The debate still rages over whether or not it really was possible to escape from Alcatraz. A great many prisoners certainly tried. Of these, most had their plans foiled. And of those who got out, the majority were quickly recaptured, others were killed while escaping or later found dead. A select few were never heard from again.
Of course, the official line from the Bureau of Prisons was that no one ever escaped. Those who seemed to have gotten away were therefore presumed drowned in the turbulent waters of the bay and/or swept out to sea. One thing is for certain, however, and that is that no one ever tunneled out of Alcatraz. They couldn’t; for it is true to its nickname in that it is made entirely of solid rock!
By contrast, halfway across the bay at its entrance sits the city of San Francisco. World renown for a multitude of reasons, “Frisco”, as it is locally known, sits on a jutting point of land at the south side of the entrance to the bay. It is now much, much bigger than when it was first founded. Not only have its city limits grown through annexation, but also through reclamation.
Apparently, it was early on determined that dredging up mud from the adjacent bay and using it to extend the point of land northward and eastward via the process of reclamation was both more desirable and feasible than it was to keep building further and further south.
But there was one hidden cost upon which no one had figured. This was made painfully evident when the city was rocked by a massive earthquake on April 18, 1906. To this day, it still ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time, measuring an estimated 7.9 on current seismic magnitude scales, with violent shocks punctuating the strong shaking which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds!
Little wonder that the quake was felt from as far north as southern Oregon, all the way south of Los Angeles, and as far inland as central Nevada. Approximately 300,000 or so people were left homeless and devastated, as fires erupted all over the city. Worst of all, estimates at the time put the loss of life at around 700 people. Nowadays, however, the true number is considered more likely to have been three to four times that amount.
The big takeaway from this whole tragedy was that it merely proved once again just how dangerous it is to build on any type of foundation that is not rock solid. It is now known that much of the damage to the city came about as a result of reclaimed mud liquefying during the violent shaking processes brought about by the earthquake. As it liquefied, it simply dissolved underneath the tremendous weight of the city resting upon it.
After the earthquake, around fifty or so local prisoners from the city and county jail were found roaming the streets. They were quickly rounded up and shipped to nearby Fort Alcatraz to be put into the stockade prison there.
Being built upon solid rock, Alcatraz, of course, had sustained only superficial damage as a result of the quake. And Voila! From there came to be the infamous prison we all know about today.
All of this reminded me of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew, chapter 7, verses 24-27:
24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because its foundation was on the rock.
26But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its collapse!”
And there you have it! Whether it is a city, a set of buildings, or a human life, anything built upon shaky ground will always be in danger of collapse. By contrast, anything built upon a solid foundation will invariably be able to sustain even the most furious of life’s assaults!
I leave you with this question. Upon what has your own life been built? Better yet, upon Whom has it been built?! As the hymn writer of old puts it: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand!”
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