Out of the black, into the blue

Written by Christopher Boyce

I had not spoken for days and had spent the entire night listening to my sink drip. When you have not felt sunlight on your skin for years, you can almost forget what it was like.

To live in a regime of imposed inner stillness will oftentimes make you scream in your dreams. It did me. I would never tell them that, though. Not for many years. I did not want to give the bureaucrats who had jammed me into the enforced silence of solitary confinement the satisfaction of knowing how much they were hurting me. But they were.

I exercised vigorously, at first every day, all day. I jogged in place at a furious pace. I did pushups and situps and jumping jacks. In time I read voraciously, both history and philosophy, and did yoga. I contemplated every day of my life that I could remember. I planned a new life, a better life, but really believed I was only yearning for what could never be.

In the end, though resolved to never end it all, I only stared at walls. I knew all along what was going wrong in my head. Over the years, I was slowly being gnawed away by sensory deprivation and an increasing absence of thought.

That is not to say that the government’s modern day version of dungeon life was entirely silent. You could hear footfalls of passing bureaucrats out in the corridor. Three times a day, the metal outer door banged open and then the food slot in the inner barred door would clang open, too. A meal would be passed in, and three times a day the food slot would again be opened to retrieve plastic food trays.

The guards resented any attempt at speaking. For prisoners to speak meant we were human, and for guards to answer us only confirmed this to be true. Speaking only generated cold stares from guards as if to say, “Shut up so I can get out of here faster.”

Every morning, a physician’s assistant would peer at you through a vision slot and if you did not look up would kick the door until you did. Every several hours, you would be counted through the same slot by guards. Standing up was required as proof that you were not a lifelike dummy.

I had actually been the original cause of that rule many years before when I had absconded, leaving behind a paper mache dummy who passed several counts until the wee hours of the morning. For that embarrassing screwup, wardens – when they performed their weekly inspections – always glared at me like I was some kind of potential career threat.

But a life of sensory deprivation ended when Cait got me paroled and I was released into a chaotic world. I went from sensory deprivation to sensory overload. At times, my mind seemed overwhelmed.

I do not believe a bruised mind easily expands to handle an ever more complicated culture. A damaged mind does not mend quickly, like a broken rib. When I stepped out of prison, I was floored. Like Rip Van Winkle awakening from his 20-year sleep in the Catskill Mountains to a changed world.

My consciousness at once became a blur of lights, activities and objects I did not easily comprehend. I had remained numb through a quarter-century of accelerating cultural change. Even the language had profoundly altered. And I was intimidated enough to sometimes go off and hide in isolated, wild, empty places.

So my wife steered me back to falconry. It was a thing I knew and was comfortable with – and it had mostly not changed in a thousand years. But I had not thought of the airplane. That changed everything.

It was an Aeronca Champ, built in 1946. As I approached her, I realized just how ancient a fabric-covered flying machine she was. The Champ was one of the slowest airplanes still in the air, and was tandem-seated. I sat behind my friend, the pilot, who flew her with a joystick.

It was spring, and we were flying down the twisting course of the Deschutes River to the big Columbia, searching cliffs for falcons from the air. We swung and twisted and dipped through the gorges in a kaleidoscope of spring flowers, rushing river rapids and rock formations of every hue.

It all flashed by at 60 miles per hour, my mind an excited, roaring whirl. I had seen falcons and carefully noted the whereabouts of their nesting ledges on my maps, but when we landed I had to lay down. I thought my head would explode. Where I had only listened to dripping faucets long ago, I had in just a few hours seen more than I had once viewed in a decade.

Soon, I would return to the high river cliffs to rappel down for a young falcon, but I could not even think of that this day. Like a crashed computer too frozen up to boot, I shut down and went home to my wife’s quiet flower garden.

Her dog wagged his tail at me, but I raised my index finger in front of my closed lips and he lay down silent in the shade. Bees buzzed and hummingbirds flitted, and from somewhere nearby, peacocks called out.

The new leaves of Cait’s backyard trees whispered in the breeze, and her fountain gurgled. There are sounds to silence in my wife’s garden, but at first I had to tiptoe out of it back into the world. I still try now, though, to shut up whenever I can.

Christopher Boyce’s story was the basis for the book and movie The Falcon and the Snowman. His book, American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, tells the story of how he endured a quarter-century in prison, and how the efforts of an ambitious paralegal, Cait Mills, helped forge a path to freedom for him and his childhood friend, Andrew Daulton Lee.

