Review - Letters from Alcatraz

by @edent | # #

Letters from Alcatraz - Michael Esslinger

A message in a bottle floats in front of the famous island prison.
With over twenty years of research, Esslinger, author of Alcatraz: Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years, has salvaged and compiled an extraordinary collection of inmates' letters, many never before published.

A grim and uncompromising read. Page after page of letters written by barely-literate violent offenders. Each trapped on Alcatraz, each pleading with someone for a little mercy, or arguing against a perceived slight.

What's depressing is how similar all the letters are. Not just in tone-of-voice and vernacular, but in their humdrum complaints. It makes for a gruelling and unsympathetic read.

Weirdly, all of the letters seem to have been written by white inmates. Given the mixed (but segregated) nature of the prison, the focus on white inmates is a little confusing.

Note: The Kindle version suffers from some errors, and not all of the letters are transcribed.

Nevertheless, a fascinating glimpse into a long forgotten world.

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