SAN FRANCISCO — "If you disobey the rules of society, they send you to prison. If you disobey the rules of prison, they send you to us.”
I stood on The Rock the other day reading this famous line from the film Escape From Alcatraz, the brochure open before me. The chilling words were as cold as the winds blowing across the San Francisco Bay — a bitter reminder of what brought criminals to this desolate destination.
They had failed to follow the rules.
As my husband and I toured the Alcatraz Island cell house — a federal penitentiary that closed in 1963 — I couldn’t help but wonder when the hardened inmates first went wrong. When did they begin to break the rules?
Did the approximately 1,545 men who did time on Alcatraz over the course of 29 years make their initial misstep as a teen or young adult?
Was it sneaking a drink while underage or pilfering cash from a mother’s unattended purse?
An attitude that getting away with something was all right as long as you didn’t get caught?
Could it have begun with a single act?
With these thoughts on my mind, I watched with surprise as $1 brochures, strategically placed along the tour, were plucked from their stands by individuals who failed at the honor system.
A young mother pushing a baby stroller paused, took the pamphlet while furtively glancing from side to side, and then disappeared into the crowd. A 20-something guy restored my hope — only for a moment — as he deposited a dollar, but then grabbed two as he mumbled, “It’s a two-for-one special.”
Yes, it’s only a dollar. But the “rule” was to pay and help cover the cost for our national park.
Each day, we are becoming who we will be in the future. Following the rules — The Ten Commandments are a great start — actually offer freedom to living life to its fullest. A door that appears narrow, but opens to a future filled with possibilities.
I imagine when the men imprisoned on Alcatraz — reduced to a number and not a name — felt the cold steel bars between their hands, sat isolated in the small windowless cell, heard the crash of the metal door close and reviewed the 53 numbered items in Regulations for Inmates; they may have wondered where they went wrong.
Some might say it was when they didn’t follow the rules.