Biography of Birdman of Alcatraz Robert F. Stroud Part 2

About the famous Birdman of Alcatraz Robert F. Stroud, history and biography of the famous prisoner.


ROBERT F. STROUD (1890-1963). The Birdman of Alcatraz.

Stroud did not take well to prison. That, combined with his family's resistance to Kitty and their eventual success in preventing her from writing to him, made him combative. After a fight with another prisoner, Stroud had six months added to his sentence, and his chances for parole dimmed.

He was transferred to the new Leavenworth prison in Kansas when it opened in 1912. It was there that he first discovered that books could make prison more bearable. He delved deeply into various subjects, but in 1916 he was in trouble again. His visiting privileges suspended by a guard he felt had it in for him, Stroud got into a fight with the guard and wound up stabbing him with a homemade knife.

For this second killing, he almost lost his life. His first trial resulted in a death sentence, but the case was appealed and he won a new trial. During the second trial, he became something of a cause celebre, for there had been no execution in Kansas for 39 years. He was found guilty but spared the death penalty.

Appalled at the prospect of serving a life sentence, he took a gamble on a third trial, knowing that he would either go free or die. He gambled and lost. But the tireless efforts of his mother saved him again; by Woodrow Wilson's signature, Stroud's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

From that point on he was kept in solitary confinement. His interest in birds took hold one day when he found two baby sparrows in the exercise yard and took them back to his cell. He became a regular contributor to the Roller Canary Journal, conducted a correspondence with bird-lovers all over the world, gained a considerable reputation for curing bird diseases, and eventually published a book--Stroud's Digest on the Diseases of Birds--that is still in public libraries.

The prison authorities' acceptance of his hobby varied through the years. At one point they gave him an extra cell and let him fill it with cages, birds, a typewriter, a microscope, and the books and periodicals necessary for his studies. He had a thriving business in bird and medicine sales and even sold a bird to J. Edgar Hoover. At other times, however, the authorities threatened to forbid his having birds entirely. With the help of his mother and a bird-lover whom he later married, he marshaled public opinion against the action.

In the 26th year of his sentence, he was transferred to Alcatraz and ordered to leave the birds behind--at which time he disposed of 1,144 lb. of personal property accumulated in prison. Deprived of his birds, he tried to make do with research on the topic. Eventually he expanded his interest into law, filing many briefs for himself, and French, which he taught himself. He also wrote a long study of the penal system, which was confiscated by the prison and has never been published.

Throughout his 54-year tenure in the prison system, he hoped for a parole, and the public attention focused on him from time to time seemed a factor in his favor. In the end, though, he died a prisoner.

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