Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Michael Esslinger

From Randy Dotinga's Q & A with Michael Esslinger, author of Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years:

Q: Why does Alcatraz have such a unique place in American culture and history?

A: When Alcatraz opened in August of 1934, it was considered America’s Devil Island, and it was touted that no one could escape alive. It was intended to turn the spectacular criminal dispositions of America's most notorious criminals into a world of decorum. The Alcatraz regimen demanded more than simple conformity. Silence and cramped cells were the foundation, along with stern discipline, an unrelenting routine, and a set of rules and regulations that shaped most every aspect of daily life on the Rock.

The Rule of Silence was heavily enforced during Alcatraz’s infant years as a federal penitentiary. This was the Alcatraz trademark, and proved to silence the voices of some of America’s most notorious outlaws.

Q: Was Alcatraz prison famous from the beginning, or did events and its prisoners help it become more well-known in its early history?

A: The foundation of Alcatraz’s notorious reputation was set in stone from the very onset.

The inmates sent to Alcatraz were considered the cream of the criminal crop, and many were a new breed of outlaw that the government had failed to contain. They were comprised of the famous, infamous, unknowns, and were not only bank robbers and murderers, but organized crime figures that orchestrated complex crime syndicates where corruption was boundless and infiltrated even the most sacred levels of law enforcement.

A ticket to Alcatraz was not necessarily based on one's crimes against free society. Recruitment to Alcatraz was a model with no specific prototype or criteria as to what would initiate a transfer. Generally space was reserved for inmates who were prone to escape, high profile, difficult, unruly, badly behaved, or simply created delinquency challenges for the prison staff in the federal prison of their confinement.

Q: What are some of the biggest myths about Alcatraz? What do people misunderstand about it?

A: The biggest myth is that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue