Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Residents of Alcatraz

For many residents of the Bay Area, Alcatraz has become a fixture in the landscape of their everyday lives, catching a glimpse of it through out the day. For some the island’s involvement in their life was more direct, acting as a place of residency, captivity or work.

When most people think of Alcatraz, they think of the penitentiary that housed some of the world’s most harden criminals, little did they know there were average American families living on the island. Many authors including Bruce, portray Alcatraz as a great place to raise a family. There were neighborhood parties and activities for the children, within yards of bank robbers, kidnappers and murders. Children grew up similar to those in the city, except on the island there were no play guns or knifes. The residents often bragged there was no need to lock the doors to their homes. Overall, Alcatraz seemed like a picturesque place to live.

The pleasure of being on Alcatraz was not the same for the prisoners. They were poorly treated and given little amenities. Not even allowed the simple pleasure of conversation, the monotony of daily life took a toll on the prisoners. Harsh treatment left little on their minds except how to end their suffering. Suicide and escape were the two main solutions to their pain. The trial of Alcatraz seemed to be the first time the prisoners’ civil liberties were a matter of importance.

Not the usual 9-5 job, those who worked at Alcatraz also experienced a drastic invasion of their lives. Alcatraz was an inescapable figure that altered who they were as a person. Acting like robots, the guards were trained extensively in combat and defense. They were not allowed to form any type of camaraderie with the prisoners or even have a friendly conversation. Their job was to up hold Alcatraz’s title as inescapable. Part of their occupation included being abusive to the prisoners, to keep them inline and as a form of punishment. Their barbaric behavior was a daily practice that seemed to alter how they treated civilians. An extreme example can be seen in chapter 10, when a guard, John Gilmore, attacked a woman picking flowers in the vacant lot next to his apartment. He claimed it was self-defense, however Gilmore out weighted the woman by nearly 100 pounds. The woman walked away bloody and bruised with chipped teeth, lacerations to her head, a swollen eye and 5 stitches. It seemed Gilmore’s actions were more substantial than the average definition of self defense. His acts speak more to the tone of a prison guard disciplining an unruly prisoner.

While Alcatraz was a positive experience for the families living on the island, it was a much different world for those men living and working within the cell blocks. The prisoners became demoralized. Experiencing daily monotony and brutality changed these men to the core of their being. The guards forgot how to behave like civilians. Daily exchanges turned into battery and assault. It is debatable whether or not any good came from the creation of Alcatraz as a federal penitentiary.


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