Wreckage and redemption

The following article first appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in the 1990s, during which time Christopher Boyce was an inmate of the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Oak Park Heights. The original article appeared under the headline “Parole brings freedom but much to fear.”

Written by Christopher Boyce

Coming to prison is easy; it is the going home that puts convicts in a quandary. I often weigh the probability of their success. It is almost a speculative pastime with me.

I watch them arrive and leave over and over again. It is no easy task for men who have utterly botched their lives to rise above the stigma of their own social ruin. Mostly their repeated personal failures reduce them relentlessly to their own grim worlds of private self-abasement. But sometimes prisoners come along who have a chance to regain in life all that they have lost. I watch these few and I hope.

If I played the odds, though, I would bet on none of them.

Well-fed and physically fit, a young man can find a certain Spartan enjoyment in all the horseplay and sports behind the walls. Some prisoners have never been happier and appear as comfortable as lifers in the Army. In prison they can be big shots, while on the streets they are nobodies.

Even the shared suffering of the imprisoned is a source of comradeship. The penitentiary can be a demented refuge for the social outcast. Many convicts are secretly relieved upon their return to this place. I think of them as the damned.

But when their time is up they are eager to go. And while they have languished for years in prison, their peers back home will have raised families and accumulated homes and cars and all those possessions that define a man’s life. The paroled convict usually begins anew with almost nothing to his name. The young among them are men in body, but economically as insignificant as beardless high school dropouts. They have so far to catch up that that temptations to take felonious shortcuts are almost always irresistible.

Of late I have watched the personal struggle of one young man yearning to remake himself into the husband and father he was meant to be. He was a typical son of Minnesota until he took a life. Unlike the overwhelming majority of prisoners, he did not come from society’s underclass, and so the chance for his successful release is a best case scenario.

Prison reduces to almost nil the choices inmates can make, meaning that the emergence of maturity is severely stunted. So it is that I often see this young man who has spent all of his adult life in prison reflect in his unguarded moments the teenaged demeanor that was his in the last year of his freedom. Because I have seen in him the determined spark of his own rebirth, I have treated him as I would my own brother. I have looked past his lapses and hoped against hope that he would be one of the few who left this place to go on to a whole life. I see enough good in him to know he can heal from the wreckage he has made of his young years.

He will leave his controlled life to experience the regulated freedom of the paroled. Where watchful guards once curbed his rambunctious belligerency with locked cells and strict rules, he must now moderate his behavior through the power of his own will. His success at doing so will determine whether he leads the wholesome life of a grown man or returns here to become forever an imprisoned deviant. The choosing is his, and he will have to choose a hundred times a day for the rest of his life. It is a daunting task.

He must walk inoffensively into the animosity of a community that once put him away from the fellowship of decent men. Having killed in the town where he will live, he must be forever heedful of the sensitivities of the bereaved. He must accept their aversion to his freedom, for he is the cause of their lingering grief. No matter the provocation, never should he show the family of the deceased anything but heartfelt respect.

He must learn to turn the other cheek. He must never raise his hand in anger against anyone. As a paroled murderer, any argument, any fight that in any way involves him will be deemed by the police to be his fault no matter the circumstances. For years he will remain an easy mark for any deputy sheriff or city cop bent on a quick bust. Any charge, even on the flimsiest of grounds, can be framed against a parolee. For the good of the community, law enforcement often feels obligated to put an ex-convict away just as soon as practical. There is nothing fair or just about it. It is just one of the many pitfalls faced by the freed prisoner.

I have seen in his eye the fear of failure, but it is a healthy fear that shows me he has not had so much prison that he is beyond recovery. True, for six years he has been surrounded by the very worst that society can spawn, but I know he still listens to those faint lessons from childhood that taught him man’s better nature. Most important, he has his own loyal family, which has stood by him in his adversity and is ready to give him a leg up as he makes himself into a man. He has so much to overcome, yet he is capable of taking himself far.

I have put almost too much faith in my friend. If, like so many others, he is brought back to this place, I will pity him his misfortune, for he will have thrown away all that he holds dear. But much more powerful than my pity will be my disgust at the opportunity he will have let slip. If he wastes the chance I will never get – the chance to begin again while still a youth – I will despise him for his weakness. And it will break my heart.

