Review of 'Inside Alcatraz: My time on the Rock'

Inside Alcatraz: My time on the Rock by Jim Quillen

inside_alcatraz.jpg Jim Quillen was an inmate for twelve years at the famous maximum Alcatraz high-security federal prison – a rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This book tells the story not only of his stay there but how he got there in the first place with a difficult family situation who eventually fell into crime at an early age. He freely admits he deserved to be in prison and talks about his attempts at escape at other prisons but also tells of his rehabilitation and eventual return to society. Throughout “Inside Alcatraz” Quillen tries to be as honest as possible in describing the penal system as fairly as he can when explaining political and social circumstances played a big hand in how it operated. For Quillen it was not a pleasant life both when he was free and behind bars.

Alcatraz was billed as being escape proof and Quillen contends that A good portion of the book is devoted to the disastrous attempted escape of March 1946 where several prisoners overpowered guards and gained control of C Block leading to an eventual standoff and shoot-out where prisoners involved where killed. In vivid details Quillen describes what happened to the prisoners - both innocent and not - and the guards involved. Though Quillen was in C Block he chose not to become involved instead hiding under a mattress in his cell but was there as the break out unfolded.

Alcatraz has always had a fascination for the public with it's dramatic setting and claim to have never had any escapees. It is a story so fantastic it is hard to believe it is real which makes it, of course, very compelling. I am not immune to this and found this book very interesting in telling about what life was like almost a 100 years ago and in the world's most famous and notorious prison. When I was a child I remembered seeing the Clint Eastwood film “Escape from Alcatraz” (depicting an escape attempt that warrants only a passing mention in this novel as it took place at a time Quillen was not a prisoner) and found it astounding, quite incredible that people would go to such lengths to escape. I also found it quite believable and I think this is a point that Quillen repeatedly wishes to make here that the moniker of “escapeproof” was a public relation exercise rather than, possibly, a description of reality. Of course, in this no one can be sure of the truth of the matter with time assisting to slowly turn the story of Alcatraz into one of legend. To portray the entire truth of the matter one would need to hear from all involved but here we simply have the perspective of the prosecuted.

The book is quite easy to read and moves along at a reasonable pace including several sections of photographs. An amazing story and one worth reading for anyone who has been compelled by the Alcatraz story.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2018-01-28

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Arrow Books

Publication Date: 1991

ISBN: 9781784750664