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Alcatraz alumni

San Francisco, Aug. 10 (Reuters): Fifty years ago they were seeking ways to escape, but yesterday some former inmates of Alcatraz, older and possibly wiser, returned for a reunion on the legendary island prison.

“The longer you are away from a place the softer the memories become,” said John Banner, an 80-year-old former bank robber who served four years in the prison that came to be known as “the rock” in San Francisco Bay in the 1950s.

Banner spent about half his life in and out of prison before reforming for good, marrying and raising a family. But he said time could not erase all the unpleasant memories of being locked up. There were the monotonous days, the ice cold showers, and the razors that were so sharp they “cut your face up terribly whenever you tried to shave,” he said.

Before it was romanticised by Hollywood in the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz and opened as a federal park, Alcatraz was a tough prison for hundreds of hardened criminals, including mobster Al Capone.

Some 36 inmates did attempt escape over the 29 years between 1934 and 1969 that Alcatraz was a prison, but most were recaptured, or shot and killed in the process.

Space vows

Pavlivka (Ukraine) (Reuters): His “space wedding” on Sunday might land cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko in the record books, but it has upset his parents, who only found out about his unorthodox nuptials at the last minute from a friend. The news that Malenchenko, 41-year-old commander of the International Space Station, was to marry his earth-bound bride some 380 km away later on Sunday, took his parents Nina and Ivan by surprise. “We do not understand this. It’s strange because the groom will not be at his own wedding,” Nina Malenchenko said.“Now everyone will know the two Yuris — Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Yuri Malenchenko, the first man to marry in space,” his father said.

Bird watch

Chicago (Reuters): Chicago had an unexpected visitor this week, when bird watchers on the city’s lakefront spotted a rare black-tailed gull believed to have begun its journey in Japan. The bird was spotted shortly after dawn on Friday on a city beach overlooking Lake Michigan, the Chicago Tribune reported. By 1 pm local time, birders from as far as away as Illinois had gathered to get a glimpse of the rare gull.


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