Christopher Boyce is the co-author of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. Convicted of espionage in 1977, the story of his crime was first told in the book and movie The Falcon and the Snowman. He was released from prison in 2002 and now resides in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Cait Boyce, a legal professional and prisoner rights advocate. He remains, as ever, an avid falconer.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

It happened 38 years ago

Although it’s been nearly 40 years since the arrest of Christopher Boyce for espionage, some memories are never far from the surface.

Time flies. Pretty much everyone agrees that’s not a good thing. But some incidents in life are so traumatic that we find ourselves welcoming the passage of time, as if we just can’t seem to put enough years between ourselves and the moment that turned everything upside down. This is the case with an event that occurred 38 years ago this week in the life of a man named Christopher Boyce.

On January 16, 1977, Boyce was arrested on suspicion of espionage. Three months later, he was convicted in federal court and sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment. He was only 24 years old. With the exception of 19 months spent living on the run after a prison escape in 1980, he would spend the next quarter-century of his life in prison. In 2002, following the intervention of parole advocate Cait Mills, Boyce was granted release. The two were married soon after.

This week marks nearly four decades since the day of Christopher Boyce’s arrest. His childhood friend and accomplice, Andrew Daulton Lee, was arrested 10 days earlier. This month is also the 30th anniversary of the release of The Falcon and the Snowman, the movie that told their story.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve come to know Chris well. It happens when you write a book together. In that time, I’ve observed a few things about him. Like the fact he doesn’t mark anniversaries such as these. He only remembers when reminded, and even then his reaction makes you realize how trivial dates on a calendar really are. Especially when it comes to memories that aren’t far from the surface.

I’ve learned that some scars don’t fade with the passage of time. And that what seems like a lifetime ago for one person is just yesterday for another. Christopher Boyce is a guy who’d just as soon forget the past and spend the rest of his days flying his falcons, but can’t. Many would say it’s a justified punishment. Others would say different. I’ll leave it to you to guess on which side of the argument I fall.

Vince Font is the co-author with Christopher Boyce and Cait Boyce of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. Font is also the founder of Glass Spider Publishing, an independent publishing company headquartered in Utah.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

The official book trailer for “American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman&qu


Written by Christopher Boyce, Cait Boyce and Vince Font, American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman is the answer to every person who ever asked the question “Whatever became of Christopher Boyce?”

In 1985, director John Schlesinger’s The Falcon and the Snowman introduced movie audiences to the true story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee—childhood friends from good families who became two of the youngest and most unlikely spies in American history. It starred hotshot young actors Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn as the titular characters and garnered critical praise from far and wide, even winning the official “two thumbs up” seal of approval from the oft-tough to please Siskel and Ebert.

The movie itself is largely incomplete, leaving an enormous question mark over the fate of Boyce and Lee. The book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman picks up where the movie left off, taking the reader through the incredible and sometimes impossible to believe experiences of Boyce and Lee as they struggled to survive the inhumane conditions of federal prison.

American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman is a true story of hope, survival, and redemption. The newly expanded 40th anniversary hardcover edition is available now from Glass Spider Publishing.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

John Pilger on Gough Whitlam and the CIA’s “forgotten coup”

The following article is reprinted by permission from the author, London-based Australian journalist John Pilger. The original article was published to Pilger’s website following the passing of Gough Whitlam on October 21, 2014.

Across the political and media elite in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime minister Gough Whitlam, who has died. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.

Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no country had “reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution.” Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He abolished Royal patronage, moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported “zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing.

Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor Party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm.” In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.

Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.

Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, ASIO—then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the US bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric,” a CIA station officer in Saigon said: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”

Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, a giant vacuum cleaner which, as Edward Snowden revealed recently, allows the US to spy on everyone. “Try to screw us or bounce us,” the prime minister warned the US ambassador, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention.”

Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House… a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”

Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were de-coded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the de-coders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the “deception and betrayal of an ally.” Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr.”

Kerr was not only the Queen’s man, he had long-standing ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal in his book, ‘The Crimes of Patriots’, as, “an elite, invitation-only group… exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA.” The CIA “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige… Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money.”

When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state.” Known as the “coupmaster,” he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia—which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors—described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government.”