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The good death of Joachim, the crazy Mexican

Written by Christopher Boyce

I had never seen a living man covered in so much blood. At first glance, I thought it was Joachim’s own blood, but I was wrong. I realized this as he began to wash himself. He was covered in the blood of his enemies and he felt good about it.

As the frenzy drained out of him, he began to sing a happy tune in Spanish, but I didn’t understand the words. So, instead, I said to him, “You crazy Mexican.”

Finally, he looked over, and in a voice resigned to his own approaching death, asked, “What else can I do?”

I was on Youth Study. That’s what the federal judge called it. I was being studied by United States Bureau of Prisons psychologists to determine if I was still a “youth.” If the headshrinkers determined that I was, the judge intended to sentence me under the Youth Act. This meant I would be given an indeterminate sentence of six months to six years. If I wasn’t, he would sentence me to forever in the federal penitentiary – also known as “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” I didn’t like the sound of that and had only just that morning pointed out to the psychologists that I still only needed to shave once a week.

Despite attempting to appear as childlike as possible, Joachim and I were not being held in the mental health unit of the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution with the rest of the potential youths being studied prior to sentencing by federal judges.

Joachim, who faced almost as much time for murder as I did for espionage, was confined, like myself, to his own isolation lockdown cell beneath the mental health unit. They did this on the off-chance we both turned out not to be youths. It was believed by the authorities that youths would not attempt to escape from a lightweight prison like Terminal Island. Adults might, though. And since this could go either way for us, they weren’t taking any chances.

Joachim and I were locked down in cells opposite each other for 23 hours a day. One hour a day, we were moved into a barbed wire enclosure for recreation.

I got to know Joachim fairly well in the 90 days we sat locked across from each other. He was a dead man. He was a member of the Familia gang, which was at that time being exterminated by the larger prison gang, the Mexican Mafia. One by one in federal penitentiaries throughout the United States, the Familia was being rubbed out – usually in three-on-one knifings. It was only a matter of time before Joachim was whacked. He accepted this as inevitable. His only ambition left in life was to die well. It was very important to him. I thought he was out of his mind.

Joachim unraveled a blanket to make a string. With this string, we would pull things back and forth between our cells. I would send him instant coffee and newspapers; he would send me cigarettes and chili peppers. We shared what we had. Every couple of days, the guards would find our string and take it. And so we would unravel more of our ever-shrinking blankets.

We talked about our very different lives and about growing up in our separate Californias. I considered him a friend. The best we could both say about our lives is that we had ruined them – he his way, and I mine. If ever anyone in my former life had suggested I would one day have a Mexican murderer for a friend, I would have laughed at them. But I came to greatly respect Joachim. I hoped that he got what he wanted most. I hoped he died well.

One day, the unexpected happened. The psychologists determined that Joachim was, indeed, a youth. He was sentenced under the Youth Act, which meant he could serve his shortened time in medium security status at Terminal Island. It really didn’t matter, though. The Mexican Mafia would kill him at Terminal Island as easily as anywhere else.

When they packed him up to enter the general population of the prison, I grimly wished him good luck in his quest to die well. He grinned gamely back and called over his shoulder, “Gracias, gringo!” as he climbed the stairs up into the sunlight.

Half an hour later, all hell broke loose on the prison yard. Amid much shouting, pandemonium and the sound of running feet, a din of loudspeakers ordered all inmates back to their cells. In my mind, I pictured Joachim with a dozen puncture wounds, bleeding out on the concrete. I imagined him dying well. But I was wrong.

After leaving the mental health unit, Joachim went directly to friends who strapped and taped razor sharp, prison-made knives into the palms of his hands so they could not be dropped or pried loose. He concealed his deadly hands in a baseball mitt and cap. He then walked up to two of his gang enemies in the yard and threw himself on them like a berserker.

He stabbed and hacked and cut until they no longer moved. He became a taster of blood. Finding himself surrounded by cautious guards, he backed up to a wall and called out: “Am I a youth?”

No one moved on him. All kept their distance. When they ordered him to drop his knives, he said he would – but only when the yard was cleared of all his foes. The guards complied, and Joachim unstrapped and dropped his knives, still covered in the blood of his enemies. He was cuffed and hustled back to the mental health unit, where he was again thrown into the cell across from me.

