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The foursome on the Rock: cons could keep sanity with The Perfect Game.


Bay Area resident Geoff Capell recently toured Alcatraz Island, former home of the legendary federal penitentiary. Spying some old handball courts in the exercise yard, he let his imagination run wild.

It's Wednesday, Jan. 13, 1951, at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Doesn't really matter what day it is, as our handball game in the yard is set for 12:30 p.m. right after lunch.

Lunch is always from noon to 1 p.m., and we can take it to the yard below the cellblock, where we can eat and visit until the 3 p.m. lockup.

We are in our cells for 21 hours a day. Only the good-behavior guys can go to the exercise yard for three hours each day.

On the Rock, the weather is miserable--cold, windy, foggy, rainy--just horrible out there in the middle of San Francisco Bay. But we don't care, because it's the only time we can get outside.

Every day is the same: same food (which is actually pretty good), same schedule, same dangers, same everything, same nothing.

The only thing we look forward to is our one-wall handball game. Sometimes it's hard to get on the court, and other times it's pretty easy. Bribes always work, especially if you have cigarettes, which will get you at least two uninterrupted games.

In the other part of the yard they have a baseball diamond, two raised shuffleboard courts and three other one-wall courts.

Handballs are hard to come by. Actually, any round thing that bounces halfway decently works, and if you hit it over the wall, you will pay the price.


My partner and I always play The Birdman and Big Al Capone, aka Scarface. Al is a blocking fool on the right side, but never, and I mean never, call a hinder or even roll your eyes. That would be fatal. He does have connections. Double and triple bounces are OK as far as they are concerned. Ace serves are takeovers; they take only the serves they like.

Scarface plays a pretty good game for a 300-pounder, but he has trouble blocking all of the 30-by-40-foot courts.

The Birdman is a different kind of cat. He's the slick left-side player, traps everything, shoots the ball well.

The only way to beat them is to score a lot of points, give them anything and everything they want and make sure they always win. Now that sounds like an oxymoron, but those are the penitentiary rules, and when you're in the pen you play by pen rules.

Well, the horn is blowing, and we are being herded back to our cells. If we didn't have handball we'd have to join the swim team so we could get off this damn rock, but the only thing in our miserable future is that one ray of hope--and that's tomorrow we will again be playing handball.

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Author:Capell, Geoff
Date:Aug 1, 2016
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