Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Robert E. Burns

Robert E. Burns was the author of the memoir "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang!", which tells the story of his escape from a chain gang in Georgia. Burns, a World War I veteran, was sentenced to his punishment of 6-10 years on a chain gang for working with a friend to rob a grocery store for a little less than 6 dollars. He was able to escape with the help of a few other inmates, and moved to Chicago to avoid anything having to do with jail or the south. His wife, whom he tried to leave for a much younger lady, sued him and reportedly tipped off the judge that he was an escaped convict, and he was sent back to the chain gang. Burns escaped yet again and moved to New York to begin writing his autobiography, and he was able to get pardoned for his crime and lived as a free man until his death in 1955. His writings and the eventual films that resulted are said to be responsible for the ending of the chain gang system as punishment.

Robert Burns used his years of freedom to write and work in business, and used his connections in the political spectrum to get his pardon many years after he escaped. His book was the only work that he did in the film industry, and its legacy helped abolish the idea of using chain gangs to destroy the prisoners' will to live through grueling manual labor. Burns wanted the truth to be known about the hard times he faced for such a menial crime, and his book changed the way prison systems worked in the mid 20th century. His willingness to fight for his pardon and freedom showed how passionate he was about changing the system, otherwise he would not have risked going to jail for a third time and facing even more severe punishment for twice escaping the chain gangs.

This is a link to a newspaper article from 1930 that describes Burn's escape. I thought this was a neat first-hand account of these events and calls for people to watch out for this "dangerous" man.

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