Call it what you will, the infamous 22 acres of bay front property called Alcatraz was once home to the most incorrigible of U.S. criminals; and home to a parallel universe even Mulder and Scully would have found very intriguing.
‘Slow, anguishing torture of interminable confinement . . . a curious relic of medieval barbarity extended into modern times,’ if one was to believe a 1946 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer author David Ward referenced in his book, Alcatraz: The Gangster Years.
Certainly by today’s standards, the rigid and unrelenting routine combined with unprecedented harsh rules (visitations, mail, library, work and recreational yard privileges all had to be earned; contact with the outside world via newspapers and radio was never allowed) that served to break the spirit of these men (in the early years of the prison, a rule of silence was required of the prisoners except during the 20-minute meals in the dining hall) would be seen as inhumane, much less unconstitutional.
Eventually Phil’s father became Alcatraz’s last Associate Warden before the prison closed in 1963. It was during Arthur Dollison’s watch (Warden Olin Blackwell just happened to be on vacation) when the famed escape from Alcatraz occurred in June of 1962. Talk about having a baaad day!
I didn’t meet her the day of our visit, but I learned she worked in the book store at Alcatraz several days a week, greeting visitors, sharing stories, and answering questions. Apparently she echoes her brother’s sentiments with regard to her childhood memories of Alcatraz.
Like most children, Jolene and her brother Phil relied on their innocence, and their parents, to shield them from the harsh realities of the world beyond the sphere of childhood.
“I knew the prisoners were special and dangerous and sometimes they'd roar, like you'd hear at a stadium, “ Babyak recounted. “I'd ask my mother about it but she'd just say, 'Oh, they're just letting off steam.' She was matter-of-fact about it."
The history of Alcatraz came full circle in 1969, six years after the prison closed, with the occupation of the island by a group of Native American led by Mohawk activist Richard Oakes. Oakes claimed the land on behalf of “Indians of All Tribes.”
How apropos on so many levels.
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