The Threepersons Hunt
The Threepersons Hunt
T HE WALLED Arizona State Prison was surrounded by several acres of cropland contained within an eight-foot-high Anchor fence topped with nine parallel strands of barbwire strung in a configuration which in cross section resembled an arrowhead. There were no watchtowers on the fence.
From the corner where the north road intersected U.S. 80-89, the fence ran south along the shrubbed shoulder and travelers on the highway could glance out of their car windows and see small groups of prisoners working the farm fields, guarded by correctional officers who worked in pairs on horseback, armed with riot shotguns and hunting rifles.
The prison had been built just after the turn of the century to replace the infamous and medievally rancid Territorial Penitentiary at Yuma. The present facility stood midway between Phoenix and Tuscon on the arid outskirts of Florence. It was antiquated and inevitably overcrowded. Its administration was as enlightened as could be expected-the state's penal budget was insanely low-and conditions inside were "average" by national comparisons. It was the state's Maximum Security Prison but at frequent intervals it had provided assurances that it was not escape-proof.
Only three highways led out of Florence and these were susceptible to rapid interdiction by cars of the Pinal County Sheriff and the Arizona Highway Patrol. Once a man broke out of Florence prison he had little choice but to strike out on foot into barren country where summer heat clung to the ground like melted tar and the pursuit was an amalgam of helicopters, Jeeps, packs of hounds, horsemen and Indian trackers. Yet prisoners kept breaking out and usually one or two fugitives got shot to death by overzealous manhunters but that was regarded as being part of the game because it was a country in which Westerns were very popular and it was no disgrace to die with your boots on.
Most of those who attempted to escape were chronic losers, the ones serving terms of twenty-to-life whose chances at early parole had been destroyed by circumstance, luck or their own behavior.
Fully half the population of the cells spoke no English or next to none. Some were Chicanos: Mexican-Americans who spoke Spanish. Others were Indians who spoke minimal Spanish, no English, and bits and pieces of native American dialects understood by no one outside their own villages. Unable to communicate with their lawyers they had been convicted and sentenced.
Language did not end the problem. The regulations of Anglo law made little sense to Indians whose own laws were based on logic instead of statute, reason instead of prejudice, and compensation of victims instead of punishment of criminals. An Indian who caused another Indian an injury that laid him up was required by tribal law to take upon himself the victim's job and support of his family until the victim was ready to do his own work again. An Indian did not understand laws that sent him to prison while his victim's family starved because there was no one to harvest the crops or care for the animals.
The Indian in Florence prison came to understand that he could not expect sanity or reasonable justice in an Anglo judicial-penal system. It was therefore sensible to get out of the place and run into the desert where a man could make his own justice with the earth.
Five prisoners were involved in the July 5 escape. Three were Chicanos and two were Indians: one Papago and one White Mountain Apache.
The break had taken place late in the afternoon. It was the day after the holiday and by their own later admission the two guards were hung over. Evidently the prisoners had taken this into account in planning the time of their break.
The five were not close friends or comrades-in-crime; it was just that they happened to be the five individuals who had been assigned to that particular work d