The two words Warden Duffy said to Bill that changed his life were "I care".
Bill had just been sent to Solitary for attacking a fellow prisoner. Bill's father had just died, and his mother had abandoned him; at the age of twenty, Bill had been sentenced to three terms of one-to-life, and he figured that there was no way he would ever leave prison except by dying. It was at this point that Warden Duffy first visited him.
Warden Duffy was tough but fair. He believed that "punishment (was) necessary (but) brutality (was) not", and asked Bill if he had been mistreated. When Bill answered to the negative, Duffy commented on his obvious intelligence, and suggested that he would do well to use it instead of resorting so quickly to violence.
The Warden was tough, tough "in its most positive sense, reflecting true inner strength and real durability". Bill sensed that he was a man who could be trusted. When Duffy suggested that Bill try to walk out of San Quentin "through the front gate", Bill told him that it was impossible, citing the magnitude of his sentencing. Duffy, however, who knew the law, explained that if Bill did things right, he might "get out by serving the minimum of each sentence, consecutively...as little as two years". He cautioned that this would take "a tremendous amount of fixing inside (him)self", and as he left, he called Bill by his first name, and told him that he cared.
For Bill, simply knowing that another human being cared about him was enough to make him realize that his "long descent had ended". When he was released from Solitary, he found the strength to begin to turn his life around (Chapter 4).