To kill a birdman! | Daily News

To kill a birdman!

If a severe form of isolation and seclusion of a human being from the other members to the society is allowed to undergo as a punishment, perhaps that particular individual may face death that is worse than the sentence of Capital Punishment. But if that particular individual devises a series of events in his isolation to spend the time from moment to moment facing the challenges of seclusion as understandable in order to pass time or a miracle would be decided as a marvel or a miracle.

Such a grand marvel of a human being who became a victim of circumstances and nearly facing capital punishment is recreated and the true story of Robert Stroud as written by the author, Phyllis E Gaddis.

The highly sensitive and creative writer has attempted to write the living story of Stroud who is led to live in the prison cell of Alcatraz. The title of the investigative, creative and inspiring material that collected go as Birdman of Alcatraz. For circumstances beyond one’s grasp, the protagonist Stroud is being loved by his mother, as perhaps neglected by the father.

Humane aspects

In the chapters of Gaddis’ work, the life story of Stroud runs from his childhood up to his death recounting various humane aspects of living conditions a human being has to face. As the investigation cum creator Gaddis notes in his introduction to the work, Robert Stroud’s life changed as he watched them construct the gallows that would hang him in the exercise yard just outside his cell.

From page to page, the challenges that are impending to Stroud are pinpointed in a manner that makes the reader engrossed and identified with the victim; what has he done to get the punishment is the question raised by the reader. Stroud was twenty-seven years old and had just killed a prison guard in full view of 1100 convicts and prison guards.

Has he killed that man? Who are the people who had seen it? The response lies in the inner understanding of the branded killer, Stroud. Some say that he had been mentally sick for some time. Some others say that he can never be a killer and that he is accused by those who have not grasped the inner sense of Stroud. His mother as well as his younger brother came to claim him innocent. But the penologists try their best to go deeper and deeper taking into account of witnesses as well as prison authorities.

While these things happen around, the victim Stroud does not feel a bit of his isolation as a punishment, for when his cell is changed, he sees the birds that perch around the prison yard with special reference to the various types of sparrows. He takes the study of birds so serious that he needs to write his observations on paper. This enables Stroud not only to pass time but also go feel that his time has been spent on a worthwhile cause. He takes permission as a victim to make use of the prison library.

Investigative narrative

He manages to meet his lawyers, who come to see him. But they see the great qualities of a prisoner scientist lay buried in Stroud. This itself becomes a talking point. The writings that are flashed in various Chicago journals attract additional attention that perhaps become at times favourable and at times adverse. He sees that his time spent in the prison cell is not futile. As the investigative narrative runs into deeper and deeper areas the reader observes that the splendour of nature is working for the victim concerned.

The effect may remind one of the sainthood of the victim in a Tolstoyan manner. Stroud talks to his fellow inmates in a tone akin to spiritualism.

At one moment, he who has read a religious book comes to know of Kamma and reincarnation. To the surprise of the inmates, as well as the prison specials he faces no fear for any severe punishment imposed on him. Gaddis makes use of the material he had unearthed from prison source as well as penological sources to create a living figure of eternal value.

Several humane factors such as loving-kindness of a mother, the dialectical nature of philosophies, the nature and the moments of bliss it could create in a person are brought out as moments of illuminative moments. The dialogues as found in the work are made to book like inner moments of bliss. One such example is found in the mother-son dialogue when the former pays a visit and comes to know that the son had been chided by the widow who had deceived him as a bird lover.

Mother says:

“I never thought you would do a thing like this to your old mother, son.”

She did not use the term ‘Robbie’ the addressing her own son and continued. “You have taken up with that – that woman – publicly. She is no good for you. The officials are angry. They think you are crazy, son. You must be a very sick boy to do this to your old mother.”

The son’s voice was placating, gentle. He said: “You are not using your head, mom,” he said mildly, “they had me on the list for a transfer.” Then the mother says: “Do you think your mother would ever let them take your birds away?”

Illuminative terms of reference

The reader feels the pulse of the two characters. The work Birdman of Alcatraz is both humane and sensitive. Since Gaddis’ death, his daughter, Phyllis E Gaddis had written as an epilogue as to how the work came to be working for four long years. Some illuminative terms of reference go as follows:

“After hearing the first of few intriguing details of the case, my father set to work, only to find that the more he knocked on government doors, the tighter they closed – which only increased his determination.”

I remember seeing the film version of the work, with Burt Lancaster as the main actor. But I recalled all the episodes one by one as I browsed the pages.