Slike strani
[graphic][merged small]

spected before it reaches those within the viously), and potatoes, too, are added. At stockades.

The uniform of Alcatraz, as these men line up, is one sufficient in itself to mark them as folks apart. It is practically a soldier's suit, dyed brown, and there is a heavy P., for prisoner, stamped on the back, that he who runs may read, and be read, by all whom he may chance to pass.

Prisoners here are of three classes. On arrival, a man is put in the second class, and if his conduct be exemplary, he is advanced to the first, and may be recommended to the Secretary of War for a reprieve or a shortening of his sentence. In the third class, on the other hand, the disorderly and vicious men are set, and to them harder tasks are assigned. While employed at these, they do not earn good conduct time, as it is called, by means of which all save life-prisoners can earn five days off of every thirty to which they have been condemned.

For breakfast at Alcatraz there is mush and coffee and bread (butterless, ob

6:30 the men line up, and by seven, work has begun. Everywhere there are guards, preventing escape where it might be contemplated, and also serving as perpetual safeguards against such possibility as mutiny.

As to the ages of the prisoners, the men one sees employed on the buildings and about the roads, will vary anywhere from twenty-one to forty-five, or even fifty.

Until noon, when there is luncheon as per regulation army rations, and then again until 4:30 in the afternoon, the prisoners are kept at their several tasks. At 5:15 supper is served, and from it they retire (under dire penalty for disobedience to such rule) to within the stockade. Many of them make their way into the cells. There are 152 of these chambers in the so-called "old prison" alone, and four companies of infantry see to it that no stranger bothers their sleep.

It is this dull routine of prison life that drives men to set their brains on edge to

one point only, and that-escape.

If necessity be the mother of invention, necessity is certainly abundant enough on Alcatraz to exercise the keenest human brain, if it would get away from the little peak.

To see the prisoner in his cell is to get to the kernel of the island, and to realize the boundless hope that can alone inspire any man to try to regain liberty from thence.

In company with a commissioned officer, you climb the hill to a great stockade, surrounding the prison-yard, and in itself enclosed by a sort of gallery from sentry-house to sentry-house, from which the sentinels patrol. Beyond this high white fencing several buildings seem to rise, whetting the curiosity of the visitor.

You climb onto the stockade, twelve and a half feet high, you are told, and look down on the prison yard. They are only eighty feet over the sea down there, but they might as well be eight thousand. Just below us is a ditch, twenty-eight feet across and guarded by four patrols in the

day-time and three at night. That constitutes the "dead line."

Over the moat is the main prison building, a great two-story frame, set with small windows, one window to every two men in the cells. There, however, comes the next safeguard. The sentry on the balcony just behind has charge of the gate opening into the division, and is held accountable for who passes through.

Only a commissioned officer can give the "open sesame" to enter the yard below. From the sentry-box at one side, the lever operating the gate, a speaking tube extends to the sergeant of the guard, so that the slightest suspicion of the sentinel may be verified.

If one follows the balcony along, he will look down on a second paved court and store-room, and can pass on to the dungeon entry.

Not even for the instant that it requires to take a photograph will this point be left unguarded, and the call of the sergeant of the guard to replace the lone picket while he poses in the picture, is

[graphic][merged small]
[graphic][merged small]

taken up from guard to guard, with dramatic vigor, until, dim and echoed by the penitentiary walls, it reaches the keeper of the prison, the sergeant of the guard.

Everywhere, as one passes, the prisoners stand erect at attention, arms folded before them, while the guards present arms. Beyond, you can see the peak with a lighthouse and the officers' homes, and the American flag, symbol of liberty, but to this one acre of American soil, liberty does not apply. A sergeant, with keys at his belt, accompanies you into the prison mess halls, the heart of Alcatraz!

To right and left on the floor of stone, bare wooden tables and stools are set, a tin-can at each place. Curiously enough, at one end of the room there is a stage, and there, perhaps once a year, a play is given, the play the product of some pris


They serve you coffee here, at the heart of Alcatraz, and over the steaming cup, Captain Humphreys, the genial Officer of the Day, tells of the escape from Alcatraz.

