Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jail Birds: The Story of Robert Stroud

Doing Time on the Rock

Alcatraz
Alcatraz
   

Since 1861, Alcatraz functioned mostly as a military prison compound until 1934 when civilian criminals from three other penitentiaries across the country were admitted. Most of the criminals sent to the island compound were considered to be hardcore convicts and included such infamous names as George Machine Gun Kelly, Doc Baker, Al Capone and Floyd Hamilton. The prison quickly earned a bad reputation amongst inmates across the country and became known as the hell hole and the rock.

The daily regime at the prison was strict. Most inmates were refused many of the privileges they were previously granted while serving time in the other institutions. According to Michael Esslingers article Alcatraz: Rigid and Unusual Punishment,   some of the prisoners were not allowed to talk, access reading material from the prison library or even visit relatives. Esslinger stated that if any of the rigid codes were violated, inmates were forced to wear a 12-pound ball with ankle chain, subjected to violent beatings, be banished to the hole (an isolation cell) or work at hard-labor jobs. Many went crazy, some committed suicide or attempted escape and others just tried to survive their term.

By the time Robert arrived in December of 1937, he was already aware of Alcatrazs notorious reputation. He had heard about it from other inmates back in Leavenworth. Gaddis stated that although Robert lost the privilege of keeping birds, he was allowed to continue reading his bird journals, correspond with other bird lovers and exercise several hours a week in the prison yard.

Robert was also permitted access to the library, from where he obtained and studied the numerous law books. Using his newfound knowledge of law, he began to petition the Federal Courts for early release. He claimed in writ after writ that his extraordinarily long incarceration was cruel and unusual punishment. However, his petitions were continuously dismissed.

Robert channeled much of his anger with the system towards the writing of a new book that chronicled the history of the federal prison system from a convicts perspective. The book was titled Looking Outward: A History of the U.S. Prison System from Colonial Times to the Formation of the Bureau of Prisons. He hoped that the book would shed light on the disintegration of the penal system over the years. He included in his study discussions on reformative measures that have succeeded and failed, prison conditions and effective and ineffective prison leadership, among other things. The manuscript was his second book concerning prison life, the first being an autobiography entitled Bobbye.

Throughout his writing of the books, Robert became severely ill and suffered chronic pain from his kidney and gall bladder. The pain attacks became so acute at times that he was transferred to the prison hospital so that he could receive medication. However, he refused to allow the pain to stop him from fighting for what he believed to be his right to freedom.

Robert Stroud prison ID
Robert Stroud prison ID
    

Over the years that followed Robert began to file even more petitions directed to the Supreme Court. Yet, his requests continued to be denied. Frustrated at the system and weary of prison life, Robert attempted to take his life by overdosing on pain medication in December 1951. It seemed as if nothing was going according to Roberts plans. He not only failed to secure his long overdo freedom, but also at his own suicide. The following day he awoke with the prison walls still surrounding him.

Birdman of Alcatraz movie poster
Birdman of Alcatraz movie poster

Finally, in 1959 after having served 50 years behind iron bars Robert was transferred to a minimum-security prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Although he was given more freedom than he ever experienced in his years in incarceration, he still was not satisfied. He continued to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom.

On November 21, 1963 Roberts long struggle finally came to an end. According to alcatrazhistory.com, the 73-year old was found dead from natural causes in his prison hospital room. He had served a 54-year sentence before being released by death.

Robert Stroud's head stone
Robert Stroud's head stone
 

 

Categories
Advertisement