James Patrick Kinnon (5 April 1911 – 9 July 1985), commonly known as Jimmy Kinnon or "Jimmy K.", was the primary founder of Narcotics Anonymous (NA), a worldwide fellowship of recovering addicts. During his lifetime, he was usually referred to as "Jimmy K." due to NA's principle of personal anonymity on the public level. He never referred to himself as the founder of NA, although the record clearly shows that he played a founding role.
When Kinnon was seven years old he befriended a local alcoholic whom he referred to as Mr. Crookshank. Kinnon would often find him drunk and beaten. One day he found Crookshank badly beaten up and unresponsive. Kinnon ran for help. Over the following weeks Kinnon did not see Crookshank and, after numerous inquiries, his mother took him to see his friend. They went to an institution of which Crookshank was now a resident. He was wheelchair-bound and incoherent. Upon leaving the facility, Kinnon told his mother that when he grew up he was going to help people like Mr. Crookshank.
Kinnon was born in Paisley, Scotland on 5 April 1911 the first of five children to parents of Irish ascent. Jimmy's father moved to America in 1921 and the rest of the family in 1923. His sister being sick was hospitalised and their mother stayed by her side while he was left with his three brothers on Ellis Island for three and a half days. They befriended a Russian family while waiting for their sister to be cleared of her medical issue. When the family was reunited they moved to Philadelphia. He never saw the Russian family again. Born an Irish in Scotland, being an Irish in the US, Jimmy had to face violence from other communities all his childhood and youth long. While in Philadelphia Kinnon went to private school in Germantown, Pennsylvania, a theological seminary, and had plans, or his parents had plans for him, of entering the priesthood, which meant six rigorous years of training. While still at the seminary, he began using alcohol and pills which started his years of addiction until he got clean in 1950. He never followed through with his, or his parents, goal of becoming a priest. He eventually became a roofer and painter. He met his wife Agnes in Philadelphia and they had six children together in California where they moved in the early forties.
Kinnon stopped using all mood and mind-altering substances on 2 February 1950. He began attending Alcoholics Anonymous, a twelve-step program. While in Alcoholics Anonymous he met other members who had struggled with addiction to substances other than alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous often discouraged members from talking about addictions other than alcohol. Jimmy saw the need to recover from more than the symptom, i.e. substance used (alcohol, pills, etc.) by addressing the addict's thinking and attitudes before, during and in between using. This is why, for NA, he would change the language of Step 1 of the 12 Steps of AA from "We admitted we were powerless over ALCOHOL, that our lives had become unmanageable" to "We admitted we were powerless over OUR ADDICTION, that our lives had become unmanageable ". Kinnon attended meetings of another group called Habit-forming Drugs but was disappointed with it.
Formation of Narcotics Anonymous
In the summer of 1953 Jimmy Kinnon and other members of Alcoholics Anonymous began holding their own separate meetings, which they called Narcotics Anonymous. Kinnon and several others were given permission from Alcoholics Anonymous to adapt the AA Twelve Steps, but Jimmy changed Step 1 from "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol..." to "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction..." This was a significant change of focus from the AA program, because NA is focused on recovery from the disease of addiction rather than any particular substance. Kinnon saw the substance as a symptom of a deeper core issue, (i.e. the obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior) from which the substance is used to gain a temporary relief. Narcotics Anonymous was officially founded in July 1953 in Sun Valley, California. There was a different organization also called Narcotics Anonymous that was previously founded in the forties by a recovering addict named Danny Carlsen in New York City, but it did not follow the 12 Traditions and was more of a social-services organization than a Fellowship. It died out in the mid-1960s and was never connected to the NA Kinnon started in Sun Valley.
Most of Narcotics Anonymous early literature was written by Jimmy Kinnon and is still used worldwide today in over 70,000 NA meetings. He was the main contributor to the Yellow Booklet and Little White Booklet that were used throughout the 1960s and 1970s. From 1953 to 1977 Narcotics Anonymous had only a set of pamphlets and booklets as literature. From 1979-1982 hundreds of Narcotics Anonymous members from the "new" generation of drug users of the sixties and seventies expanded on this literature and created The Basic Text. Kinnon also designed the NA logo, The Group Logo, The Service Symbol and wrote the Gratitude Prayer and "Fruit of the Harvest" statement found in the beginning of The Basic Text. This book was the first ever known that was written by recovering addicts for recovering addicts. It was first published in 1982. 9.3 million copies of The Basic Text have been published since 1982, in 31 languages.
James Kinnon, who had fought a battle against tuberculosis from the late sixties on, died of lung cancer on 9 July 1985, in California. Prior to his death he said, if he ever had a headstone it would read, "All we did was sow some seeds and work and wrought to make this work, so that we and others could live. In Peace, in Freedom and in Love". He was clean for thirty five years at the time of his death.
- My Years With Narcotics Anonymous. A History of N.A. by Bob Stone. 1997, Hulon Pendleton Publishing, L.L.C., Joplin, MO, U.S.A., ISBN 0-9654591-0-1
- Miracles Happen: The Birth of Narcotics Anonymous in Words and Pictures, Revised, 2011, Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc. ISBN 978-1557768810
- Narcotics Anonymous History (.MP3, RealAudio and Windows Media formats)
- Official Narcotics Anonymous website