The Americans and British worked together. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6 was operating against his government. “The Brits were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, “We knew MI6 was bugging Cabinet meetings for the Americans.” In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”

On 10 November, 1975, Whitlam was shown a top secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia Division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier.

Shackley’s message was read to Whitlam. It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA where he was briefed on the “security crisis.”

On 11 November—the day Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia—he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers,” Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The “Whitlam problem” was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.

Follow John Pilger on Twitter @johnpilger and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pilgerwebsite. His 1989 book A Secret Country goes into detail on the coup against former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

Songs of falcons, snowmen and Christopher Boyce


It’s got to be the strangest thing in the world to have people you’ve never met write songs about you. In the case of Christopher Boyce, that happened in 1985 with the soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman. Written and recorded by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, the album featured a track called “Chris” which is basically an instrumental version of the David Bowie-fueled hit single “This Is Not America.” But in my research, I’ve discovered a handful of other songs I never even knew existed until recently.


In 1995, ten years after Metheny and Mays did their amazing thing (in my opinion delivering a soundtrack that was actually better than the movie it was written for), a dream pop band called Luna released the album Penthouse. It featured a song titled “Moon Palace” which included the somewhat random lyric: “You’ve got no choice, feel like Christopher Boyce.”

The song “Christopher Boyce” by L.A. punk musician Johanna Went appeared on her 1982 album Hyena and actually predates The Falcon and the Snowman movie and soundtrack by three years. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first song ever written about Chris Boyce and probably the least widely known. Went’s distinctly Yoko Onoesque vocals (there are no lyrics, at least none that I can discern) are certainly an acquired taste.


On his 2003 album Rip the Jacker, Jamaican-American rapper Canibus recorded a song called “Levitibus” in which he makes this interesting reference: “Got a message from the Falcon and the Snowman in an unopened Coca-Cola can. Showed the whole planet in coded program, encrypted by a pro-scan modem with a low-band.”

Do you know of any other songs written about Christopher Boyce or inspired by The Falcon and the Snowman? If so, we’d love to hear them. Let us know what you find by leaving a reply below. In the meantime, enjoy this incredible live version of “This Is Not America” from 1995 by the Pat Metheny Group.


Vince Font is the co-author of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman with Christopher Boyce and Cait Boyce. Font is also the founder of Glass Spider Publishing, an independent publisher headquartered in Utah that helps bring visibility to the works of underrepresented writers.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

Lessons unlearned: The legacy of John Walker

Convicted spy John Anthony Walker, Jr., died on August 28, 2014, while serving one of the longest sentences for espionage ever handed down under a plea agreement. He was the mastermind of what has been called the single-most damaging Soviet spy ring in history.

Prior to joining the U.S. Navy, Walker experienced an upbringing that can best be described as “no picnic.” His father, a violent alcoholic, drove the family into bankruptcy and then abandoned them. Walker became a troublemaker and a petty criminal, and at age 17 was caught by police for burglarizing a gas station and a men’s clothing store. His older brother, Arthur, had joined the U.S. Navy out of high school. To keep his brother from going to jail, Arthur intervened with the judge to suggest that he allow Walker to join the Navy.

Walker enlisted in the Navy in 1956 as a radioman and seemed to thrive. There were no discipline problems, and he made a very favorable impression on his superiors. He made rank quickly, achieving a rating of RM1 (E-6) in only six years, and his evaluation reports were almost perfect (4.0) ratings. He married, had his first child and then a second, and in June 1960 was accepted for submarine training. This was followed by an assignment to the USS Razorback (SS-394), a World War II-era diesel submarine based in San Diego, California.

My two questions post Boyce and Lee have always been “why?” and “how?” What prompts a young college student from a well-respected family such as Christopher Boyce’s to enter the world of espionage? What was the final push for Walker? Clayton Lonetree, Richard Miller, Jonathan Pollard, James Harper, Aldrich Ames. The list goes on and on and on. From 1975 to 2008, there have been in excess of 142 cases of espionage in this country and a security system that still can’t catch spies and appears to make it easy for the disenfranchised, the weak, and the greedy to commit a crime that is, by its very nature “one of the rarest crimes on the books.”

So what drives a man with a seemingly happy life to suddenly become a spy for the Soviet Union? Walker, a U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer at the time, spied for the Russians from 1968 to 1985 and most likely (based on the shoddy security of the U.S. Navy) would have continued spying had his wife not turned him in. Alcoholism, mounting debt, an acrimonious marital relationship, and ever-growing greed fueled Walker’s espionage.

