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January 08, 1976 - Image 8

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-01-08

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Page Eight

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Thursday, January 8, 1976

PageEigt TE MCHIGN DILYThusday Jauar 8,197

Alcatraz:
Life on
the rock
SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) -
Perhaps the greatest punish-
ment was the silence - the
chilly, damp solitude broken
only by the clanking of the cell
doors.
Of the world beyond the walls
of "The Rock," the inmates
knew little. And the desolation
of all that makes life real drove
many to suicide. No one ever
escaped from Alcatraz.
ONE inmate wrote: "These
words are written in fire on the
walls of my cell, 'Nothing can
be worth this!' No one knows
what it is like to suffer from
the intellectual atrophy, the
pernicious mental scurVy that
comes of long privation of all
the things that make life real."
In all of its years, the federal
penetentiary on Alcatraz Island
housed 1,460 prisoners. Now
1,700 curious tourists visit "The
Rock" every day.
Two years ago the National
Park Service opened what was
once America's most feared
prison to tourists who for $2
could spend two hours looking
at its crumbling walls, damp
cellblocks, windswept exercise
yard, and the ruins of prison
buildings burned during 19
months of Indian occupation.
THE last convicts left 15
years ago.
Among the first men im-
prisoned in Alcatraz' cells were
17 Southern sympathizers who
hoped to cut off San Francisco
by sea and to turn California's
gold over to the Confederate
army.
After the Civil War, the is-
land became a military and In-
dian prison, and later served
as a health resort for U. S.
soldiers recovering from dysen-
tery, a temporary jail for San
Francisco city prisoners after
the 1906 earthquake, and a pri-
son housing World War I espi-
onage agents.
THEN came the end of
Prohibition - a time when
trigger men rubbed out rivals,
kidnapers held out for high
ransoms. The Federal Bureau
of Investigation began rounding
up gangsters and Attorney Gen-
eral Homer Cummings chose
"The Rock" for his maximum
security and minimum privi-
lege prison.
Soft steel cell fronts were
replaced with tool-proof steel.
Guard towers went up at stra-
tegic points. Barbed wire bar-
riers were erected near the
rocky shore line. Gun detectors
were installed at the dock and
by work areas.
Alcatraz opened its doors in
1934 and when the prison closed
on June 30, 1960, 1,460 prisoners
had served time in its cells. Of
those, 219 were conditionally
released, 74 were freed when
their term expired, and many
were killed, committed suicide
or died from penumonia within
its walls.
THE first warden imposed a
rule of silence. Later, rules
were relaxed somewhat but
guards report that the prison
was always very quiet -
broken only by the ear-piercing
grind of the rows of opening and

closing cell doors.
A n o t h e r part of inmate
punishment was elimination of
news of the outside world.
Prisoners learned only that
World War II started and
ended, even though the inmates
washed military uniforms, often
wearing some clothing for a
few days before returning it to
the base, and made gloves and
Navy Cargo nets in prison fac-
tories.
Prisoners arrived at Alcatraz
the way Al Capone did in Au-
gust, 1934.
"S C A R F A C E" Capone
was caught running his gamb-
ling business from an Atlanta
prison cell, so he was locked
in a safety rail car, taken
across country, loaded onto a
barge and hauled to the prison
gate, never seeing the light of
day.
Capone lived in a typical
Alcatraz cell - five feet wide
by nine feet deep, with a wall
bunk, a Uttle work table, a
toilet and wash basin and a
shelf for the prisoner's personal
belongings.
Other famous prisoners in-
cluded Bonnie and Clyde gang
m e m b e r Floyd Hamilton,
George "Machine Gun" Kelley,
convicted of kidnaping an Ok-
lahoma oil man, and the "Bird
Man" of Alcatraz, Robert
S'ro'id, who actually did his

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