ESCAPE ARTIST by William A. Noguera


Memoir of a Visionary Artist on Death Row
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How a death row inmate acquired solace and inner penance through education and art.

Currently serving a death sentence at San Quentin State Prison, Noguera writes candidly and unrelentingly about his abusive childhood and his irreversible brushes with trouble as a youth. The bulk of the book details the vicious, unpredictable culture, survival tactics, and tangled hierarchy within the prison where he has spent the past 34 years. Through his fascinating and frequently shocking jailhouse memoir of San Quentin life (with its ironically coveted “million-dollar view of San Francisco”), readers will learn the art of “keistering,” the hazards of integrated prison yards and segregated gang affiliations, and how books on distinguished poets, artists, and philosophers at the prison library awakened in the author the “passion, love, hate, fury, and all of the human emotions that would later be the basis for my own work.” Noguera discusses his past as a primal, animalistic young man who became a targeted prisoner in Orange County Jail and his present struggles reconciling a dark, inescapable fate with the production of painted artwork, his “vehicle of escape” (liberally displayed throughout the book), offering a creative outlet for his frustration and inner angst. The author’s reflections focus primarily on his time in jail, leavened with guidepost life principles that he learned and adopted while behind bars. In the final chapters of the book he shares the intimate details of the vengeful 1983 homicide of his then-girlfriend’s abusive mother when he was 18. This event’s description is as lucid as the passionate tone Noguera adopts when describing his ongoing efforts of atonement, including the formation of a charitable foundation that donates art sale proceeds and remote speaking engagements on professional ethics and corporate responsibility. The author’s obvious remorse and firm commitment to self-rehabilitation are honorable and very much apparent throughout a moody, divergent memoir in which his impressive artistic oeuvre invariably wrestles with a murderous past and an irreversible death sentence.

A provocative and sure-to-be-controversial portrayal of repentance through art.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-60980-797-9
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Seven Stories
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2018


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