Why You Wouldn’t Survive Alcatraz Prison
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Why You Wouldn’t Survive Alcatraz Prison

It’s August 11, 1934, and along with 136
prisoners you are on your way to what will become known as America’s toughest prison. You guys are what the authorities have called
“the incorrigibles”, because in the prisons where you have come from you just couldn’t
stop causing trouble. All of you have been called violent and unpredictable,
and so you are being taken to the penitentiary version of hell. You sit there on a specially-designed train
coach, handcuffed and surrounded by 60 FBI agents, U.S. Marshals and other security. The atmosphere is solemn, and each of you
grizzly-looking, hardened criminals eye each other with distrust. Every chug of the train is foreboding; in
your mind it says to you, “You’re going to hell, you’re going to hell, you’re
going to hell.” You are not wrong. That’s how the first shipment of prisoners
travelled to Alcatraz Island. None of those guys were prisoner number one
since Alcatraz had some left over Army prisoners. The place had been a military prison before
it became the penitentiary renowned as being an inescapable hellhole. Let’s just pretend you were one of those
prisoners again. You arrive on that train in a place called
Tiburon at 9.40 am. A barge is waiting in the water there, and
that’s how you’ll get to the island located in San Francisco Bay. The train carriage where you have been sitting
could perhaps go down as one of the most well-guarded trains in the history of rail. Imagine if some of the USA’s most violent
prisoners all got loose, something akin to a movie about the Wild West. No one escapes on this day. Many of the men around you are convicted killers,
and others are notorious bank robbers. You could make a book out of your combined
rap sheets. Each of the guys has been called an “agitator”
and the authorities have noted that the men are “desperate”. Many of them have planned prison escapes from
other places, and it’s well known that they will kill anyone who gets in the way of their
freedom. For that reason you will be guarded by highly
trained men. And when we say highly trained, we don’t
mean in rehabilitation. They are men that were chosen for their toughness,
not their ability to help improve prisoners’ behavior. The two men in charge, the warden and his
assistant, have been nicknamed the, “iron men.” When you finally get to the ferry ship that
will take you to the island you are handcuffed with another man and both of you are shackled
together. You are ordered to walk ten feet forward and
cross a gang plank, and then on to the ship. You are surrounded by law enforcement and
prison guards. All this is happening without the press looking
on, because the authorities have kept the operation secret. Only one lone photographer got news of the
move. At Alcatraz’s dock you and the guy you are
chained to walk between two rows of guards. Two by two you are marched through the gate,
into the yard, and then into the cell house. You are searched and given a number, after
which you are allocated a cell. Now your cuffs are removed and you are free
of the other man. But before you can go to your cell you are
taken to the bathhouse and stripped naked. You are examined in every nook and cranny
of your body and then told you can wash. You are then taken to a cell and the door
is locked. Outside is a sign that has your name and number. The authorities will later say that the entire
operation went perfectly. Ok, so what does this cell look like? You are assigned to block B. You might move
to C later and block A you learn isn’t used much at all to incarcerate men. D Block is solitary, a segregation center
where a prisoner can be locked up 24 hours a day. These cells are sometimes referred to as “confinement
chambers.” You might get let out in the yard for an hour
once a week if you get on the right side of the guards, but other than that, you face
total isolation if you’re sent there. So, your cell in block B is 5 feet by 9 feet
(1.5 meters by 2.7 meters). Proverbially speaking, if you were to swing
a cat in there you’d kill it. Inside that cell is a cot that you can sleep
on and it is made out of steel. It folds against the wall when not being used
because there really isn’t that much space in this cell. There is a steel shelf to sit on and a steel
shelf to put things on. There’s also a basin and a toilet. Everything you own when you first get into
the cell is a toothbrush, some tooth powder, two towels and a cup. There will be books to read, so you can fill
that shelf at some point. You will be able to get visits if you are
good, but only once a month and non-contact. If you fall sick, there is a hospital in the
prison. Over the coming year some big names will arrive
at the prison, including the man known as George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Others that arrive have been convicted of
what the press call the most atrocious crimes. Alcatraz is called the “end of the line”,
the last resort. It holds formidable robbers and ruthless murderers,
and it especially holds anyone who has tried to escape from another prison or a prisoner
that has hurt or killed a prison guard where he was housed. Maybe the most famous criminal to stay on
“the rock” is the mafia crime lord Al Capone. He actually arrives shortly after you. So, there you are, sitting in your cell. You receive a booklet and it’s called, “REGULATIONS
FOR INMATES U.S.P., ALCATRAZ.” It tells you that what you have right now
is what you are entitled to. The clothes on your back, the roof over your
head, and some bathroom items. Anything else you might receive is a privilege,
and to get more things you will have to show good conduct and a good work ethic. You might even get some time taken off your
sentence. But show bad conduct and the opposite might
happen. You might lose privileges, get time added