Much has been said about John Walker prior to his death and will continue long after. I didn’t know the man. I stood on the outside watching, as did millions of other Americans. I was in high school in San Diego during the latter years of the Vietnam War when the USS Pueblo was seized. By the time of the Walker family’s arrest in 1985, I was deeply committed to freeing two other spies: Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee.

John Walker didn’t spy alone. He dragged his alcoholic wife, Barbara, kicking and screaming into the game by forcing her to be with him during “drops.” In 1969, he befriended and recruited Jerry Whitworth, a young student stationed in San Diego. Whitworth, who would become a Navy senior chief petty officer/senior chief radioman, agreed to assist Walker in accessing highly classified communications data in 1973. In 1984, Walker recruited his older brother, Arthur, a retired lieutenant commander working as a military contractor. He even recruited his own son, Michael, an active duty Navy seaman.

The litany of overt acts and startling revelations that came to light after the arrest of Walker simply boggle the mind, to this day. When I compare the Walker espionage with that of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee, the egregious security issues that came to light in 1977 during the infamous Falcon and the Snowman trials had still not been corrected eight years later by the time of Walker’s arrest.

There was ample evidence available to authorities at the time to indicate that a serious breach of national and communications security had occurred:

1. In January of 1968, the Koreans captured the USS Pueblo, just one month after Walker had betrayed the information. While there remains much debate about the exact role Walker’s espionage played in the seizure of the Pueblo, former KGB head Oleg Kalugin claims that Walker’s case officer, Andrei Krasavin, was able to build a working replica of the KW-7 crypto machine based on information provided by Walker. Krasavin later received the Lenin Medal, the highest honor granted by the Soviet government.

2. After Walker’s arrest, Theodore Shackleton, the CIA station chief in Saigon, asserted that Walker’s espionage may have contributed to diminished B-52 bombing strikes, and that the forewarning gleaned from Walker’s espionage directly impacted U.S. effectiveness in Vietnam.

3. During his time as a Soviet spy, Walker helped the Soviets decipher more than one million encrypted naval messages for use against the United States.

4. Navy intelligence officers noticed a number of indicators, beginning in the early 1970s when Soviet Navy submarines suddenly got dramatically quieter and developed an ability to stay just outside the effective range of U.S. sonobuoys – exactly as if they knew the full details of how the U.S. was detecting them. They also started showing up outside U.S. submarine bases just before American submarines were scheduled to put to sea.

The Soviet Navy showed an uncanny ability to get intelligence collection ships at the right place and time to capture data from fleet exercises, “as if they had a copy of the OpPlans or something.” In fact, the Walker spy ring did have a copy of the OpPlans, and everything else of any importance to the U.S. Navy, for a period of almost 20 years.

Richard Haver, the deputy director of Naval Intelligence, said they had “wondered” if there was a communications security breach, but could find no proof. In retrospect, it is not clear how they could have gotten such proof because the setup of Fleet Broadcasting System (FBS) was such that, even if a Soviet spy had brought verbatim copies of FBS intercepts to the CIA, it would have been impossible to produce a comprehensive list of potential suspects – even a list that was tens of thousands of names long. This is an example of yet another failure on the part of the U.S. Navy to safeguard its operations.

5. In approximately November of 1984, fearing that Michael Walker would never be able to extricate himself from the web of deceit, John Walker’s daughter, Laura, convinced her mother to report him to the FBI. Barbara told the FBI field office in Boston that she had important information, and on November 29 a special agent from Hyannis interviewed her. The spy’s ex-wife told the agent of her husband’s dealings as far back as the 1960s, his admissions to her that he was spying, and the fact that she had been forced to accompany him to dead drops near Washington. She described in detail the deliveries of information from Walker to his Russian handlers that dovetailed with KGB techniques.

Instead of acting on the information, the FBI agent notated his report with the fact that Barbara appeared to have been drinking when he arrived to speak to her, and that she consumed a large glass of vodka during the interview. Later, he stated he felt she had been “evasive” when asked why she had waited so long to come forward. Without much more thought, the agent made the unilateral decision that Barbara Walker had a drinking problem and that the allegations against her husband were simply “sour grapes.” He graded the information she had provided as meriting no follow-up and sent the report to Boston, where it was filed away.

