mathematician Andre Weil, who came up with his hugely influential conjecture while in the military prison of Rouen, France?

In addition, another mathematical giant, Srinivasan Ramanujan, started without any formal training in mathematics and produced most of his revolutionary results because of complete isolation. Will mentions in his autobiography that he was able to gain special clarity while in prison. Is there anything special about prison and math?

Heaven sentenced in 2011 to 25 years in prison in Washington after convicted of murder. He received his love and gift for mathematics while in solitary confinement a few months after he was imprisoned. His journey in mathematics and research led him to the first author’s research article in an academic mathematics journal in January 2020. In January 2013, my colleague Matthew Cargo, then Production Editor for Mathematical Science Publishers, sent this letter via email from a colleague:

“For those who may be concerned, I’m interested in finding more information on the Annals of Mathematics subscription for personal use. I am currently serving 25 years in the Washington Correctional Department and I have decided to use this time for self-improvement. I am studying calculus and number theory.” Because numbers have become my goal, can you please send me some information in your arithmetic journal? Christopher Havens, # 349034

PS I am self-educating myself and have often been in trouble for a long time. Has anyone sent me self-addressed stamped envelopes that I can contact? There no teacher here who can help me so I often spend for books that I do not need or may have. Thanks.” Cargo Heaven contacted by my parents, they were both mathematicians.

Initially, my father, Umberto Cerruti, a multiple theorist who was a professor of mathematics at the University of Torino in Italy, agreed to help Havens just because we asked him. My dad thought that Heaven was probably one of the many cranks who fell in love with numbers and came up with a flawed theory. To test him, he gave Heaven to solve a problem. In return, my dad got a 120cm long piece of paper in the mail and it had a long and intricate formula. My dad entered the formula into his computer and was surprised, the results were correct!

After that, my father worked at Heaven is which invited him to work on a problem involving continuous fractions. Euclid discovered 300 BC, allowing continuous fractions to express all numbers through a series of integers. For example, pi is the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter: 3.14159.