Throughout Escape from Alcatraz, the reader is exposed to what life was like inside of Alcatraz as a prison. We are engaged in the experience through the perspectives of the prisoner and the authoritative figure(s). However, In Chapter 11, we are introduced to the murder trial of Henri Young. The defense: Alcatraz, not Henri Young, killed Rufus McCain. But who’s perspective should we trust? Who is to blame? The strict and intimidating authoritative figures or the outcasted and dangerous criminals?
We are completely aware that individuals that go against the societal norm are outcasted or punished. Individuals are sent to prisons for acts that they commit: robberies, kidnappings, murders, etc. The most notorious individuals were sent to Alcatraz. We come to learn that rules are strict at the prison. A few words could send you straight to the dungeon, on a mere starvation diet.
In chapter 7 we get an introduction to the monotony of prison life as a guard. One guard “wish[ed] to hell one of them bastards would stick his head up so [he] could take a pot shot at him” (57). An interesting aspect to this comment was that it was only a monotony of 8 hours. Yet, prisoners experience a much greater amount of monotony by doing the same work nearly everyday and on most occasions left to counting the minutes of the day.
In chapter 8, after the death of prisoner trying to escape a guard remarked: “Well, he’s a lot better off now where he is than where he was,” (66). This can be interpreted in two ways. Understandably, many people say this line when trying to accept the death of a close and loving individual. But in this case, it is a guard responding to a death of a prisoner. It’s very likely that this guard and prisoner weren’t close at all. To simply share a drop of sympathy for a prisoner makes the
reader imagine how life was on Alcatraz. What this statement seems to imply is that the guard is accepting the fact that Alcatraz was a harsh environment, even as a prison.
Throughout chapter 11 we hear from the prisoners saying that they endured harsh treatment, hollered for medical attention, beaten into unconsciousness, etc. Finally, a prisoner finishes with this statement: “You wonder how human beings could do that to human beings,” (82). Is it truly justified to treat human beings as harshly as these men were treated, even if they did commit an act against society? As a reader, we empathize for the prisoners for being treated so harshly. However, we are also left to believe that these men may be lying. It wouldn’t be the first time that these men go against society and try to get what they want. Youngs final comment is of particular interest as well. He wonders about the treatment of one human being to another. However, he was the one that murdered. So we are left to wonder, who is to blame? Alcatraz or Young for the murder of McCain?