A month later, during a routine check on inactive files, an FBI supervisor read the Barbara Walker report. Noting that the espionage allegation was focused in Norfolk, the supervisor sent the file on to that office. Norfolk obtained headquarters’ approval to open an investigation, but it was not assigned to an agent until February of 1985.

Barbara Walker provided the FBI with explosive information that could have been used to rescue what was left of Naval Intelligence and put what has been described as the “single-most damaging Soviet spy ring in history” behind bars.

6. While Walker worked closely with hundreds or even thousands of sailors over a 20-year spying career, many of those sailors had firsthand knowledge of his unethical behavior and suspiciously large financial expenditures. So much so that Walker was actively probing a number of them to see if they were good candidates for recruitment into his spy ring. Yet not one of them ever considered that he might be spying.

Michael Walker was released in 2001 after serving 15 years in prison. John Walker died on August 28, 2014, in the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina. Walker’s older brother, Arthur, died on July 5 in the same facility. The remaining Walker conspirator, Jerry Whitworth, is serving a 365-year prison sentence with the possibility of parole after 60 years.

Some years ago, I spoke with Judge John P. Vukasin, who presided over the Whitworth trial in San Francisco. While I looked for the complex issues at sentencing to help my clients, Vukasin’s reasoning in sentencing Whitworth was actually quite simple: “Mr. Whitworth did not believe in what he did. He didn’t believe in anything at all. Jerry Whitworth is a zero at the bone. He believes in nothing.”

John A. Walker, Jr. leaves behind a legacy, for good or for bad, that has shaped the lives of his children – Laura Walker, Margaret Ann Walker, Cynthia Walker and Michael Walker – and will continue to shape military intelligence and national security in this country for many years to come.

Cait Boyce is a legal professional with over 35 years of experience representing non-violent criminal offenders. She is the co-author of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, which documents her efforts to free Cold War spies Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

A conversation with filmmaker Alexander Poe

Alexander Poe is a New York City-based actor/writer/director with one indie feature and a bunch of award-winning short films under his belt. He first came to my attention after he posted one of his Columbia University film school exercises to YouTube—a compelling, two-and-a-half-minute recreation of a scene from John Schlesinger’s 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman.

Filmed in 2008, the short starred actors Teddy Bergman and Ian Unterman as the titular characters. I stumbled across it one day while routinely scouring the interwebs for any mention of falcons or snowmen (like you do). I’ll admit, I clicked “Play” with a cautious pessimism. You can’t blame me. These days, there’s no end to the terrible things you can find on YouTube. But by the time those 150 seconds had run their course, I was fairly blown away.

What struck me the most about Poe’s piece—aside from it being a contemporized take on the now-classic 80s flick that incorporated the use of a cell phone instead of a pay phone, for example—were the actors’ interpretations of the characters.


Back in 1985 when The Falcon and the Snowman was released, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn were at the peak of their game, two of the greatest young actors in Hollywood. Penn’s over-the-top portrayal of Andrew Daulton Lee was a star-making scene stealer, and Hutton’s depiction of Christopher Boyce was the epitome of smoldering inner turmoil. That a young, relatively inexperienced director like Poe would purposefully steer his cast of unknowns away from pulling off carbon copy imitations of these iconic screen characters struck me as a ballsy move. I was impressed.

Immediately, I forwarded the link to Christopher and Cait Boyce. I wanted to know if it was just me, or if this short scene really was as awesome as I thought it was. They watched it and were both instantly blown away by the fact that Poe and his film school skeleton crew had managed to capture the “real” Boyce and Lee more accurately than Hutton and Penn had some 20-odd years earlier.

I did a little more digging on Poe and found out that he had recently written, directed, and starred in an independent feature called Ex-Girlfriends. The fact that the movie just so happened to co-star one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Carpenter (of Dexter and The Exorcism of Emily Rose fame), didn’t exactly diminish my impression of the guy. Nor did the mature artistry and subtle humor of Ex-Girlfriends when I sat down to watch it a few days later.

