Travel : Alcatraz
One of the highlight’s in my trip to San Francisco had to be Alcatraz. It held the most infamous criminals from 1934 to 1963, including Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and ‘Birdman’ Robert Stroud.
The island’s subtle mystery and the still silence of it’s hallways draw me in. Even though it was full of people, everyone was absolutely silent. We were all listening to an audio tour which had recordings from the actual prisoners and officers. Almost like ghosts whispering from another place.
There’s no doubt – the island has a quiet sadness to it. A place where lost and crazed men were sent to rot away. Their aged voices crackled through the audio tour. Each one carrying a heavy sense of disappointment for the young reckless men they once were. Hearing their simple laughter behind humble prison memories was painfully bittersweet.
At night, a silent prisoner catches a glimpse of the bay waters. They reflect the pink and gold lights from the city. Flickering with the ripples. He can hear the city nightlife blown across the short 1.5 miles of the bay. A young woman laughing, loud music playing, and the celebratory clinking of glasses…
The thought of stirs a sad sympathy in me.
What sets this prison apart from most I imagine, is the amount of windows. There was natural light everywhere within the building. Tall thick windows impressively barred but still letting in all the flooding afternoon light of the bay.
But where the sun shines through, the wind and frigid air does too. The wind whistles through the cracks eroding the edges of the edifices and wearing the island old.
Alcatraz was a prison built before the time of ‘reformation.’ When criminals were merely locked away to save god-fearing citizens from their debauchery. Men as young as 17 crossed these doors – and left there.
I couldn’t fathom how small the cells were – barely a 7ft box, they were suffocating to even look at. Several of the prison cells have been stocked with items from the prisoners’ time; cards, games, postcards, radios, wool blankets, literature and flimsy cots.
The portraits of the wardens hang in the offices as a reminder of the men who were stationed to care for and protect others from the men on “The Rock.” These officers ate the same food, and breathed the same air as the men under their watch.
They even nurtured their own families in their own ‘town’ on the island – where I heard, they always left their doors unlocked. Just like most families from the 1950s.