Escape (UK Edition)
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Chapter 1: Breakout at Alcatraz
In the 1930s Alcatraz, a tiny rocky island in San Francisco Bay, was one of the world's most notorious prisons. Known as "The Rock", it was said to be escape proof, and was a bleak home for such notorious gangsters as "Creepy" Karpis and "Machine Gun" Kelly. Al Capone, the most famous gangster of all, traded a life of crime and luxury for the prison's dull routine, and slowly lost his mind working in the laundry room. By the 1950s, Alcatraz had become a crumbling shadow of its former self. Its villains were no longer notorious, although they were often just as brutal. Now the island was a dumping ground for persistently troublesome prisoners who were transferred there from other jails in the American West. Frank Morris, bankrobber and burglar, was such a man. A series of prison sentences, escapes and recapture, had led him here. He arrived in January 1960, refusing to accept that "The Rock" was escape proof. From his first moments on the island he was planning his getaway. Morris was a gaunt, handsome man, not unlike Clint Eastwood, who would later play him in a Hollywood film. His pleasant face and quiet, amiable manner disguised a ruthless determination and razorsharp mind. As his first days at Alcatraz went by, Morris got used to the prison routine. There was the daily visit to the workshop to earn money making brushes or gloves. There were the routine body searches, half hourly head counts, the two hours of "recreation" wandering around the exercise yard. Then there were the three meals a day in the prison canteen. The canteen was considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the prison. As a precaution against an outbreak of rioting, ominous rifle slits had been built into the walls, and silver tear-gas bombs nestled in the ceiling. After the evening meal, the prisoners were locked in their cells for the night. They had four hours to themselves before lights-out at 9:00pm. Here they could paint, read, play musical instruments or whatever, all in the relative privacy of their cells. Some called out chess moves to opponents nearby, others swapped jibes and threats with prisoners they planned to attack during an afternoon exercise period. Morris's easy manner soon made him friends. In the cell next to him was Allen West, an accordion- playing New York car thief. The two men got along well. In the canteen, where the prisoners could sit where they liked at meal times on long tables and benches, Morris also met the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence. They were burly country boys, who left behind a life as Florida farm hands for a career in bank robbery, and now they were hardened prison veterans.
They had cells on the same level as Morris and West, but further down the row. After Morris had been in Alcatraz for a year, another prisoner told him that a large fan motor had been removed from a rooftop ventilator shaft three years before. It was never replaced. Morris's sharp mind instantly pictured a daring night-time getaway through the shaft. There was a way out of "The Rock" 9m (30ft) above his head.
An escape would be difficult but not impossible. One thing was certain – it would take a great deal of time and planning. But time is the only luxury a man has during his term of imprisonment, and Morris was going to make the best of it. The first thing Morris had to do was figure out a way of getting from a locked cell up to the roof. The men were watched closely during the time they were out of their cells, so going up there then...
learned to pick the lock on the cuffs. His jailers had given him a single metal spoon to eat his meals, and he had scraped the edge of the handle on the cold stone floor until it was as sharp as a chisel. Using this, he had quickly discovered he could remove a couple of slats from the bottom of his wooden cell door. While the guards were not making their rounds, he would squeeze out onto the corridor and talk to his fellow prisoners. He had also had a good look around. Devigny’s cell was on the
but Morris could not stay watching out for him much longer. When the lights were turned off for the night, Morris had to go. He left West digging away, and headed up to the roof. The Anglins were already up there waiting for him. There was no point arguing with them about what they had done to West, they just had to get on and see the escape through without him. John lifted Morris up to the shaft and he quickly removed the soap rivet heads, his face starkly lit by the recurrent flash of the
hurried up to the roof but Morris and the Anglins were long gone. Poking his head through the ventilator he disturbed a flock of seagulls. They made such a screeching he fled back to his cell in panic. He spent the rest of his sentence wondering what would have happened if the Anglins had given him fair warning of the escape. Maybe he’d be in a quiet backwater bar, with a long cool drink and a beautiful girl. Maybe he’d be lying at the bottom of San Francisco Bay, his bleached bones picked clean
was able to make his way safely back to England. Once home, James wrote An Escaper’s Progress, an account of his adventures in Marlag und Milag Nord. He noted that being an escaper is like meeting someone at a party whose name you cannot remember. You have to pick up clues as you talk, by asking leading questions. In this way he learned how to get by without drawing attention to himself in the places and situations he found himself in. After the war James became an Antarctic explorer, and was a
villain, and Pat Pottle and Michael Randle – two peace activists jailed for their part in a demonstration at an American airbase in Britain. All three had recently been released from prison, and had decided to help him escape. Now, as Bourke fidgeted outside in the gloom, Blake was standing in the bright glare of Hall D, chatting with one of the prison officers about whether television wrestling matches were faked. The guard was so engrossed in the conversation he failed to notice another