After connecting with Poe via Facebook and a volley of back-and-forth messages, I managed to get him on the phone to ask him a few questions. First and foremost, I was curious to know what made him choose a scene from The Falcon and the Snowman for a film school exercise. I mean, it’s not exactly a lousy movie. But considering the trillion or so other movies made throughout the long history of celluloid, why this one? Turns out, he’s just got good taste.

“It was one of those movies I always found fascinating,” Poe told me. “It touched on a number of compelling themes: friendship and rebellion, fathers and sons. What made it even more interesting were the real events it was based on. It was a movie I would watch frequently, and I always found something new and interesting about it.”

So, why that particular scene? Poe told me he chose it because it fit perfectly within the limitations of his zero-budget exercise.

“I was taking a directing class at Columbia,” he said. “One of my assignments was to take an existing script and shoot a scene from it. I chose that particular one because I wanted something I could shoot easily, with just two actors. But more than that, there’s also a very interesting power dynamic going on between Chris and Daulton. They’re two friends who hold a lot of power over one other, and the stakes are so incredibly high, that it makes it fascinating to watch. It’s a very cool drama.”

Next, the obvious question: how the hell did he manage to get such spot-on performances without having access to a crystal ball?

“As I recall,” Poe said, “neither Teddy (Bergman) or Ian (Unterman) had ever seen The Falcon and the Snowman. That helped them to not imitate the original performances. I certainly had notions about the characters, but I limited my direction in that area so that they could discover a bit of authenticity for themselves.”

Another unique aspect of the scene involves the setting. Anyone who’s ever watched (and re-watched) The Falcon and the Snowman will be familiar with the distinctly “SoCal” beach settings that crop up throughout. In Poe’s reimagining, Chris Boyce and Daulton Lee are transplanted to a location quite different from the one they inhabited in real life. Instead of taking place in and around Los Angeles, Poe’s scene takes place on the other side of the country in Manhattan, offering a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

“We shot down at the South Street Seaport,” Poe said. “It felt like a location where two guys living an espionage lifestyle would hang out. It also seemed to me like a place Daulton would choose for a secret meeting. It was a fun shoot. All we had was a camera, a boom, and two actors. We went down at dawn. Security pretty quickly realized we weren’t supposed to be there and cut the shoot short, but I think we got what we needed. We shot the whole thing in about an hour and a half.”

Turning the conversation to the present, I asked Poe about his most recent endeavors—namely, his first feature film Ex-Girlfriends, which he not only starred in but also wrote, directed, and co-produced.

“It was great fun to make a feature movie after a bunch of shorts,” Poe said. “Ex-Girlfriends went through the festival circuit, and then got released here in New York. It’s available on DVD now, as well as iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. Right now, I’m just working on other scripts, shooting a bunch of commercials and other short films, and trying to work my way towards the next movie.”

Alexander Poe is one of those rare filmmakers whose abilities behind the camera far surpass his years. It’ll be interesting to see how his career develops. I know I’ll be watching closely.

Vince Font is the co-author and publisher of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. The book was co-written with Christopher Boyce and Cait Boyce. Font is the founder of Glass Spider Publishing, which he launched in 2016 to publish the writings of underrepresented authors.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

A few words from the Snowman’s brother

As the brother of “The Snowman” I must say I was hesitant to pick up this book and read it. Having actually lived through this in a very personal way in the 1970s, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

I bought American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman on Amazon to read on my tablet, but somehow could not get myself to read it for over three months. Upon starting to read it, I thought I would read it straight through, but found myself having to stop to digest chapters or even pages at a time.

Knowing Chris and Cait, I found myself in time warps of memory. Events of years past would sweep over me in powerful waves. During Chris’s 18 months on the lam, the U.S. Marshals and other agencies of the government were some of my “unwelcome” best friends. I would go to Mexico often in those days, finding my belongings gone through in my hotel rooms and being photographed by men in suits while lying in the sun on isolated beaches. They came to my door often. They were dead serious. But not the brightest. My life was intertwined whether I wanted it or not.

With that said, one can understand my hesitance to read more “Falcon and the Snowman.” I was in no way happy with the original book or movie. The author twisted things I said and it was full of half-truths. To be honest, the truth was often much stranger.

American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman is well done. It is honest and forthright. In my humble opinion, excellent literature. After a few chapters I allowed myself to just sit back and enjoy it. And I did enjoy it… Very much!

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in finding out what happened next in the life of Christopher Boyce and his wife, Cait.

