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Articles by Ashley Nellis

Book Excerpt: Lessons of “The Birdman”

by Marc Mauer and Ashley Nellis

In the early part of the last century, Robert Stroud was considered one of the most notorious and dangerous individuals in the U.S. prison system. Born in Seattle, Stroud ran away from his abusive father at the age of thirteen. He settled in Alaska and became a pimp by the age of eighteen. In 1911, he was convicted of the brutal murder of a bartender who had allegedly not paid for the services of one of his prostitutes, and was sentenced to twelve years in prison.

In federal prison, Stroud on various occasions stabbed other prisoners and attacked a hospital orderly. After being transferred to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, he got into an altercation in 1916 with a guard over a violation that would have prohibited a prison visit from his brother. In retaliation he fatally stabbed the guard in the prison cafeteria in front of 1,100 prisoners. He was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death by hanging, but in 1920 he received a commutation of sentence to life without parole from President Woodrow Wilson.

The name of Robert Stroud is not familiar to very many Americans today, but many more know of ...