By David Ward, Gene Kassebaum
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Extra resources for Alcatraz: The Gangster Years
Those escapes and the growing criticism of “dead-end penology” (no effort to reform or rehabilitate prisoners) led the Bureau of Prisons to conclude that rather than concentrating troublemakers in one small prison, they should be dispersed through many prisons. That strategy, however, began to fail in the 1970s as violence related to prison gangs and drug trafficking increased. In October 1983, after two officers were killed on the same day at the federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, the Bureau’s highest security prison, an Alcatraz-type regime called “indefinite administrative segregation” was reestablished, and the supermax was conceived.
Spiro Karabelas came to the interview from a disciplinary segregation cell. ” Among many topics that came up, he explained how he had learned to pass hours and days in solitary confinement by “taking trips”—reliving in his mind, in infinite detail and minute by minute, those days and events in his life he savored most. This was the first description of various psychological mechanisms for coping with prolonged isolation that I would hear in talking with Alcatraz inmates. Karabelas seemed to be rather proud that he had not been “broken” by the regimen.
To federal criminal justice officials at the time, Alcatraz was needed to help the nation survive a crisis. In the half-decade or so preceding the opening of Alcatraz, a wave of sensational ransom kidnappings and daring train and bank robberies gripped the nation, and organized crime activity in large cities dramatically increased. These gangsters and outlaws—driving fast cars, armed with machine guns, and often able to elude capture for long periods of time—were branded “public enemies” because their exploits terrorized the citizenry and greatly eroded confidence in local and state law enforcement agencies.
Alcatraz: The Gangster Years by David Ward, Gene Kassebaum