Inside Alcatraz: My Life on the Rock by Jim Quillen

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Inside Alcatraz: My Time on the Rock by Jim Quillen

Quillen Inside.jpg
Buy Inside Alcatraz: My Life on the Rock by Jim Quillen at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: Jim Quillen details his life of crime and subsequent incarceration in one of the most notorious prisons in the world.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 384 Date: December 2015
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 9781784750664

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It sounds like something from a Hollywood movie. A group of young prisoners make a daring escape from prison and go on the run, cleverly evading capture thanks to quick wits and creative thinking. After managing to cover some distance, the men began to feel smart, confident and quite comfortable, thinking that they had managed to outwit the police. A rude awakening with gun to the head one morning proved otherwise. The circumstances of their escape meant that their capture would lead to a long incarceration in one of the most notorious prisons in the world: Alcatraz. Inside Alcatraz is the story of one of those men, Jim Quillen, and his long road to redemption.

Quillen quite rightly portrays Alcatraz as a formidable building. With the tightest of security inside and cold dangerous waters surrounding the outside, any hope of escape seemed minimal. Indeed, he points out that from its time as a maximum-security prison from 1934 to 1963, there were fourteen escape attempts in total and every single one failed, resulting in the deaths of the unfortunate inmates concerned.

As well as giving a detailed account of life in Alcatraz, Quillen also describes the escape attempt in May 1946. Inmates Cretzer, Hubbard, Thomson, Carnes and Shockley executed a well-planned takeover which went tragically wrong and lead to a heavy-handed assault on the building by the authorities. There were deaths and severe injuries on both sides. Quillen spoke about this time with great sadness and bitterness, feeling that the authorities viewed the prisoners as little more than animals. In his view, the harsh prison conditions drove many men into a suicidal state of desperation; to either escape or die trying.

Quillen writes in an engrossing manner and it is easy to lose yourself in the book as it is so absorbing. The fact that these events really happened add to the appeal of the story. As soon as I had finished the book, my teenage son whisked it away upstairs, where he devoured the whole thing in a matter of days.

Ultimately this is a tale of redemption and it becomes clear that Jim Quillen had a truly remarkable life. We learn how he eventually stopped trying to escape and started to make himself useful by learning new skills in prison; skills that later enabled him to have a successful career when he was released. He reflects on lessons learned in a bygone prison system notorious for its severity; where the focus was on punishment rather than rehabilitation. His is a success story, but he had to work extremely hard to make it so.

This is one of those books that will stay in my memory for a long time and I enthusiastically recommend it to all who will listen. Why go to the movies when Inside Alcatraz has all of the action, excitement and intrigue you need?

For a fictional account of life on the infamous island, try Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko. It is a kid's book, but adults will enjoy the story too.

Buy Inside Alcatraz: My Life on the Rock by Jim Quillen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Inside Alcatraz: My Life on the Rock by Jim Quillen at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Inside Alcatraz: My Life on the Rock by Jim Quillen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Inside Alcatraz: My Life on the Rock by Jim Quillen at Amazon.com.

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