Monday, October 25, 2010
I've never been to Robben Island, but I can now say I have done Alcatraz.
What's a trip to San Francisco without visiting one of the world's most notorious prisons?
(I visited Lard Yao women's prison in Bangkok once. I'm a huge prison tourist.)
Anyway, otherwise known as The Rock, they did this audio tour with all the sound effects. It was a misty, grey, pissing down day, which made the trip somewhat eerie and scary. Especially when they re-enacted bloodbath scenes involving escapees and knives being thrust into backs.
The thing with Alcatraz is that it was a gangster prison. It was the US' big federal prison, which thrived in the 1930s, mainly from a result the Great Depression.
'Prohibition' came into effect, meaning Americans couldn't buy alcohol legally. Most people were poor and on rations, and because the 1920s was an age of 'loose morals and naughtiness' (Yeah but did they have dirty rap? I ask with Usher in my ears), it was the era of the mafia.
The rise of gangsters and corruption.
Which brings me to Al. Al Capone is The Rock's most famous ex-con (who later died of syphilis and not smashed kneecaps/bullet holes/bludgeoning on the streets of Chicago, as one might think - turns out Al was putting his wiener into all sorts of things).
Anyway. He got taken down not for mass murdering and racketeering, but for tax evasion. The only way to nab the bad okes in those days was through this method. He got 10 years, five of which were spent on Alcatraz and the rest dying of syphilis.
It's not a nice place to do time. All privileges one may get through intimidation/corruption at other prisons was null and void. Which is why they moved Al here - he couldn't deck out his cell in persian rugs and antiques, which he was doing before Alcatraz.
This place could break a man. Why? For one, you can see the cityline of San Francisco very close by. On certain days you can hear noises from the city, so prisoners were constantly reminded of the 'free world.'
Secondly, the cells were small and cramped, and an icy wind would blow in all the time.
If you were naughty, you were thrown into 'The Hole' - a black, dank space that made you mad by default.
There were attempted escapes, no one survived the freezing water. Four guys got out by stealing spoons from the cafeteria, starving themselves and squeezed themselves down an air vent/drain pipe.
Criminals were just numbers there, and while most lived extravagantly crazy lifestyles before (Al used to wear silk underwear), they were stripped of everything in this place.
After the prison was closed down in the 60s, the place was reclaimed by the Indian communities. San Francisco was the capital of the 60s Make Love Not War 60s revolution, and so Indians set up camp on Alcatraz as a protest against [American apartheid] their reserves being taken from them.
The place is crumbling a bit. I don't see generations after generations being able to visit Alcatraz, because the salty air, bad weather is causing the place to start falling apart.
Better watch The Rock now. I know, never seen it.