America’s Most Wanted fugitive at Alcatraz for St Patrick’s Day?
Tuesday February 15th 2011, 4:54 pm
Filed under: News
#AZ1428, an 80-year-old mobster and ex-Alcatraz inmate is America’s most wanted fugitive. He is, to our knowledge, the third most famous inmate of Alcatraz. But will he come to our party?
When reading about Alcatraz, there are two figures that readily spring to mind: The Birdman of Alcatraz, fictionalised in a film starring Burt Reynolds in 1962 that romanticises the life of Robert Stroud; the second is Al Capone, who was transferred there in 1934 in an effort to isolate him from the outside world.
There are, however, third and fourth characters, James “Whitey” Bulger, who is still a fugitive wanted by the FBI and Clarence Carnes, his friend. Bulger is said to have been the leader of the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American crime family from Boston, Massachusetts.
In 1999, James Joseph Bulger Jr. became the 458th person to be added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for 20 counts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, drug trafficking, extortion, money-laundering and distribution of narcotics. Only the most conservative could not fail to disagree that this list is less than impressive.
The Examiner wrote of him last August: “[The] 80-year-old South Boston mobster and ex-Alcatraz inmate is America’s most wanted fugitive” and that, if you know of his whereabouts, the FBI will “give you a cool $2 million” if you inform on him. One thing’s for sure: he has not, unlike Premership Jen, been spotted at the bar just yet.
“Whitey” apparently paid to have the body of one of Alcatraz prison’s most infamous inmates exhumed, his old prison buddy Clarence Carnes, from a pauper’s grave, rented a Lincoln Continental and was said to have been liberally tipping everyone in pristine $100 bills, and brought it home for a proper burial in Eastern Oklahoma.
Carnes, better known as “The Choctaw Kid”, was the youngest prisoner ever sent to Alcatraz and was the sole survivor of the prison’s deadliest escape attempt, the 1946 “Blastout”, which resulted in seven deaths.
Bulger left Alcatraz after three years and spent time at Leavenworth and Lewisburg before being released in 1965. But back in Boston, he emerged from a brutal Irish gangland war to head the Winter Hill Gang, who are perhaps best known for fixing horse races in the north-eastern United States.
But another part of Bulger’s life is somewhat oblique: when he was banged up in Atlanta, he voluntarily took LSD as part of a research program in exchange for a reduction in time. It may well have been that time became the reduction of him, because he is said to have passed a hacksaw blade to three cons in an escape plot, but was caught and sent to Alcatraz in 1959. Acid, then, didn’t quite have the same effect on James Bulger as it had on Syd Barrett.
It may come as a surprise, excluding movie buffs, that Bulger is reputed to have been the inspiration behind Jack Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning crime thriller The Departed, also starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.
No one we have asked has admitted to knowing the film very well, but it does seem to contain parodies of narrative, as when Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello) delivers the line: “When you decide to be something, you can be it. That’s what they don’t tell you in the church. When I was your age they would say we can become cops or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”
It is, of course, a hoax of the imagination, we know, but the tie-in between St. Patrick’s Day parties, parades and festivals, the one being held in Alcatraz GoGo — which is predicted to be vast, wild, drunken and well attended — and Whitey’s appearance, may not be as tenuous as you think.
The day celebrates St. Patrick’s death, another character shrouded by enigma as not much is really known about Ireland’s green saint, other than he was born in Britain into a wealthy Romano-British family in the 4th century and that at the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave.
According to his confession, he was told by god in a dream to flee from his captivity. He did, and returned in 432 to “christianise” the Irish from their native polytheism.
With some faint glimmer of hope, Bulger, who has been sighted in Europe, and is hiding in Canada according to a report by the US authorities, may decide, however delusional this may seem at face value, to come to Thailand.
As yet, there has been no firm evidence to support the theory of him making a cameo appearance, but he’s a history lover and enjoys recounting his days in Alcatraz, so there’s a rare chance he might make a dash for it on the night.
As Frank Costello says in the film, “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be a product of me.” With or without Bulger, Alcatraz will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on 17th of next month in some style.
Brief history of prisons, Foucault’s discipline and why Alcatraz never worked
Monday February 14th 2011, 1:43 pm
Filed under: News
At Alcatraz, inmates ended up at the Rock because they refused to play by rules set out for them in other federal penitentiaries. But what were the “rules” and why did they never work?
