Life, or what passes for it, inside the ""Bastille by the Bay""--San Quentin. Ron Decker, white middle-class dope dealer who's never before served time, meets Earl Copan, a third-termer who wears the ghastly environs like an old snug jacket. And the two hitch together not a second too soon, since young Ron's got a problem: he's slightly too pretty for the penitential life. But Earl's attentions are veteran, comradely, and platonic (why, we never quite know; characters here are priced as marked), and they see Ron through bad times--and eventually out, via escape. Earl is Ron's Virgil, leading him protectively into the depths: a life where violent score-settling is more than incidental, where racial war is encouraged by the prison officials. What works here is the constant white noise of threat and alarm--plus a rendering of slain etiquette in its way as meticulous as any in Austen or James. Bunker's box of colors is limited and his brush hasn't much give, but they're enough to make a simple placard that says: rehabilitating the fallen in a San Quentin is ""like trying to make a Moslem by putting someone in a Trappist monastery."" This and other Messages jut up honestly, clearly, but finally there's the problem of what to do with the pulseless and inert book sagged around them.