David Lee is the younger brother of Andrew Daulton Lee. He was portrayed by actor Chris Makepeace in the 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

Author Robert Lindsey reviews “American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman&qu

Written by Robert Lindsey

Christopher Boyce is probably the most likable, most interesting and smartest former spy you’re ever likely to meet. I discovered this more than 30 years ago when I wrote The Falcon and the Snowman.

I was reminded of it again by American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, an autobiographical retelling of his life as a prisoner and fugitive who outsmarted federal agents for many months as they searched for him virtually around the world. The book (co-written with his wife, Cait, and Vince Font, a freelance writer) is one I never thought would be written.

It’s at once a beautifully written thriller, an endearing love story, a compelling narrative of survival and redemption and a horrific indictment of a prison system that dispatched a model prisoner at the prime of his life to a decade of haunting solitary confinement mostly because he had embarrassed the system, first by escaping from a maximum security Federal penitentiary, then, as an eloquent writer, publishing articles exposing to the outside world the often brutal and dehumanizing conditions of prison life. His descriptions of the brutality, knifings, murders, and beatings in prison will make you cry out for reform.

There’s little debate that Chris initially belonged in prison. At the age of 21, while working for a U.S. defense contractor, he had collaborated with a friend, Daulton Lee, to sell classified documents to Soviet agents in Mexico, largely, he said, because he’d discovered he was unwittingly part of a secret plan to misinform a U.S. ally, Australia, about intelligence matters, which he thought of as a betrayal of American values.

He was disenchanted—like many young Americans—with his government following the revelations of Watergate and official lies told during the Vietnam War. He briefly considered taking his information to a reporter, but instead, in a catastrophic, impulsive choice, Chris, who had a history of risk-taking, sent Lee to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico with the first of what would become an avalanche of secret documents.

Caught in 1977, Chris was sentenced to 40 years in prison for espionage. That’s when I met him and gathered the material that would become The Falcon and the Snowman.

A few weeks after the book was published and Hollywood was preparing to make the film version, he escaped from the Lompoc Federal prison and disappeared for almost two years before being rearrested. It was then I wrote a sequel to the original book called The Flight of the Falcon.

I thought I’d pretty much told the story of his daring escape and manhunt in this book, but when I read American Sons I realized how wrong I was.

The book is full of new details about his adventures and misadventures, probing personal revelations, and twists and turns that keep you flipping pages as fast as you can. You feel the tension when Chris, guarded by a dozen federal agents, testifies before Congress about the porous security arrangements at his employer, probably ultimately helping his eventual release, and you cheer a little when the hard-nosed federal judge who presided at his trial is persuaded by Chris’s wife to write a letter endorsing an early release.

I was skeptical about three people writing a book together—good books are seldom written by a committee—but the three of them somehow pulled it off, seamlessly moving the story forward at a hectic pace.

There are two protagonists in this story: Chris himself—and Cait, the stand-out hero, a California surfer girl turned paralegal who waged a brilliant, sustained, years’ long legal campaign to free first Daulton Lee, then Chris, while fighting off recurrent bouts of breast cancer.

Along the way, Chris fell in love with her. Shortly after Chris was finally released after 25 years in prison, they were married.

I can’t wait to see the movie.

Robert Lindsey is the author of The Falcon and the Snowman (1980) and its follow-up, The Flight of the Falcon (1983). His other works include Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me and An American Life: Ronald Reagan. A veteran journalist, Mr. Lindsey was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and served as the Los Angeles bureau chief for the New York Times. His most recent book, Ghost Scribbler, an autobiography of his life and career, was published in 2012.

<-Previous PostNext Post->

Cait Boyce is a finisher

It was a career highlight to have been asked by friend and author Vince Font to edit the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. It was a wild ride through a story told by three distinct voices that covered over 30 years of Christopher Boyce’s and Cait Boyce’s lives. While we know a great deal of Cait’s experiences from the book, there are aspects of her life work that deserve closer attention. I’ve been very fortunate to get to know Cait since the book and below she shares thoughts about that work as we near her 60th birthday.

N.L.: On the eve of your 60th birthday, it’s astounding that you spent a third of your life fighting for the release of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee from prison! As you reflect on this milestone life marker, what drove you to keep going in light of so many obstacles?

