Jun

29

Book Review, from Bo Keely

June 29, 2017 |

 Rarely do I read a book that I must write a review to honor the author. One of the best autobiographies I ever read is Robert Burns' I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! I could not stop turning the pages.

A WWI soldier and medic, Burns returns to the USA shell-shocked and penniless after the conflict. Living hand to mouth while hoboing freights, he lands in the South and is coerced at gunpoint into robbing a gentleman's store of $5.00. He is collared by the police and sentenced in 1921 to six years on the notorious Georgia Chain Gang.

There was a saying in the chain gang, and it ran as follows: 'Work out' – meaning make your time, 'Pay out' – by purchasing a pardon or parole, 'Die out' – meaning to die, or 'Run out' – meaning to escape. Few lived to serve their terms, he had no money, he preferred to die, bit Burns was struck by the idea that he could run out and likely die out trying.

The problem was the chain that never left his legs for years. One day while working on a railroad, he sledge hammered the steel ring around his ankle into an elliptical shape, and yelled to the shotgun wielding, illiterate guard, 'Stepping into the bush', to which the guard replied, 'Step into the bush', indicating he had one minute to relieve himself. When he slipped his heel and sprang up running one minute later, a shotgun blast in the ass hurried his pace, and the three bloodhounds were cut loose.

He tamed the hounds with kind words as he ran, until they thought it was a game. Racing through the swamps and back woods to Atlanta, he befriended a prostitute who helped him because he refused to bed her to conserve his strength. She paid his fare aboard a Chicago bound passenger train, where he arrived and climbed on a soap box daily for a month trading advice like a psychologist for coins, until he had earned enough to rent a large apartment. He refurbished and sub-divided it into nine smaller apartments until there was a stake to launch Greater Chicago Magazine. He became a prosperous, honest Chicago businessman and publisher, until a jealous divorcee turned him into the police. Burns did the impossible and escaped a second time, this time to New Jersey. He was still a hunted man living in hiding when this book was first published in 1932.

What a story of an individualist and entrepreneur who with grit, creativity, and intellect fought to success.


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