Jail Birds: The Story of Robert Stroud
Doing Time on 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
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
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.
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.
Finally, in 1959 after having served 50 years behind iron bars Robert was transferred to a minimum-security prison hospital in