Celtic rope image

Theresa Breslin

Rule Number Five

It is your right to have:
Food, clothing, shelter and medical attention.
Anything else you get is a privilege.

The Island.
The Rock.

This is no local state prison. This is a federal prison for crimes against the Nation - the United States of America.

It’s stuck right out there near the Golden Gate Bridge. On a big hunk of stone jutting up out of the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Good old San Fran. How does the song go again? You leave your heart in San Francisco. And then it goes on about the little cable cars reaching halfway to the stars.

The one time I came through the city I only caught a glimpse of the cable cars.

I was on my way to Alcatraz. They take the prisoners out there from a pier that’s well away from the city. They don’t want to disturb the honest townspeople. Don’t want to let the folks on holiday see us either. Might spoil the tourist trade. Prisoners ain’t a pretty sight. Though, when word gets out there’s a new prisoner going over, there’s always two or three guys turn up to watch that early morning boat ride.

Why do they come? Does it make them feel better to see us chained up like slave people? Does it make them feel safer as they go back to their nice homes, with the shiny, big car parked out front? Do they feel better because they know another bad man’s been locked away? I guess it gives them something talk about at dinner. Something to say to their neighbours across the fence.

"Hey, guess what, Alvin? I saw a real live murderer today."

Puts a bit of interest into their dull, dull lives

I remember that boat ride.

All at once the bridge looms up. Not so much golden Gate as red rust. The big, iron girders arch above us as we go from the city to the national park on the other side. They say the trees there are as tall as the Empire State Building. Then the fog rolls in and I don’t see anything any more.

I can hear the seals though. The noise gets louder as we approach the prison jetty on Alcatraz Island. Those big walruses are just sitting on the rocks staring at us and honking.

Saddest sound I ever heard.

I was going to see and hear a lot sadder things in the next months.

But to tell you the honest truth, on that day, I felt sort of proud to be going there.

Crazy. huh?

I mean I was scared too.

I’d heard all the stories of how tough it was.

And about that Rule Five – the food, water, shelter, medical attention and nothing else thing.

How it was full of guys who’d cut you soon as look at you.

But I was kinda proudful too. I mean I would be among the big boys now. I hadn’t liked it when the judge at my trial had classed me as "a petty thief gone wrong".

"Easily led astray", my lawyer had pleaded in his address to the jury.

It made me look none too bright. As if I didn’t have the smarts.
But here I was now.

On that boat.

I was one of the big boys. The real hoods.

On my way to the most famous prison in the U.S.A.

The most famous prison in the whole wide world.