Saturday, April 08, 2006


I enjoyed my visit to Alcatraz today. On the scenic boat ride to the island a fat worker said, "Have you folks seen any whales today?" We responded in the negative. Then, pointing to himself, he said, "Well, did you look this way?" That hilarious moment was a good note to start the tour on.

The structures on the island are visibly worn down. Many areas are fenced off. The demolished Indian residences with all the smashed concrete and gnarled, rusty cables look like a city destroyed by atomic bombs. In the same area, right when you exit the overgrown recreation area, there was a building that had water on the roof that was rippling from the cool, refreshing breeze.

The poignant audio tour was masterfully narrated. The section about the prisoner rebellion in which guards were taken hostage and 2 of them were murdered was especially haunting. I would've liked to learn more about individual inmates, but there are plenty of places from which that information can be gleaned.

The courageous guards and wardens are to be commended for risking their lives daily to try to improve the character of the prisoners; especially in the cafeteria, which was the most dangerous room to work in. I went into a solitary confinement room. A National Park Service employee closed the door and the room was pitch black. There was no chair, no toilet, etc. in the room. One convict spent his time tossing his shirt button and then trying to find it. Despite the lack of stimulation from light it was obviously very difficult to get a good rest. However, the workers their did their best to serve palatable food and treat the prisoners fairly.

After leaving realistic dummy masks with hair from the "barber shop" on their beds, three men managed to escape the jail, but their fate afterwards is uncertain. I'll look it up, but it seems likely that they never made it back to San Francisco and probably perished in the water.

If you have an opportunity to tour Alcatraz, take advantage of it!

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