"I have delayed the telling until here," he explains, as one's eyes drink in the air of the prison, "that you might appreciate all the more the magnitude of the undertaking, the escape from Alcatraz.

"It is now a little over five years ago that there was perpetrated on Alcatraz the most skillfully planned escape known to all army circles, probably. The plan was founded on the ruling that through the headquarters of the department, and through the garrison headquarters, a prisoner may put in an application for leniency, and be allowed to quit the island and leave, the sentence not completely served. This, of course, is only done in cases of exceptionally good conduct and the like.

"There is comparatively little for the men to do on Alcatraz, except when building is going on, and so, after a month and a half on the island a prisoner becomes a trusty,' and is assigned such tasks as may arise.

"Certain among these men, for instance,

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

are given charge of certain papers, and among them our hero was once counted. "Quite a number of these men, it must be recalled, are very bright, and not a few are graduates of institutions of advanced learning.

"They then become practically clerks in the prison-office.

There were four in the plot-the head of the coterie the chief printer of the island, likewise a prisoner. Together, these men found the time to draw up and print an official paper, such as is used by the officers in the city, when filing the prisoner's applications for leniency, and to this they duplicated the signature of the commanding officer at Alcatraz.

"The documents bore all manner of splendid reasons for executive clemency, and one and all of them written as though they were the recommendations of the commandant of the prison island.

"This paper, then, the coterie managed to slip into the prison mail-bag, by reason of their duties in the office, and over the bay to San Francisco it went, undetected.

"First to Department Headquarters, then from bureau to bureau, and finally up to the Department Commander, the little papers made their way. There, seeing the strong recommendations of the island Governor. the Commandant approved them, and ordered the release of the men.

"Back, then, to the place of their fabrication, came the orders for pardon, and to the headquarters at Alcatraz. From island headquarters, re-approved, to the prison office they went, bearing the orders to set the men free.

"A soldier's first duty is to obey orders, without question, and the men were set free at once by the prison officer.

"As is the custom in the army prisons, each of the men was given a suit of civilian clothing, hat, shoes and underwear, and a check for five dollars.

"Then they were put on the little boat, taken to San Francisco and released, despite the fact that some of them still had three or even four years to serve.

"Hardly arrived at the Golden Gate city, however, their nerve spurred them on to still greater things.

"The original forger in the affair proceeded to duplicate the signature of the

quartermaster of the department to four checks, $125 in all, placing on the checks the reasons for which they were issued— such as extra work out of prison hours, and the like, and knowing the forms to be employed, secured the money on the lot in the city without a jog.

"Meantime, however, the fraud was discovered on the island. A sentry, in a friendly way, asked the Commandant of Alcatraz why these prisoners, of all others, had been approved for release. The Commandant at once denied the recommendation. The inquiry caused the Major to communicate with the prison office, for the production of the papers or some such procedure. Suffice it to say, the Commandant found his autograph forged, and immediately communicated with the San Francisco police. The craving for liquor grows strong with prisoners on the island. when long abstaining from it, and so three, and perhaps all the men, went to the grog-shop first of all. Three of them, however, knew when they had enough, and after imbibing freely, fled. The fourth had been arrested for drunkenness on the street. His identity became known, and he was returned to Alcatraz, where he has now an additional forgery charge to serve. "As for the others, they have never been found."

We pass on into the new barracks, in course of erection by the prisoners on one slope of the mountain, and the great blocks of cement and gravel and concrete, set in a sort of Italian tenement style, in a position that again recalls the British stronghold on the Mediterranean, gives evidence of the hard work done on the island.

Four companies of from 128 to 130 men are to be accommodated by this new building, and four floors and a basement are contemplated.

For labor such as this, prisoners are brought in squads of ten or fourteen men, from different posts around the bay, heavily handcuffed, and set to work for Uncle Sam on the Island.

A sentence to this isle for twenty years might as well be one of solitary confinement for such time. Conversation runs slack among the prisoners, with whom life is but ceaseless monotone, so that escape alone can give food for thought!

« PrejšnjaNaprej »