on, or be sent to those isolation cells. This is nothing you haven’t read before. In bold letters the booklet tells you there
will be no “TRADING, GAMBLING, SELLING, GIVING, OR LOANING.” They mean this, too. You will work five days a week, eight hours
a day. The rest of the time will be recreation time
and cell time. You can watch a movie twice a month and if
you show good conduct you’ll be able to go out on the yard and play handball. You are also told that this won’t happen
just yet since your first 30 days will be spent in the cell. This is called the “quarantine” period. It doesn’t sound too bad, only you guess
the guards will be stricter. That is very true. You will wake up at 7 am and you’ll be counted. You must be absolutely silent during this
time or you will be disciplined. This rule of silence will be the thing that
gets to you the most, and the guards are serious about it. You might have your own cell, but the silence
kills you. You can try talking through the toilet bowl,
but that will get you in serious trouble. You can talk when you eat with the other prisoners. The food at least isn’t that bad. In fact, you are quite impressed with the
chow. For breakfast one day you get oatmeal, milk,
sausage, fried potatoes, toast and coffee. For dinner you get some bean soup, roast beef
and veg. For your supper you get pork and beans, salad,
more coffee and bread. On another day the breakfast is similar, but
dinner consists of breaded cod, potato chowder, cabbage, bread and tea. For supper one evening you get vegetable soup,
spaghetti and meatballs, fruit pudding and bread. They even throw in some spiced apples. What is going on? You are eating better than you did on the
outside and a lot better than the many Americans living in abject poverty. In years to come the delicious food at Alcatraz
will become legendary, and will make any prisoner in the present day wish he was taken back
in time as he chows down on his single slice of moldy bread and dubious slop filled with
mystery meat and gristle. At Alcatraz the wardens believe that healthy
food and tasty food will lead to good behavior and cut down on violence. Three good meals a day should keep the prisoner
in good physical and mental health. You are what you eat, and your warden believes
slop doesn’t align with good behavior. Alcatraz is quite progressive in this respect. Ok, so you’ve got your pounded beef steak
with gravy and mash, and you’re not gonna complain about that. The silence thing gets to you, but as you
follow all the rules you at least get time on the yard and books to read. It’s a bit cramped in the cell, but at least
you don’t have to share with a man who has a history of atrocious violence. What can go wrong? Well, that routine is so strict that it can
feel oppressive. It’s final lock up at 4.50 pm and lights
out at 9.30 pm and until the next day you are not supposed to make a sound. A man named Edward Wutke doesn’t take to
Alcatraz very well. He is prisoner number 47 and he is the first
man to take his life in there. More will follow. There is bullying of course, and this leads
one man to severely hurt himself. He wants to get transferred because of the
bullying he faces daily. So, for you, as long as you don’t get bullied,
life could be ok. You just have to adhere to the strictest of
routines. You even get to go to the library, and since
you are eating well and exercising, you might actually get rehabilitated. In fact, as an average prisoner you will get
through almost 100 books a year. As the years go by you will get the chance
to use a musical instrument and listen to a radio. The problem is, what if you don’t follow
the rules? Well, that’s when Alcatraz turns into, “Hellcatraz.” Let’s just add that it is very easy to break
the rules. That code of silence is enforced with enthusiasm
and you also have to look presentable at all times. Your cell has to be spotless and come rain
or shine you have to work really hard. There is no shirking at Alcatraz and so you
might say it is run in a zero tolerance style. Now, with that in mind, the place is full
of notorious criminals with problems of self-control. Things can go wrong. Let’s say one day you just can no longer
cope with the oppressive rules and you start talking at night and not cleaning your cell. You are sent to isolation and then you do
the same again. You hit out at people and talk back to guards. That’s when you go to D-Block and get put
in one of the cells from 9 to 14. This is known as the “hole”. And before you get thrown in there you are
stripped naked and beaten. The guards will come back and torture you
now and again. You lie on a cold concrete floor and there
is no light that comes into the cell. You can shower once a week and might get out
to the yard for an hour in the week. The rest of the time is spent in that cold,
dark cell, being treated worse than an animal. You are given no toothbrush or soap to clean
yourself. At one point a guard throws cold water over
you. The cell stinks like a sewer, too, and you
can forget about that tasty food. You are given four slices of bread a day and
then once a week you get a proper meal. In conclusion, Alcatraz is a foreboding place
just to look at and it comes with ruthless men who might bully and kill. The food is good but some men just can’t
cope with the rules. This is what one of your fellow inmates says
about that, “Men go slowly insane under the exquisite torture of restricted and undeviating
routine.” Men crack, and then they are punished, sometimes
severely, and this happens a lot. The question is, will you crack or will you
get through it? Maybe you could have survived Alcatraz, but
now we have another challenge for you, and that’s to watch this other great episode
of The Infographics Show. Or if you’re not up for the task, then try
out this other episode.


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