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Alcatraz - Page 5

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During Capone's sentence on the "Rock” he would make several other attempts to con Johnston into allowing him special privileges, but all would be denied. Capone spent 4 ½ years at the "Rock” holding a variety of menial jobs at the prison. While he was there he spent eight days in isolation as a result of fight with another inmate and was stabbed with a pair of scissors by another prisoner.


Eventually, he began to suffer symptoms of syphilis that he had contracted years earlier, and actually spent more time in the hospital than he did in the cell house. In 1938, he was transferred to Terminal Island Prison in Southern California to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He was released in November of 1939, settled in Miami and died in 1947, at the age of 48.


Powerhouse Plant at Alcatraz,

Powerhouse Plant at Alcatraz, July, 2009, Kathy Weiser.




Arriving on the second "official" shipment to Alcatraz in September was George "Machine Gun" Kelly. First involved in bootlegging, he was sentenced to Leavenworth where he spent three years. Obviously not rehabilitated, he resumed a life of crime, this time robbing banks. He soon advanced to kidnapping and in 1933, he held for ransom a wealthy Oklahoma oil magnate. After his capture, he was given a life sentence and returned to Leavenworth. However, within months he was transferred to Alcatraz, where he was said to have been a model prisoner for the next seventeen years. When Kelly suffered a mild heart attack he was returned to Leavenworth in 1951 and was paroled in 1954. Within months, he suffered another heart attack and died at the age of 59.


As part of its maximum security efforts, the ratio of guards to prisoners was one to three, compared to other prisons, where the ratio averaged one to twelve. In addition, inmates were allowed no visitors for the first three months, and afterwards, were only allowed one visitor per month, a privilege that had to be earned. While prisoners were allowed limited access to the prison library, no newspapers, unapproved books, or radios were allowed. All incoming and outgoing mail was screened, censored, and retyped. Consideration for work assignments were based on a prisoner’s conduct record. Each prisoner was assigned a private cell with only the basic minimum necessities such as food, water, and clothing.


The routine was the same every day, with prisoners awakened at 6:30 a.m., given time to tidy their cells and wash up, then marched silently to the mess hall. Following breakfast, the prisoners were then given their work assignments for the day, and after dinner, were again locked within their cells. The strict rules required inmate counts every half hour.


However, the worst rule was Warden Johnston’s strictly enforced silence policy. Many of the inmates considered this to be their most unbearable punishment. Prisoners were only allowed to talk during meals, in the yard on Saturdays, and for three minutes during a morning and afternoon work break. Though the silence policy was later relaxed, there were several reports that inmates were driven insane by the severe rule of silence.


Many stories, including the classic movie "Escape From Alcatraz" tell of an inmate by the name of Rufe Persful, a former gangster and bank robber, who went so far as to take a hatchet and chop off the fingers of one of his hands while working in one of the shops. Though the strict rule, no doubt, did drive men insane, Persful actually lost his fingers when a shop door blew shut on his hand.


Alcatraz Administration Building

Alcatraz Administration Building, July, 2009, Kathy Weiser.


The routine was unyielding, day after day, year after year. As quickly as privileges were earned they could be revoked for the slightest infraction of the rules.


The only "redeeming” qualities of the prison were the private cells and quality of food served at the prison. These too had their reasons. The first was to further isolate these hardened criminals, while the second was to prevent riots that were often known to start in other prisons because of the poor quality of food.


Though the vast majority of Alcatraz's prisoners were never seen on a wanted poster, other notorious criminals held at the prison over the years included two members of the Ma Barker Gang – Arthur "Doc” Barker, the last surviving son, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, who was in a partnership with Ma Barker.


Other notorious criminals included Robert "Birdman of Alcatraz" Stroud, and Floyd Hamilton, a gang member and driver for Bonnie and Clyde.


While members of Ma Barker’s gang of hoodlums, Doc Barker and Alvin "Creepy” Karpis, terrorized the Midwest between 1931 and 1936. Their many crimes included murder, bank robbery, kidnapping, and train robbery. Karpis’ flamboyant style had earned him the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and soon found himself with the infamous distinction of being "Public Enemy No. 1.”


Doc Barker was arrested in January, 1935 and later sent to Alcatraz from Leavenworth. He was killed in an escape attempt from Alcatraz in 1939. Carpis, who was arrested in New Orleans in May, 1936, found himself in Alcatraz just a few months later. He spent the next 26 years on the "Rock” before being transferred to McNeil Island in April, 1962. In 1969, he was released and deported to his homeland of Canada. Carpis died in 1979.


Arthur "Doc" Baker

Arthur "Doc" Baker was a member of Ma Barker's

gang of hoodlums. He was killed in an escape attempt

from Alcatraz in 1939.


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