Up until the 17th century, prisoners were incarcerated mainly for debt. In those days, in Britain at least, the idea of incarceration had not yet occurred to anyone as a particularly smart idea because the usual sentence for those found guilty of crimes was death. Then, in 1615, Thomas More’s “Utopia” suggested a proposal for imprisonment as an alternative.
At this time, about half the prisons were privately owned and rented out to sub-contractors. Newgate prison in London, for instance, dating from as early as 1130, was a commercial enterprise administered by a “warden”.
In 1682, the Duke of York, later to become James II of England, handed over a large chunk of his American holdings to William Penn. This land included the present-day Pennsylvania. On hearing the news, Penn sailed to America and the colonists pledged allegiance to him as their new proprietor after he had journeyed upriver and founded the Province of Pennsylvania. Under his direction, the city of Philadelphia was planned and developed.
At that time, Philadelphia had become the epicentre of prison reform worldwide. Penn was a Quaker and had been incarcerated in England for his beliefs, so he abolished the Duke of York’s “criminal code”, and repealed the death penalty for all crimes except murder, and instead punished individuals with imprisonment and hard labour.
However, Quakers were not known for their progressive liberalism, and the law also called for severe penalties for sexual offences such as “defiling the marriage bed”, whatever one believes that to mean. This was punishable by whipping plus a year’s sentence for the first offence, then life imprisonment for the second.
Anyway, the first American Penitentiary, which consisted only of cell blocks, was constructed by the name of the Walnut Street Jail (incidentally, the use of the word “penitentiary” comes from the Pennsylvania Quakers and their belief in self-examination and penitence as a way to salvation). Not by defilement, either. The jail’s construction was completed at the end of the 18th century, transforming it into the first American Penitentiary.
At that time, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush and others organised a movement to reform the harsh penal code. The new law substituted public labour for the previous severe punishments. Reaction against the public display of convicts on the streets and the “disgraceful conditions” in the Walnut Street jail led to the formation of the Philadelphia Society. The next year, it presented to the state legislature an account of their investigations into prison conditions and recommended solitary confinement and hard labour as a “remedy” and reformative strategy.
But it was Michel Foucault who wrote about the eighteenth century as the age that brought about techniques of discipline and examination, rather as the Middle Ages thought about judicial investigation. This, he said, was an authoritarian device for the “search for truth”, where sovereign powers arrogated themselves the right to establish these so-called “truths” to better administer “justice” by a number of regulatory techniques.
It wasn’t humanism that changed things, it was the call of eighteenth-century reformers to not take revenge and, as such, during this period, crimes seemed to lose their violence while punishments lost some of their intensity.
By then, society had shifted from one that punished the “criminality of blood” to the “criminality of fraud”, which formed a whole new complex mechanism that placed a higher “moral value” on property. The authorities therefore instituted much stricter methods of surveillance, a tighter partitioning of the population and more efficient techniques of locating and obtaining information. In the 21st century, this has accelerated to alarming proportions.
In effect, in its apparent justification to “rectify” the mechanisms of discipline that characterise jail, was to get at the problem of understanding the criminal mind behind the criminal act and to administer punishment that was corrective; a therapy to normalise, measure, assess, diagnose, cure and transform individuals.
In those days in France, the Ministry of the Colonies is quoted as saying: “Beyond this distribution of roles operates a theoretical disavowal: do not imagine that the sentences that we judges pass are activated by a desire to punish; they are intended to correct, reclaim, cure…” Society and prison now differ only in degree, where self-discipline is the accepted norm, even when applied to the mildest of transgressions.
At Alcatraz, inmates ended up at the Rock because they refused to play by the rules set out for them in other federal penitentiaries. After stepping off the boat, prisoners were greeted by a team of corrections officers who explained the strict regulations of the prison. For example, in the early years, prisoners were only permitted to talk to one another during weekend recreation time.
A set of Institution Regulations was issued to the inmates who were required to keep it in their cells at all times, which included the recommendation for clemency which required they should show better than average good conduct and good work records for several years at the institution and that loafing, loitering, visiting, or unauthorised absence from work would result in disciplinary action, and may result in loss of the inmate’s job, and withholding of, or forfeiture of, good time.
Foucault also argued that a “carceral continuum” runs through modern society, from the maximum security prison, through secure accommodation, probation, social workers, police, and teachers, to our everyday working and domestic lives. All are connected by the supervision, surveillance, application of norms of acceptable behaviour of some humans by others.