When the guards had finally left, I sat there watching him. He was like a furless, bloody wolf in a disconnected trance. He looked at me repeatedly and though he stood stout-hearted in his own way, he seemed for a long while to be unable to speak. Eventually, he focused enough to wash himself clean of all the blood. Only then could I tell he wasn’t wounded.

That’s when he began to sing that cheerful Spanish song, first in a whisper, and then louder and stronger. It was too much for me.

“You crazy Mexican.”

“What else can I do?”

For a while, neither of us spoke. Finally, I offered, “Do you want your cigarettes back?”

“No, you keep them. I gave them to you.”

“Geez, Joachim. After that, smoke goddamn cigarette!” I tossed them over to where he could grab the pack through the bars. He sat down on his bunk and lit one up. We both looked at his shaking hands.

“I am not a youth,” he said.

“You’re a troubled youth.”

“Maybe,” he said, and we both laughed. Six months later, they killed him in the penitentiary. He was a year younger than me and he had gotten his wish. They told me he died well.

A quarter-century later, my wife got me out of prison. I still don’t know entirely how she did it. But she did. In time, she saw me foundering, unable to come to terms with my freedom. Though no longer locked in solitary confinement, I was confined still in a spiritual death. I was deformed, connected to nothing, even myself. I was empty inside.

She encouraged me to again take up falconry. It was not a decision easily taken. Becoming a falconer is somewhat like becoming a Buddhist monk. Falconry puts your life on hold.

Living in San Francisco, I decided to fly a species of hawk that I had flown at rabbits as a boy. It was a quick, nimble hawk from Mexico called the Harris hawk, which we found only on the border. One day in 2004, I brought home a juvenile male. He was a sight to see – a perfect raptor in all his parts. I taught him to fly and I taught him to hunt. Eventually, it became necessary to name him.

I have always let the women in my life name my hawks and falcons, but I always make suggestions. A raptor has no hands – it has wings instead, but its feet are like hands with a hinged thumb-like hind toe and finger-like front toes, all with knifelike talons. Long and sharp, they are designed by nature to pierce the vitals of their prey. Without even thinking about it, I found myself suggesting that my new Mexican hawk be named “Joachim.” The hints were taken and in time, sure enough, my wife named my hawk Joachim.

Joachim was not a flashy hawk. He was not particularly fast or exceptional in his aerial abilities, but he was brave and he was steady and he was reliable. He was a perfect hawk for me and he was hell on rabbits. And whenever he took a rabbit and clutched it in his talons for his breakfast, I couldn’t help but remember a long ago time, a very dark time, and a true friend of mine named Joachim who, though young, was certainly not a youth.

Sitting there watching Joachim eat his rabbit, I would often find myself saying out loud: “You crazy Mexican.”

I’ve always believed that people remain alive as long as they’re remembered by someone. I assume Joachim’s mother has now passed on. Perhaps he has brothers and sisters who still remember him. I don’t know.

My people live for 95 or 100 years, so I will remember him for several more decades, though I doubt anyone else will. I try not to think of him now covered in his enemies’ blood. I think of him laughing and generous and without hope, but still hopeful that he would die well.

He was my friend. He was devoured by a beast that I have myself so far eluded.

Christopher Boyce spent 25 years in prison for espionage. The story of how he got there was told in the book and movie The Falcon and the Snowman. In the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, Christopher Boyce tells the miraculous story of how he survived life in some of the toughest prisons in the country, and how an ambitious paralegal named Cait Mills helped him regain his freedom.

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Christopher Boyce looks back fondly on Judge Harold L. Ryan

April 11 marked the 18th anniversary of the death of U.S. District Court Judge Harold Lyman Ryan, a man whose words when sentencing Christopher Boyce for bank robbery would ultimately set the stage for his release from prison.

In 1982, Ryan was the presiding judge in the trial against Christopher Boyce in Boise, Idaho. Two years earlier, Chris had escaped from Lompoc Federal Penitentiary, where he’d been serving a 40-year sentence for espionage. The events surrounding his original crime were documented in the bestselling book The Falcon and the Snowman by Robert Lindsey and later turned into a movie of the same name starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn.

Following his escape, Chris lived for 30 days in the southern California wilderness, then made his way north to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where he lived among the people there for a year and a half. Months after his arrival, he embarked on a series of bank robberies throughout the Pacific Northwest which eventually led to his recapture by U.S. Marshals.

