Reunion at Alcatraz

There is an annual reunion of guards and former inmates at Alcatraz, the famous island prison in San Francisco. This year's reunion was one of the biggest:

Armando Mendoza, 78, was one of seven former inmates, 10 onetime guards and 73 men and women who were children of correctional officers who came back to the island Saturday for the annual Alcatraz alumni reunion.

The gathering -- part nostalgia, part bitter history -- is perhaps one of the strangest alumni gatherings you could find. Ex-guards greeted ex- cons like old friends, people told old stories about the cold weather, others told stories about murders and stabbings, and the warden's daughter recalled how the place was so safe outside the main cell block that Alcatraz families never locked their doors. "This is living history,'' said Ricardo Perez, supervising ranger for the National Park Service. "The public has the chance to hear firsthand accounts of life on the Rock.''

Today, Alcatraz is a tourist attraction with 5,000 visitors a day. I took the TL kid there as a kid and we both were fascinated. The article is particularly worth reading for the story of Mr. Mendoza--originally from East L.A. and sentenced to 30 years without parole in 1957 for drug dealing.

Armando Mendoza, an old man, dressed all in black, a gray mustache, a long ponytail down his back, went back to Alcatraz for the first time in 41 years Saturday morning, moving slowly and carefully from the ferryboat onto the old prison dock, not really sure he wanted to step back into his worst memories.

....He was pardoned by President Nixon in 1970, got a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington and a master's from San Jose State University, and became a mental health professional. He's been married for 22 years, but he kept part of his life -- the Alcatraz part -- secret from his friends and even some of his relatives. Last spring, after reading of the Alcatraz reunion, he decided to return. He drove from his home in Mazatlan, Mexico -- 2,000 miles. "My wife said, 'Are you crazy? What kind of reunion is that? Ex-convicts?' "It's a chapter,'' Mendoza said, "a chapter in a book.''

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