A Night At The Rock
October 14, 2013 5:28 PM   Subscribe

"For 29 years, Alcatraz — the notorious prison off the coast of San Francisco — housed some of the nation's worst criminals: Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Birdman Robert Stroud. Today, 50 years after it closed, it's a museum. And earlier this year, the National Park Service gave Bill Baker, a former inmate, special permission to stay the night in his old cell. He was 24 when he was transferred to The Rock. Today, he's 80." (I can't link to it directly, but the audio is worth listening to)
posted by HuronBob (11 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The tree story really bothers him still. That really brings home for me what it must mean to be confined.
posted by thelonius at 6:02 PM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

He's braver than I'd be, I think, to spend the night where I had been imprisoned for three years.
posted by gingerest at 6:05 PM on October 14, 2013

I wonder how the reporter found out about this guy. Great story, Huron Bob.
posted by Diablevert at 6:10 PM on October 14, 2013

I see a link to the audio from your page, HuronBob. It's

posted by blob at 6:32 PM on October 14, 2013

Sadly, he stayed the night on the eve of the shutdown and now the ferry isn't running...
posted by maryr at 7:30 PM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Aparently, former Alcatraz resident Whitey Bulger also visited. In his case, while on the run.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:02 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I heard this on NPR today, and it was a very powerful story. The tree thing was really moving and sad, and the ending in particular had me misty-eyed. Great work by Ms. Sullivan.
posted by gemmy at 8:39 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Sticherbeast at 8:40 PM on October 14, 2013

gemmy, thanks for that comment. I've posted links to NPR pieces a number of times, I've neglected, however, to credit the reporter responsible... I need to do a better job with that aspect of my posts in the future...
posted by HuronBob at 8:57 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I had my older brain with my younger body...

Oh so true.

Did the Alcatraz thing as a tourist (natch) some 35 or so years ago. It still haunts me whenever I see it or read about it.

Thank you HB.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:17 PM on October 14, 2013

"But see I know I'm leaving here tomorrow. I'm a short timer. I can count the hours down now," he said, sounding like he was trying to reassure himself.

It's not reassurance.

How would you feel if I told you that tomorrow morning, everything you've dreamed about for the last few years- well not everything, but everything you truly, desperately dreamed about- will come true?

I've never been married, but I've been to prison; and the night before you get out is what I imagine its like the night before your wedding. This article has released a flood of memories and emotions, and that night feels almost like it was last night, even though it was over a decade ago. You've imagined & idealized freedom for so long that it has become this perfected version of itself. The international prototype- like the difference between knowing a meter is 3 feet and change, and that actual platinum meter-long bar they have in France or whatever. True freedom: everything you've missed, everything you've craved, everything you've wanted to do- everything you've wanted to be- for all of those days and weeks and months and years... it's all going to come true. It's been so long that many of those things have become dreams or myths. You've subconsciously made them half-fictional in order to lessen the pain of their absence. But as soon as you wake up tomorrow morning, they will be real and waiting for you. One by one, then all at once, they all rush back to you. Your favorite food. Your favorite drug. You're going to have a Christmas tree. You're going to have a dog. You're going to play with your kids as long as you want in your own home. You'll wear whatever clothes you want, you'll go to bed when you want- same thing for eating, showering, and all the rest. You can do anything, because you'll be free.

And now, the flip side. My life today is radically different than I imagined it would be on the day of my release from prison. In some ways better, in other ways worse. Do I really have the same passion for life & possibility that I did on that day? Did I really take advantage of all that freedom had to offer?

Imagine being 80 years old and asking yourself those questions.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:49 PM on October 14, 2013 [34 favorites]

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