His appearance in Judge Harold Ryan’s courtroom to face charges for bank robbery before being returned to federal prison signaled the start of a dark time in Christopher Boyce’s life – but despite the years of confinement that followed the sentence he received from Ryan, he still has fond memories of a man he calls “a good, decent human being.”

In preparation for our work together on the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, I interviewed Chris in-depth about his experiences both inside and outside of prison and learned that there had existed a fondness and mutual respect between the two men. You wouldn’t expect someone who’d been handed an extra 25 years to have anything nice to say about the judge who sentenced them – but then there are a lot of elements of this true story that defy explanation.

“He was very nice to me,” Chris said. “He was always polite, always smiling. I tell you, that’s the only time I’ve ever been in a courtroom where I actually enjoyed myself. Harold Ryan was the epitome of what every judge should be.”

During sentencing, Judge Ryan told the Court: “It is my hope that Mr. Boyce can be given some hope and light at the end of the tunnel, so that eventually he can be returned to society. I have spoken to Mr. Boyce to tell him that, although his sentence may seem interminable, if his attitude was right there would be light at the end of that tunnel.”

Ryan also referred to Chris as “an obviously intelligent, educated man” and made it possible for him to eventually seek parole by stipulating that all charges would run concurrently – turning a potential 72-year sentence into a 25-year sentence. Not exactly small potatoes, but Chris Boyce doesn’t hold any ill feelings.

“I was grateful for his decency,” Chris said. “There was no animosity in him. He was sort of a grandfatherly figure. At sentencing, he looked at me and basically told me ‘This too shall pass.’ I liked the hell out of him.”

In the mid-1980s, Ryan made rulings that barred the shipment of nuclear waste into Idaho and improved living conditions for inmates of overcrowded state prisons.

The Honorable Harold L. Ryan died of cancer in Boise on April 11, 1995, at the age of 71. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see his wish for Christopher Boyce fulfilled – but like all respected men of character, Ryan’s words continued to have influence, even after his death.

Christopher Boyce spent 25 years in federal prison for espionage and bank robbery. His book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman tells the story of his experiences in prison—including his 1980 escape, his recapture by U.S. Marshals, and his decades-long friendship with an ambitious paralegal, Cait Mills, who successfully lobbied for his parole and eventually became his wife. The book is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online booksellers.

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The Falcon and the sage grouse (and an English Setter named Freckles)

Written by Christopher Boyce

You have to keep your eyes on the dog in the sage desert. My English Setter means more to me than most humans, but she becomes reckless when faraway hints of grouse scent come floating down the wind. For the sake of the dog, I have to stay focused on that black and white spot a quarter mile out that is Freckles. Too many hungry eyes are always watching from the rimrock, and bad things happen to soft-mouthed bird dogs in the desert. As for bad things, I have seen enough to last me.

Too many killings, too many blood puddles coagulating on the concrete. I thought I was done with everything but prison gore. And I never thought I would see another winter’s dawn in the sage lands. I thought all that was lost to me forever. And it was. It was until I met Cait.

Some people get saved by God. Some people escape by the hair of their chinny chin chins. Or by blind, dumb luck. I was saved by a fiery redhead with a surfboard in her jeep and four dozen pairs of Manolo Blahniks in her closet, a significant proportion of which were stilettos. I knew about her shoe thing before I met Cait. Because I looked. In her closet. Under her bed. At all her things. Because I let myself in. Because I was kind of creepy then. I’m younger than that now.

But this morning in the half-light, 30 years later, I was in the desert with my dog and my falcon hunting sage grouse 20 miles from nowhere. The cold was pinching down through my padded Carhartts to my red union suit and stamping my boots on the frozen ground did not make it any easier to feel my toes. After turning Freckles loose, I climbed back into my rig and headed into the wind down a rutted two-track.

The dog cast out to the right, running big with her nose up in the breeze. A quarter mile out she turned back in front of me, still just a black and white Setter speck, and crossed to the left. I did not take my eyes off Freckles. Every falconer I know has lost a bird dog in the sage lands. Mostly to coyotes.

Freckles is a small setter, just 37 pounds, but she runs big. She’s a nose on wheels. She can’t fight, she can only run, and she can’t outrun coyotes. So I get anxious when I can’t see her. Like when the ground rolls and she goes down into a distant coulee. I start to sweat until she comes back up into view again on the other side.

Bad things can happen to a bird dog when you can’t see them. And even when you can, they’re still just a tiny black and white speck a quarter mile out. So I never take my eyes off of Freckles. Cait would kill me if I didn’t bring her home.

