Alcatraz from inside

I November 2019, I visited San Francisco, and among other things, Alcatraz. From there I bought the book Alcatraz from inside: Jim Quilllen: One man’s climb from desperation to redemption. So this became my next “book of the month”.

So the book is a real life story, of once a inmate named Jim Quillen, or inmate #586. Like Mr. Quillen himself said.

“You were a number, you weren’t a name; I wasn’t Jim Quillen. Hell, I was Number 586, and nobody wanted that.”
– Jim Quillen, Alcatraz Inmate #586

IMG_20200307_140120As I bought the book, I foremost thought the book would be about Alcatraz, the life, the event’s and the institution. But the book itself started from time’s way before him ending up there. At first, I felt a bit mislead and disappointed. Nothing on the books cover, or intro text on the back cover gave information on the fact, that this was maybe more a one man’s biographic or memoir, then a specific book on The Rock.

“These five words seem written in fire on the walls of my cell: Nothing can be worth this!”
– George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alcatraz inmate #117

I stuck with it and continued reading, and am very pleased with that. Because upon finishing the book, it shed’s light on his interesting life, and like the book cover says: “One man’s climb from desperation to redemption.”


I’ve tried to read similar books before, and they have all made me loose interest at some point of the book, but I believe the main reason for me having the energy, interest and perseverance was that I’ve as long as I can remember, have had a high interest of Alcatraz, and as I visited there recently, everything Mr. Quillen wrote about, I have seen in real life.

The real shower rooms for the inmates.

So Quillen lived between 1919 and 1998, thru several misdemeanors he ended up in the most notorious and dangerous prison. The book shed’s light on the everyday life, as well as several different events that happened there. The main and largest event told in the book is the escape attempt by Bernard P. Coy, Marvin Flanklin Hubbard, Joseph Paul Cretzer, Miran Edgar (Buddy) Thompson, Clarence V. Carnes and Samuel Richard Shockley. Out of these six persons, the three who survived the longest were Coy, Hubbard and Cretzer. But this trio died as well in the end, by the savage assault from marines and prison guards, after some intense days, of constant battering by rifle fire, teargas and rifle grenades.

Alcatraz functioned as a prison from August 22, 1934 to March 21, 1963. And during this time there was 14 breakout attempts, and only one man managed to reach the mainland, but he too was captured and returned to Alcatraz. Ironically, this almost successful attempt, was performed just three months and one week before the prison was closed down for good.

This is what a cell looked like. It was not big.

Jim Quillen went thru amazing adventures and experienced a lot, and I’m sure anyone who got to meet him, and hear his story’s were fascinated by them.

Maybe the most incredible and respectable deed was he’s rehabilitation into society. The steps and life changes he made are worth anybody’s admiration. From what he’s past contained, to what he became, the story is incredible.

And the matter of him returning, and telling his story for several years as a volunteer at the prison is remarkable, I just wished I’ve had the change to meet him.

As a book I recommend it highly, and it shed’s light on the life, and atmosphere of the elusive and mysterious United States Penitentiary of Alcatraz, as well as the incredible story of Mr. Jim Quillen.

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