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Full Circle

Day 234: San Francisco

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Michael Palin - Full CircleTwo ex-inmates, Prisoners 586 Jim Quillan and 256 Glenn Williams, accompany me round what was always known as the Rock. They make one or two things very clear. The proximity of Alcatraz to the tantalizing freedoms of a busy city was one of its least tolerable aspects. Both Quillan and Williams were desperate to avoid a cell with a view. Escape was virtually impossible. Although it is only one and a quarter miles from the shore, the water is freezing and the fierce undertow of its currents deadly. There were only fourteen escape attempts in the history of the prison. None was successful.

Seagulls scream constantly. Summer is nesting time for the Western gull, and many other birds for whom the Rock is a sanctuary. I ask Jim and Glenn if they knew the Birdman of Alcatraz.

Jim nods. 'Sure. I thought he was a jerk myself. He was a guy that liked chaos and turmoil and upheaval.'

'And all the time he would create it,' Glenn added.

'Always at somebody else's expense,' Jim looks bitterly about him as we turn and walk slowly down the long gallery of narrow cells. 'He cost me seven and a half years of my good time.'

'What did you think of the movie?'

'The movie?' Jim looks at me scornfully.

'It was a comedy,' says Glenn.

Jim nods. 'Right. It was an excellent comedy.'

The two men reminisce like old school chums back at their alma mater.

'See now, Jim, this is the basement where the clothing was issued...'

'I didn't know that.'

'Yeah, that's where Rodrigues killed Bowers.'

'D'you remember there was a barber shop here? I came here just after Jimmy Gross took a pair of scissors to someone and killed him.'
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 234
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: San Francisco - California
  • Book page no: 305

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