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Looking Outward

Stroud had received permission from the warden at Alcatraz to write a penal history, but bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., balked when they reviewed his manuscript. The top brass hastily created new rules for inmate authors, forbidding the publication of any inmate's work that was obscene, criticized the prison system, or glorified crime. Stroud was transferred in 1959 to the US Federal Medical Prison for chronically ill inmates in Springfield, Missouri, where he died in November, 1963. Martin, the Missouri attorney, was named administrator of Stroud's estate and gained custody of the manuscripts in lieu of compensation for his legal services. Martin tried to hawk the prison history manuscript to publishers, but they expressed little or no interest. "Some said it was too long. Others were afraid of being sued for libel because Stroud wrote about living people -- corrupt prison officials, sadistic guards and brutalized prisoners," Martin said. "Others said no one was interested in the prison system, or that history doesn't sell. Some of the great stories in literature are prison stories. I guess they hadn't read 'The Count of Monte Cristo' or 'The Gulag Archipelago, '" Martin said. Martin insists that Stroud's observations on the U.S. prison system are still relevant today. "I think it's a work of great social value. We're still trying to answer the questions that Stroud raised," he said. "The number of Americans incarcerated is greater than ever before. It costs a lot of money to incarcerate people. What do we get in return for it? Do we get a better person than what went in, or a worse person?"
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About the Author

The Birdman of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud died 50 years ago behind bars in Springfield's US Federal Medical Prison. But his voice is about to be heard.

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