Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Focus on the Guards of Alcatraz

Much of what is known of Alcatraz as a prison relates to the prisoners it held. Common names one might associate with such an infamous place are “Mobster Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, Robert Stroud” (back cover) and others. This narrow focus on the criminals overlooks the role of the guards on Alcatraz. They are just as important as the felons who lived there, they had to endure the same monotony and they had to overcome much of the same tensions.

Whereas earlier chapters in the book stress the emotional turmoil of the inmates, Chapter 14 provides a new focus on the guards, offering a greater insight into the emotional aspects of their occupation of Alcatraz. This section begins with the after-effects of the Battle of Alcatraz: enhanced security. The guards were trained to view every criminal as a potential threat, this puts them on a vigilant mental state, creating an atmosphere of tension and anxiety.

Also, prisoners enjoyed playing tricks on the officials, thus making their watch on Alcatraz more difficult. It is hard already to be in a place with the most feared criminals and having these men use them as entertainment makes it unbearable and apprehensive. For instance, inmates enjoyed making loud noises when it was completely silent just to scare the officers on duty. Similarly, some convicts would swear to others while looking at the guards. Sometimes a convict “could call you a sonofabitch without moving their lips”(126). These events highlight the hostility that many of the
officials had to tolerate.

The torment that the officials suffered was hinted at an earlier chapter, namely Chapter 9 where Gilmore assaulted Thelma Fleming simply for collecting flowers. This action along with the pressure caused by the inmates demonstrates that they also suffered mentally and emotionally on Alcatraz. The conditions were so terrible, that some quit and left, “Now and then a man would report for duty at eight thirty in the morning and take the noon boat back to the city. A half day, and he’s had it”(126).

Chapter 14 offers an insight into what circumstances were like for the officials living at Alcatraz. While earlier chapters concentrate on the negative treatment that the prisoners received, this segment concentrates on the harassment the guards received. This gives a more complete illustration of the state of mind of all the prison dwellers.



  1. What was kind of weird was that throughout the book, there were conflicting testimonies about the guards' behavior. Some inmates would say a guard is a real jerk and another would say he was a good guy. In the end, though, I think the guards did display aggressive behaviors... but we don't know to what extent, because Alcatraz has been under a veil... it operated separate from the rest of the country.
    -Jennifer Kim

  2. Is there a list of all guards? I have not been able to find one.