Most falconers regard sage grouse as the premier game bird for falcons in North America. The cocks – which we call “boomers” – weigh up to seven pounds and the hens half that. No bird in the air can absorb a hit from a falcon like a boomer. And Freckles lives to find them. When she does, she locks up on point, her whole dog body quivering as she breathes in the scent of grouse. And if you watch her, about 30 seconds into her point, she’ll ever so slightly turn her head back towards me as if to say, “I found ‘em, boss! F’get that falcon up in the air!”

The scent of grouse coming down the wind is like a mystical spirit to me. I can’t see that scent, I can’t smell it, I don’t know it’s there. It’s only when my dog shows me that she has found the scent that I know: they are here; we have found grouse.

Freckles has one other passion in the sage lands. She loves to run antelope. And so a quarter mile off this frozen morning, she crossed down out of sight into a coulee and I lost sight of her. I waited and I waited, growing more and more anxious with each passing moment.

Come on, Freckles, where are you? Come on, Freckles, come up out of there!

And then out of the coulee came a big herd of antelope, at least 150 pronghorns. A big herd, the largest herd I have ever seen around here. My setter had jumped them from the far side so they were coming out my way. And as they got closer, they made a rumbling sound – 600 hooves drumming on the ground.

I had been headed north on the two-track and there was a barbed wire fence stretching out in the distance ahead of me. Most hunters will tell you that antelope do not jump fences, they scoot under the wire instead. But this fence had brush and tumbleweed piled up against it. As the herd rumbled my way, I cut my engine. My eyes were glued at what was coming.

Forty yards in front of me at full tilt, the lead antelope reached the fence. Instead of going under, she leaped over the wire. And the pronghorns running behind her leaped as well, over and over like a living river of antelope streaming over the fence. Like my trout river way downstream where the water is big and it flows over the boulders.

Over the herd went, until the last antelope cleared the fence. I sat there watching the herd rumble off across the sage to the east. They were literally running into the rising, red sun.

And as the sound of their passing faded I said, out loud, “Thank you, Cait.”

Christopher Boyce spent 25 years in federal prison for espionage. The story of his crime was told in the bestselling novel The Falcon and the Snowman and later turned into a critically acclaimed movie starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn. Christopher Boyce’s book, American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, tells the story of his experiences in prison—including a daring prison break, a string of bank robberies, his recapture by U.S. Marshals, and his decades-long friendship with an ambitious paralegal named Cait Mills, who successfully petitioned for his parole and eventually became his wife. The book is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online booksellers.

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Of Alcatraz, bank robbers, and uncles named Christopher Boyce

March 21, 2013, marked the 50th anniversary of the closing of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. While it is a cold, foreboding place, it sparks warm memories for me – memories of being 19 and having my appendix removed at Letterman General Hospital, watching the signal light from Alcatraz by night in recovery; of making the drive from Marin through the Waldo Tunnel, seeing The Rock off to my left and knowing I was “home”; of riding in Sean Penn’s speedboat with Andrew Daulton Lee, skipping past the east shore of the island – and Sean turning to Daulton to ask: “Do you want to stop?”

Some of the fondest memories I have of living in San Francisco took place when my nieces, Natalie and Haylie, would fly in from San Diego to visit for a week each summer – an especially exciting adventure for them, since they were just old enough to fly by themselves. During these visits we’d shop, sightsee, stay up late, and watch movies. One night of the week was always dedicated to “taco night,” where with a veritable Mexican feast spread out on the kitchen table, we’d load up our plates and eat with our hands, always following it up with enormous bowls of cream topped with anything we could dream up. These were perfect “girls only” weekends that I dearly cherished.

In July of 2003, the summer after Chris and I were married, the girls flew in again for their yearly visit. This time would be different, and the girls were brimming with excitement over the idea of meeting their brand new Uncle Chris. The girls had also decided that one of the things they wanted to do most while in town was to visit Alcatraz Island, a place they’d never been. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

On a cool, damp Friday morning, I bundled the girls up and the three of us went down to catch the ferry out to The Rock. Having seen enough prisons for one lifetime, Chris decided to stay home. I can’t say I blamed him. Haylie, the youngest of the two girls, was the most inquisitive about the prison. She wanted to know what we would see and who would be there when we arrived. Most importantly, she wanted to know: “Will they let us into a real prison cell?”

