Reflecting Through Echoes

Posts Tagged ‘Hoodlum

Breaking Rock

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Live blogging the book “Breaking the Rock: the Great Escape From Alcatraz” by Jolene Babyak

P. 97.  Everyone knew “Bumpy.” He was the last of the big-time gangsters from Harlem but he was top drawer.

West, Morris, and the Anglin Brothers knew they had a problem on their hands after several black inmates spotted them digging holes in their cells. They probably figured it was only a matter of time before they were ratted out as payback for some of West’s violent outburst against black prisoners. Jolene Babyak theorizes that they probably wanted to threaten these inmates with a shank to intimate them into silence. Frank Morris, who happened to work with some of these guys in the brush shop put a stop to that line of thinking. His idea was to talk to Bumpy Johnson.

Bumpy Johnson was the “Al Capone of Harlem”. He got his nickname from the fact that he had a bumpy ride through the prison system, doing over twenty-five years in prisons such as: Sing-Sing, Attica, Rikers Island, Atlanta and of course Alcatraz. He was convicted for running a prostitution ring and selling drugs. Fun fact: he was played by Lawrence Fishburn is the film Hoodlum. Awesome flick. I’ll have to do some research but his run ins with the crazy Dutch Schultz made for a fun film.

P. 97. “Popularity is power in prison,” he once said. “People didn’t touch you if you had friends.”

Bumpy was welled liked by the inmates. Hell, even the guards liked him! In his file he was considered “dignified,” “intelligent,” and “cooperative.” Here was a man who others looked up too and this was who Frank Morris turned to to help keep their plans quite.

P. 102. …the risky part was that more and more prisoners were being told about the escape attempt in an ironic effort to keep everyone quite.

I wonder if at some point in their plan if anyone ever felt like things were spiraling out of control? That at any moment a guard could walk in on them and inspect their cell. Maybe a fellow prisoner, who couldn’t help his mouth shut, would accidentally spill the beans.  Or quite simply, getting careless and busted for smuggling stolen items. I suspect that once word spread it became like some element of destiny to it. Either they were going to escape successfully or get busted before they had a chance to put their plan into action.

P. 106. Marion was rumored to be replacing Alcatraz as the new super max pen.

Marion, Illinois, a new maximum security prison that was under construction in early ’62.  Jolene describes how the guards moral was slowly being chipped away with these rumors. No-one was for sure that Alcatraz was going to close but it was all they were talking about. Losing your job is almost as bad as the threat of losing your job. The uncertainty is a bitch! At least if you know your job is gone you can move on to the next thing, well that’s the hope.

P. 113. He [John] shaved the edges down until it fit neatly into the recess of his wall. Then he draped his towels over the sink pipes, completely covering his fake vent, and drifted off to sleep.

Using canvas art boards and tobacco boxes to carve fake vents was another genius move by these guys. Necessity IS the mother of invention. These fake vents were so good that even after a cursory glance they still fooled the guards. Impressive.

P. 120. He had made a stunning turnaround in his work and behavior record.

In another ironic twist. Allen West and Frank Morris were having their sentences reduced because of their good behavior and great attitudes toward their jobs. I guess there is nothing like sticking it to the man that brings out exceptional behavior.



Written by Mr. Lake

February 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm