Not surprisingly, after the tour, you are dumped out into the prison giftshop. Normally I try to shuffle the boys through these types of shops quickly so as to avoid the inevitable "Moooom, I reaaaally waaannt this!!"
But today, there was an actual ex-inmate of Alcatraz (attempted to rob a bank and then ecaped from community prison) signing a book he wrote about his experiences in the prison. The man looked to be about 80, he reeked of stale cigarette smoke and he was anything but warm. We asked him several questions, all of which he answered with one word answers, never making eye contact but staring at the cuticles on his fingers that he was picking.
"What was it like living here?" "Awful."
"Did you ever end up in Solitary Confinement?" "Yes."
"What was it like?" "Cold."
Sam and I could barely contain our questions.
I heard someone say that he eventually turned his life around after getting out of Alcatraz and was a foster parent to 94 children.
"What allowed you to turn your life around?" I asked.
This was the only time he answered with more than one word. "Had a boss who believed in me."
"Me, too." I said.
I wish I could say that we made eye contact and some sort of understanding passed between us. But he never did look at me and didn't seem to care at all that we had this in common. And I'm sure he was rolling his eyes at me. What did I know about conquering any sort of adversity and turning my life around? He's right. I certainly can't compare anything in my life to his life. But I do know that sometimes all it takes is for one person to believe in you to change your whole life.
More on this in my next blog. In the meantime, I've got pancakes to clean up after.