It has to be said that society is being increasingly controlled but it is really a question of results. The results of the prison system very rarely coincide with the aim, and the objective of correctional prisons such as Alcatraz, America’s premier maximum-security prison and the final stop for the nation’s most incorrigible inmates, and that of imprisonment itself as a means of “improving the individual”, has never been achieved.
A Celebration of Valentine’s Day Happy Hour in Alcatraz
Thursday February 03rd 2011, 12:52 pm
Filed under: News
On 14th February, flowers are exchanged between those addicted to it, but its origins, narcissistically, are one of legend: St. Valentine sent the first card to himself in prison. Conveniently, so did Al Capone, after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the 14th February to commemorate the anniversary of St. Valentine’s death, which is said to have been around 270 AD. But the history of this day remains shrouded in legend. Let’s be fair, all anyone knows about him is next to nothing. The man was said to be a martyred saint of ancient Rome, whose birthday is still celebrated, even in the 21st century.
Grimly or joyously, however one cares to measure it, in ancient Rome February was the month of springtime and therefore a time for “purification”. It also corresponded with the ides of February (in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s March), when everyone that had enough stamina for an event that celebrated the “fertility festival”, dedicated to Faunus (the Roman god of agriculture), as well as to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, had a good time. One can only dizzily imagine what went on.
Anyway, one of the many stories of St. Valentine is that in the third century, in a city where Romulus and Remus still held some sway and when Claudius II was emperor, Claudius declared that single men “made better soldiers than married ones”. So he decreed, senselessly, that the marriage of young soldiers would henceforth be outlawed.
Meanwhile, Valentine got wind of this and was said to have been so outraged he began performing clandestine marriages himself. Tricky, because Claudius, being the wily chap he was, found out. Claudius then put St. Valentine to death.
The thing that pissed Claudius off the most was that he was unable to convince Valentine that he should convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. The people wondered why. Maybe he did too. But Claudius, the intellectual, executed him anyway. Perhaps a bit harsh, especially when just prior to his death he performed a “miracle” by healing the blind daughter of his jailer. Supine, anomalously and unsentimentally, he wrote: “From your Valentine”.
Crap line for sure but according to various truths of legend, St. Valentine’s Day has always had “no connections whatsoever with sentimental love”. Another man, much later on, who enjoyed the same elevated view of himself, and definitely lacked any concept of sentimental love whatsoever, was Al Capone.
Tragically, or even less so, Al Capone once conceded that, without even considering the double entendre he was making, Alcatraz had “got me licked”.
Al Capone, as we all know, was no saint: he had syphilis and died of it in 1947. But while in Alcatraz prison he had it largely his own way: he boasted of expensive furnishings like personal bedding and a carpeted cell, a radio that was enjoyed by many of the guards, and housed his friends and family in a nearby hotel.
By 1929 Al Capone’s empire was worth over $62,000,000 — impressive even to the likes of Bernie Madoff, who won’t be released until he is 210 years old. This self-made gangster-millionaire was indeed a serious player. But more importantly, for this story at least, he was credited with what is deemed one of the most famous mass-murder in American history: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
The crafty little sod made the authorities take almost five years before he was finally convicted in 1931 for tax fraud. Maybe parliamentarians should take note of this: Alphonse Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison for ripping of the state and the judge refused to allow him to be released on “bail”. Bail, in the Alcatraz context has a vastly different and far more pleasurable connotation.
But, getting back to the courtier: Around the seventeenth century, Valentine’s Day in Britain started to be celebrated in earnest. It is believed, because it was also the beginning of the mating season for birds, which heralded in the springtime of romance, that greetings cards were sent to one’s lover. Perhaps on the behalf of a strutting peacock. Failure to do so was frowned upon in quiet society in those days — especially by Mick Jagger.
Prosaically enough though, a century later, ready-made greetings cards have become extremely popular: today the Greeting Card Association estimates that around a billion Valentine’s cards are sent every year. And we wonder how all the world’s post offices have gone bust.
Finally, to coincide with the Day of Love, execution, unfortunate diseases and the inconsistency of legend, Alcatraz is at last lowering the price of its Carlsberg draft to Bt60 — incidentally, the only bar in Walking Street to sell it — during Happy Hour between 8-10pm.