Alcatraz from Inside: The Hard Years, 1942-1952

Jim Quillen, Author
Jim Quillen, Author Golden Gate National Parks Association $11.95 (164p) ISBN 978-0-9625206-1-7
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Quillen's autobiography focuses on his decade-long incarceration at the ``Rock,'' the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island, Calif., including the 1946 escape attempt that left several inmates and guards dead. Arguing that the brutality of the system made the bloodshed inevitable, he calls Alcatraz ``a prison where the sole purpose was to degrade, deprive, humiliate and break the inmates.'' But Quillen never proves his case; most of his anger arises from the constant surveillance and security that made escape virtually impossible. Indeed, what comes through the author's deliberately low-key account is the fervor with which he thought about, dreamed about and planned escapes. A veteran of two escapes from a state reformatory as well as one from San Quentin prison (during which he kidnapped two hostages), Quillen did try to escape from Alcatraz. Most readers will find it hard to empathize with his complaints of overly restrictive security given that record. Ultimately, however, the details of life inside jail are more intriguing than the failed attempt to blame the system. Those details, and the story of Quillen's eventual rehabilitation after release, redeem the book. (Sept.)
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