28 March 2011

Crime & Law Enforcement: Alcatraz Island

By Jennifer Linforth

The place was naturally isolated and you would be as well—for the rest of your life in many cases. That is if you were one of the truly unlucky ones. If not, and a prisoner shackled and disembarking the ferry onto this desolate piece of nowhere, you were simply welcomed home...

...to The Rock.

Cold and foggy and surrounded by freezing waters and hazard currents, Alcatraz Island has a long history when it comes to crime and punishment. Now a part of our National Park System, and yours truly a NPS ranger, what better place to blog about? Alcatraz housed America’s most notorious and incorrigible criminals after a public outcry went out during the height of the gangster era to crack down on organized crime and the horrific violence sweeping Prohibition wrought America.

The answer was Alcatraz which was converted from a military prison to the most secure penitentiary the country had seen. From tool-proof iron window covering to gun galleries and teargas canister on the ceiling in the dining hall, Alcatraz would house a total of 600 cells.

What was life like on The Rock for the likes of The Birdman of Alcatraz or Al Capone? Even Machine Gun Kelly? The daily routine looked like this, ridged and unforgiving:

07:00 hours: Wake up call. Inmates must, shave, dressed, make their beds, and clean their cell.
07:20 hours. Cell doors are opened. All inmates stand quietly outside their cell until a bell sounds indicating all are accounted for. Silence is an unbreakable rule here. From there... they are marched to the mess hall.
07:30 hours: Breakfast. Inmates are allowed to talk quietly during and correctional officers count all the silverware before they leave.
07:50 hours: Inmates line up for their work details such as laundry, tailor shop, glove, shoe, gardening, standard labor and metal shop.
08:00 hours: Inmates are led by division to their respective assignments down the steep stair ledge and through metal detector.
08:20 hours: Work details begin.
10:00 hours: Eight-minute break.
10:08 hours: End of break and inmates have two minutes to return to duty.
11:35 hours: End of work period. Inmates marched through the metal detector again into the recreation yard for head counts before lunch.
12:00 hours: Lunch
12:20 hours: Lunch period concludes. After the silverware is validated the inmates are marched back to their cells another count and locked-up for short break.
13:00 hours: Work detail again
13:20 hours: Work resumes…
15:00 hours: hours: Break from work
15:08 hours: Again.. two minutes to return back to their duty assignment.
15:10 hours: Work resumes…
16:10 hours: Work period ends…

16:20 hours: Prisoners are led back to recreation yard, counted and sent to dinner.
16:35 hours: Prisoners not on work assignments are and marched to dinner.
16:40 hours: Dinner
17:00 hours: Dinner over, silverware counted and inmates are permitted to enter cells and locked down for the night.
17:30 hours: Final lock-up count…
21:30 hours: Evening count and lights out.

Ironically it was one of Alcatraz’s most efficient deterrents to escape, the icy waters of San Francisco Bay, that would contribute to its downfall. The structure fell under intense scrutiny after the escape of prisoners Morris and Anglins. The deteriorating structural conditions and diminishing security from budget cuts led to the decision to close Alcatraz after twenty-nine years in operation.

Now it sees upwards of one million tourists a year.

Thankfully they all get to go home at the end of the day...

Jennifer Linforth expands the classics by continuing The Phantom of the Opera. MADRIGAL and ABENDLIED are available now. Look for future books based on the classics, in addition to her unique historical romances. "Ms. Linforth's prose is phenomenally beautiful and hauntingly breathtaking." ~ Coffee Time Romance


Karen said...

I went to Alcatraz once--amazingly in my 40s. I've lived here since 1965 and had never gone. It was surprisingly creepy. Fascinating.

CJ Archer said...

Thanks for the post. Like many old prisons, it sounds like a morbidly fascinating place. I hope to get there one day.

Jen B. said...

I've always wanted to visit. It has a fascinating history.