By Adam Kol
I visited Alcatraz for the first time recently, with my family. After a brief boat ride across the choppy blue bay on a warm San Francisco day, we entered the island that housed the infamous prison. The audio tour guided us to the first cellblock. Tiny spaces. White concrete. No decoration. I stepped inside of a solitary confinement cell. What jarring experiences. My sister and I remarked on how we certainly didn’t want to find ourselves in a place like that!
Alcatraz stirred up many thoughts and feelings. Perhaps the first was my conviction that the only justification for incarceration is public safety. Beyond that, confining prisoners’ bodies and minds troubles me. However, at least juries had convicted Alcatraz inmates; these inmates allegedly had done something harmful to others—something negative to society. While many prisoners simply do not deserve incarceration, we could at least conceivably argue that there was a reason for those in Alcatraz to be there.
Even today, there are many more prisoners trapped in perhaps even worse conditions—living out tortured existences in great fear, in ill health, and in small cells. Their only crime is being different, having been born a different species than we were. Some believe this permits us to imprison them, exploiting them for our desires. We treat them this way not for public safety, but unnecessarily—and therefore, unforgivably.
They are a cow in a bloody slaughterhouse, a dog in an unforgiving puppy mill, a chimpanzee held captive in a zoo, a rat injected in a lab, and so many more individuals.
While inmates at Alcatraz had the possibility of parole, it is almost never so for the animals. Most of them are born in jail, or at least thrust in there as babies— torn from their mothers and injected into the penitentiary that prepares them for their impending, imminent, inevitable execution.
I truly hope there is an afterlife so that these innocent individuals can finally enjoy themselves, crossing the rainbow bridge to a place where all animals live safe, happy, and free; but as best as I can tell, they begin as frightened infants, in the middle become miserable orphans, and end with their throats slit.
All they have is right now, this life. We cannot quietly watch others steal it from them. We can no longer tacitly allow ourselves to perpetuate this atrocity– an atrocity the scale of hundreds of thousands of Alcatrazes. We must be their voice. Speak up and out.
Until every animal is free.