What better place for a Rock Reunion than the island known as THE Rock? With Bill Geist now we set sail:
Alumni of a renowned San Francisco institution recently cruised to a rather remarkable reunion, on the Isle of Alcatraz.
Former guards, inmates and their families were invited to return to the fabled prison -- celebrated in a dozen or more films, and once home to crime superstars Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly and, of course, Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz. "Nobody met him -- he was in solitary confinement," noted returning inmate Robert Luke, Class of '59.
"I robbed the bank with a machine gun. So I got two 10-year sentences," said Luke.
Guard George DeVincenzi (Class of '58) said, "My first day -- my first assignment, the first hour Monday morning -- I was in a murder in the barber shop. The customer getting his hair cut jumps out of the chair and the barber goes after him with a pair of 7-inch barber shears. Gets him in the throat and the heart and the lungs, and me like a damn fool blowing a whistle trying to separate 'em!"
Debbie Townsend is the daughter of an inmate: "My dad was here for 12-and-a-half years, from '47 to '59. And I'm not so much proud of the things he did. But the bottom line is, he was my dad."
Ex-con Bill Baker (Class of 1959): "Everybody who came here came her for breaking rules at other prisons." Baker had gone to jail for stealing a car in Portland, Ore., when he was 18. "I went to prison, stared escaping."
Just like all reunions, they renewed old acquaintances and recalled old times, although here in a more steely setting.
Alcatraz closed in 1963, and aging alums are a vanishing breed. Former reunions used to draw big crowds, but at this one there were but three guards and only two ex-cons. Another alum, the infamous mobster "Whitey" Bulger, had to send his regrets -- he's doing two life terms in Florida.
Guard Jim Albright dressed in his old uniform for the occasion. He remembered Bulger as "fairly quiet and respectful, and polite. His only fault was if you did something he didn't like, he wanted to kill ya'!"
The honored returnees mingled with the thousands of tourists that swarm the island. They listen to audio tours -- and this day, to Robert Luke.
"When that door slams shut behind you the first time, you really know that you're in maybe the last prison, because I'd never heard that sound before," Luke said.