“Of course!” I promised, and watched her face light up like a starburst.

The ferry ride to Alcatraz Island is a short one – 15 minutes – but I could not help thinking about the prisoners on the Bureau of Prisons boat all those years before, clad in shackles, headed across the bay to their final destination. To them, those 15 minutes would have felt like an eternity.

I wanted the girls to know the history of this island – not just from the perspective of the Bureau of Prisons, but also from the perspective of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who occupied Alcatraz from 1969 until June 11, 1971. I wanted them to know that the island had served as a Civil War garrison and a military prison long before. But most of all, I wanted them to “feel” the prison, to understand the sense of longing and loss for any man who stepped foot on that island.

Landing at the dock, we disembarked and made our way up the path. Past nesting seagulls and terns and the smell of low tide against the rocks, you could feel the mist around you, even on a sunny day. We walked the tiers together, taking it all in, standing in cells while the doors were clanged shut, feeling the damp and chill that was somehow much worse on the inside than on the outside.

We were led past a bullet-riddled wall and heard all about one of the bloodiest battles in the history of American prisons. Occurring in 1946, a handful of prisoners had staged a breakout, obtaining guns from the gun gallery and taking nine guards hostage after months of methodical planning. Ultimately, their escape plot was foiled and the inmates shot the hostages in effort to leave no witnesses behind. Thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired before order was finally restored to the prison, but it took the U.S. Marines to finally bring it back under control.

I told the girls all about Frank Morris and his legendary escape from Alcatraz. Their curiosity piqued, they asked me if Mr. Morris had ever been captured. Had he and his small group of fellow escapees made it to freedom? I told them that to this day, no one knew.

Wandering to the lobby area of the prison, the girls met a man by the name of Darwin Coon. Mr. Coon was a sweet, grandfatherly man who was selling books at a table in the center of the room. I stood back from the small crowd gathered around the table, intent on checking in with Chris on my cell phone, when suddenly I was encircled by teenage pandemonium.

“Mr. Coon is selling his book!” Haylie exclaimed, her 12-year-old face coming even more alive than I’d ever seen it. “He’s a real life bank robber!”

Natalie, 13, was next up: “Can we buy his book for dad? Please? Pleeeease?! Mr. Coon is going to autograph it for us!”

How could I refuse them such an amazing experience?

I followed the girls to the center of the lobby. There stood Darwin Coon, Alcatraz veteran and ex-bank robber, former resident of not only this place but also a handful of other correctional institutions before it: The El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma, the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, and Leavenworth.

As fate would have it, Coon’s ticket to Alcatraz came not as a result of his crimes, but because of his unique talents as an escape artist. After breaking out of prison in Nevada and embarking upon a spree of bank robberies, Coon was recaptured and eventually found himself locked up in Alcatraz, a place he called “The true end of the line.” Now here he was some 40 years later, a free man, autographing a paperback book adorned with his name and prison number, regaling the gathering crowd with tales of his former life in a living hell.

All throughout the ferry ride back to the city and the car ride home, the air was charged with excitement and the sounds of giggling teenage girl chatter. Natalie and Haylie could hardly wait to tell their Uncle Chris that they had met an honest-to-goodness bank robber. The irony of the situation was not lost on me.

At this point, we hadn’t yet told the girls about Chris’s past, believing they were still a bit too young to know how to process the information that their uncle had served 25 years in federal prison for espionage and bank robbery. My brother Tim and his wife, Lori, have always been exemplary parents who have guided their children with love and education; they allowed the girls to learn at their own pace, while keeping a vigilant eye open to any harm. I knew it wasn’t my place to tell them that Chris had survived his very own living hell for decades – or that he, like Mr. Coon, had enough stories of prison escape and bank robbery to fill a book of his own. Instead, I kept my mouth closed.

As soon as we arrived back home, the girls burst through the front door and announced in unison: “Uncle Chris! Guess what? We met a real bank robber!”

The expression on Chris’s face was priceless, but his recovery was flawless.

“Really?” he exclaimed excitedly. “Tell me all about it!”

Boy, did they.

Cait Boyce is an advocate for the parole of nonviolent criminal offenders and the wife of Christopher Boyce, known to many as “The Falcon” from the book and movie The Falcon and the Snowman. Their book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman details Chris’s experiences in prison and Cait’s successful two-decade effort to free him and his boyhood friend, Andrew Daulton Lee. Find the book today on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or other online booksellers.

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