ON THE ROCK: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz by Alvin with Robert Livesey Karpis

ON THE ROCK: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Prison days, gray and dire, with Public Enemy Number One Alvin Karpis--the bank thief, kidnapper, and extortionist who shot up the Midwest in the Thirties and rode with the Ma Barker gang till J. Edgar Hoover arrested him. (Karpis portrays Hoover as a frightened pipsqueak hiding behind his second-in-command throughout the arrest caper.) Sentenced to life imprisonment, Karpis was sent to the then-brand-new maximum-security federal prison on Alcatraz Island in S.F. Bay, where he remained for 25 years before being transferred to McNeil Island (from which he was later paroled, spending ten free years in Canada before dying in 1979). In prison, dour Karpis was nicknamed ""Creepy""--but in his own eyes he was a Big Spender slightly on the skids. Either way, Alcatraz life was mostly drab and painful. The nice fellow inmates included: A1 Capone, lord of the island, still spending big as he plucked his tenor banjo, then slowly succumbed to paresis and insanity; Doc Barker, who died in an escape attempt; bigmouth Machine Gun Kelly, a tireless liar; and famed ""Birdman"" Stroud, whom Karpis sees as a diehard maniac (with visions of child-killing and cannibalism) wisely kept under lock-and-key despite sympathetic media portrayals. The not-so-nice inmates were the white-trash ""garbage"" who resented the classy criminals: they were even worse company than the cruel guards. Still, along the way, there were high points: the irony of Pearl Harbor, with prisoners rooting for the Axis powers; a kitchen job that got Karpis a beautiful boy-lover (""China Doll""), all the home-brew he could drink, plus steaks and hams; and teaching Charles Manson how to play the guitar. All in all, as Karpis says, a 25-year ""empty, futile experience""--nothing new for readers of prison lit (shivs, riots, etc.), but intermittently powerful in its sheer darkness and grit.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Beaufort--dist. by Scribners