C.B.: I’ve always been taught that we are more than the sum of our choices and decisions. When I involved myself in these cases, I had no clue what I was doing! Quite literally, everything I know about federal parole I learned on these two cases. As I became more involved with Daulton’s, then Chris’s cases, and with the parole system, I felt a deepening sense of distrust for the legal system and the way we incarcerate people. That’s not to say that I don’t believe in the “system” as a framework for justice—but what struck me was we lock people up with no view to the end of the sentence. I made a promise to them, but also made a promise to myself that I would see this through to the end—and the end wouldn’t happen until the last one walked free.

A lot of things have been said about me—some of which are not very pleasant to hear. But the one thing that even my biggest detractors seem to agree on is the fact that I am tenacious and immovable when my mind is made up. While not a compliment, it’s that level of tenacity that makes me keep my promises—no matter how far-fetched they seem to be. Freedom for Boyce and Lee, really? Is there a more improbable notion from someone in their 20s? Yeah, right. Here we are, 33 years later, and Chris is at home laying bricks for a new patio…

N.L.: Over the years, you’ve gained expertise in the field of prison reform. Would you talk about that?

C.B.: I’m not sure that I have an expertise, per se, but prison reform became a huge issue for me when I saw how prisoners were treated.

I hear a lot of people complain that “the system molly-coddles inmates.” The constant refrain of “if you can’t do the time…” and that’s been the mentality of the people running the prisons as well. But every man or woman who is sent to prison, for whatever the reason, must be guaranteed that they will survive it. A case in point is the State Prison at Corcoran, California, where guards shot and killed seven inmates in the first 10 years of operation, and within the first nine months of operation guards shot and wounded three inmates in eight weeks. The shootings were ruled justified on the claim of the guards that they were protecting an inmate or another guard, but during the subsequent Department of Justice inquiry, they locked down and there was a “code of silence.” Physical restraint and non‑lethal weapons (gas or rubber bullets) were not used to stop fights and in 2000, eight Corcoran guards were indicted for arranging prison gladiator fights for recreation.

In the case of Boyce and many other inmates, solitary confinement and no human contact were used rather than physical violence. Many prisoners who are put in solitary confinement will try to take control of their environment by engaging in self-destructive behaviors like beating themselves or refusing to eat. Depression, schizophrenia and paranoia are a few of the side effects. And to what end? Mental illness among inmates is raging out of control. A study done in 2006 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness. The current 2014 projection is that people with mental illness are over-represented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. These are some pretty depressing statistics for the richest nation in the free world and they get worse with each passing year.

With the onset of mandatory minimum sentencing after the passage of the Crime Control Act, we also saw 18-year-old kids and old people serving inordinate amounts of time for first-time convictions. Many of the drug possession charges carried MMs of 20 to 25 years even for the young first-time offender. This means simply that a lot of first-time offenders, who weren’t really ‘criminals’ by definition, will eventually be released to a society who doesn’t want them and can’t support them. They will receive no mental health help, no counseling or training, and nothing that will prepare them for ultimate release. Believe me—if that 18-year-old could have been saved all those years ago, he’s lost now. And he’s angry, uneducated, unemployed, and once he hits the streets he’s going to go back to the only thing he knew. Now we’ve really criminalized him.

N.L.: Do you see any positive or encouraging changes in the prison system to address some of these issues?

C.B.: Last week, the Department of Justice announced a change after years of demands. Clemency Project 2014, a working group composed of the Federal Defenders, the ACLU, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has all moved forward to support change in the federal sentencing regulations and the Justice Department agrees on the plan to restore the integrity of the clemency process.

This is a terrific leg up for the men and women who have been locked down for years for non-violent offenses. It helps the aging prisoners and those that have already done more time than is humane. I’m testing this new-found vision by filing a clemency petition for one of my clients who has been locked down since 1983 for one count of espionage. He is now 80 years old and is routinely overlooked for parole. Let’s hope that now, at age 60, I’m still as tenacious as I was 33 years ago!

Writer/editor Nancy LaFever has been writing professionally for 10 years, crafting magazine articles, blogs, magazine profiles and copywriting for a diverse array of clients. In addition to her work on American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, LaFever recently edited the sci-fi/young adult book, Madolix.

<-Previous PostNext Post->