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Birdman of Alcatraz's Book on Federal Prison Makes It to Press After 51-Year Delay

Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz immortalized in an eponymous film starring Burt Lancaster, wrote a 2,000 page history of the Federal Bureau of Prisons before his death in 1963.  That book is finally making it to press, after 51 years of legal wrangling.

Stroud's book, "Looking Outward: A History of the U.S. Prison System from Colonial Times to the Formation of the Bureau of Prisons," is the result of the compilation of handwritten manuscripts in Stroud's "meticulous" hand, according to Dudley Martin, the executor of Stroud's estate.  The manuscript was typed and shopped in the mid-50s, but was turned down by at least three New York publishers, who were concerned about libel suits from prison officials.  The book languished in Martin's basement until recently, when Part I, "Looking Outward, A Voice From the Grave," was published in ebook form.

Stroud's four-volume tome follows the 150-year history of the American correctional system, rife with brutality, sex, bribery, and what he viewed as the monumental failure of prisons to rehabilitate those confined in them.  Stroud's book names brutal prison guards and corrupt wardens on the take.  "Nobody else has written about this stuff and the federal prison system did not want it out," Martin said.  Stroud began writing the book in 1942 when he was transferred to the notorious Alcatraz, suing the Bureau of Prisons in 1962 to allow publication.

Stroud came to fame after authoring two books on bird diseases that were well-received in the scientific community, leading to the film about his life that made him a household name.

Stroud served a stunning 54 years in federal prison, starting in 1909 at the age of 19, when he was convicted of beating a man to death in Alaska.  In 1916, he stabbed a guard to death at Leavenworth.  He served time at four federal facilities, including the last four years of his life at the Springfield Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, when he died at age 73 in 1963.

"To sadistic-minded persons, helplessness is always an invitation to cruelty," Stroud wrote.  Beyond the brutality of the system, Stroud's book follows the rise and degeneration of the prison reform movement in the last century and how prison sex contributed to "character destruction."

"If there is anybody who could write about federal prisons, it was him," said J.E. Cornwell, the book's publisher.

Sources: Reuters,

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