Alcatraz: Evolution of Justice

Alcatraz Prison sits on an island outside the city of San Francisco, California. It stares back at you from across the bay like a totem of silence. It became a symbol of justice in America for many years. Convicts served out their sentences here. Native Americans tried to revision the island into a sanctuary for themselves. In the end, those who made this island their home over the years all came looking for one thing and that is justice in some shape and form.

This island actually started its life as a fortress to protect the west coast from the possibility of an invasion. From there, they soon turned the island into a prison for war criminal during the civil war. They used the island’s facility to hold those that sided with Confederates and others accused of treason. These prisoners worked to continue to buildup the island as a prison to hold more criminals that couldn’t be held elsewhere. By 1934, it was a full scale prison ready to hold some of the worst criminals that America has seen. Some of the most famous criminals being Al Capone and “Birdman”. Americans saw these criminals serving out their sentences on this island as justice because escaping was close to impossible and the horrors within made the sentences tortuous for those who served their sentences here. These horrors that were bestowed upon them seemed like justice for all the wrong that they did over their life time.

Prisoners were subjected to tiny cells with little possessions and only a couple hours a week of fresh air. If they step out of line or displeased a guard, they could be beaten to set an example with the nightstick the guards carried. Every time they entered or exited their cells, they had guns pointed at them. However, the worst punishment were bestowed on those that continue to try the guards. The isolation cells were a dark and dismal place were no light could seep through. Men had gone crazy in the pitch black rooms they were thrown in. Guards who used to work the prison spoke about the regulation of turning on the light in the isolation cell if in use but they didn’t to make the punishment more memorable. Prisoners spoke that staring out at civilization with no way to reach it or hear it was torture in its own kind. Families of prisoners often told loved ones that those serving out their time on the island were as good as dead.

I wouldn’t consider the justice served out by guards onto prisoners as humane. Touring this facilitate I could see how many would have felt confined to its narrow walls and constant threat of pain. It just shows how much the justice system has changed over time. How we defined what justice means?

Th definition of justice changed again when the island was occupied by Native American protesters. They hoped to change the island from a desolate old prison to a sanctuary for those that had been excluded for so long. They dreamed of making the island a new home and visual for what was America before settlers took over. The island became a symbol of justice for these protesters that wanted to correct the wrongs done to them. Unfortunately, they were removed after some time by government officials. It just shows you how justice has changed over the years with new movements in America and how Alcatraz has become the face of  this change over time. So how will justice change over the years? Will Alcatraz continue to be the face of that change?

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