Sitting in front of his photograph of Cell Block C while holding the book, “Alcatraz, The Gangster Years” is Spring Valley resident Anthony Calabrese who will be providing a slide presentation and lecture on "The Rock" at 7 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 23, at the Spring Valley Public Library.
Sitting in front of his photograph of Cell Block C while holding the book, “Alcatraz, The Gangster Years” is Spring Valley resident Anthony Calabrese who will be providing a slide presentation and lecture on "The Rock" at 7 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 23, at the Spring Valley Public Library.
Photographer Anthony Calabrese of Spring Valley has captured the etchings of time preserved in the brick walls of the dungeon cell under D Block of "the country's most notorious prison." These photographs intrigue readers to discover the intimate relationship of the men, staff and inmates whose lives were forever changed by an experience of Alcatraz.

The photos are included in the book, "Alcatraz, The Gangster Years," by David Ward released earlier this year by the University of California Press and is bound for college bookstores because it sheds light on a "maximum-security, minimum-privilege" institution where isolating and controlling the activities of inmates proved to be an effective means of executing a punishment reflecting a desire to hold prisoners accountable for their crimes.

"Alcatraz, The Gangster Years" offers a documented collection of historically accurate accounts of the prison staff and the inmates incarcerated.

Ward, a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, dedicates over five pages of his book to acknowledge those whose research and contribution draw readers through its 500 pages. He openly contributes credit to his longtime collaborator, Gene Kassebaum. To Renee Ward, his wife, editor and secretary, he writes "...her assistance, judgment, and support were indispensable. Like a long-term convict she's seeking release after staying with this project (and with me) throughout the many years of its execution, manuscript preparation, and numerous revisions. She now deserves to do easier time."

Recognizing the important role of research assistants, the second individual mentioned (just after Judge Philip D. Bush of Hennepin County) is Spring Valley resident Anthony Calabrese, recently retired from the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Rochester.

Of Calabrese, Ward writes that he "worked longer and on more phases of this project than any other person." He also mentions the technical duties Calabrese performed (during the late '70s and into the mid '80s) in coding inmate files, establishing effective relations with former prisoners and employees, and undertaking "exhaustive photographic documentation of the prison."

Ward adds, "Tony is a recognized expert on Alcatraz in Minnesota. His work for most of a year at minimum wage, paid by the author after federal funds were exhausted, was a measure of his commitment to this project."

After receiving the hard cover copy of "Alcatraz, The Gangster Years" with the photograph he had taken on the front cover as well as many of his other photos published in the book, Calabrese presented the book to his father in appreciation for all the years this great man has supported his endeavors.

Responding to this act of gratitude, Calabrese's father describes this son as, "A good man who has a particular talent in capturing a moment in a picture. If he gets involved in something," says Carl, Sr., "he goes at it full bore, always keeping abreast of new technology. We are very pleased with the way he has dedicated himself to his family and his work. He actually loved photography and completed his studies, always involved in projects of interest. We are very proud of him."

Calabrese is the third of five children born to Carl and Joan Calabrese. His formative years were spent in the Twin Cities, where his love for photography began to grow. As a young child his interest in photography allowed him to get his first camera after taking numerous photographs with his parents' camera.

"I always found photography to be a unique way to capture and interpret time, events and locals." said Calabrese, "During high school, I learned the art of darkroom development and printing and worked on the school newspaper and yearbook. In 1967, I was given five minutes for a portrait session with a very congenial and cooperative Hubert Humphrey prior to a speaking engagement."

While Calabrese can still see the spirit and warmth of Mr. Humphrey, who gave a young photographer his full attention, a malfunctioning film canister resulted in a ruined set of photographs.

Tragic as it was at that time, Calabrese was gifted with being at the right place at the right time and went on to photograph many famous people in years to come. The first significant event he photographed was a very large civil rights march in Washington, D.C., in June of 1968 under the shadow of the Washington monument.

After completing a double major in sociology and studio arts (with an emphasis in photography) at St. Mary's in Winona and meeting his lovely wife, Sharanne, Calabrese returned to the Cities for his masters degree at the University of Minnesota.

Sharanne remembers, "It was a special day for me when I discovered someone with my passion for the aesthetic. Both of us have actively cultivated the aesthetic and have a strong interest in the arts - studio and performing."

"While in graduate school in the Twin Cities, I worked hard to network within the photographic community. A goal of mine was to spend as much time as possible at the Minneapolis Art Institute and the Film in the Cities Gallery, attend lectures, view other photographers' works and learn as much as possible about the art of photography. I spent a week working as an assistant to the Master Printer of landscape photography, Ansel Adams, refining and improving my darkroom printing techniques," Calabrese added.

During this same time in his life, he continued to undertake freelance photographic assignments and various photographic documentation projects involving the world of the Minneapolis Police Department, the rock music industry, professional wrestling, plus Minnesota landscapes and bridges.

It was during his time in graduate school that Calabrese met Professor Ward. Working as his teaching assistant for numerous criminology and corrections courses, they quickly struck up a friendship, which continues to this day.

"Over time, I also began working with Professor Ward as a research assistant on various projects," stated Calabrese. "I was thrilled when he asked me if I would be interested in serving as a project assistant of his recently funded Alcatraz follow up study."

Knowing it would be a chance to research the most well known prison in the world, there was no way he could pass up that opportunity.

"Alcatraz penitentiary had closed in May of 1963, so time was becoming short to document the stories of surviving inmates and staff members," he added.

In addition to cataloging the voluminous documents retrieved from the national archives for the project and reviewing box after box of Alcatraz inmate files, Calabrese also had the opportunity to travel on the Alcatraz project.

Reviewing documentation on the parole experiences of Alcatraz inmates and following their eventual release to the free world took Calabrese to Washington, D.C., Kansas City, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco.

"On occasion, when traveling, I was able to locate former Alcatraz inmates and former staff members who were typically receptive to being interviewed for the study. I was also pleased to escort a number of former inmates back to 'The Island' to record their reminiscences while revisiting 'The Rock'," he said. "I found that the Alcatraz experience, for both staff and prisoners, was a major, life changing experience. Sitting down one-on-one with former inmates and staff members for many hours of taped interviews was a very poignant, impacting experience for me."

In recalling those interviews, Calabrese comments, "These were older men reflecting on their lives, life choices, and the ramifications of those choices. I felt that many saw the interviews as an opportunity to contribute to setting the record straight on what the Alcatraz experience was all about. Professor Ward was very supportive of my interest in combining photographic inquiry with more traditional research methods and allowed me ample time on trips to San Francisco to photograph Alcatraz."

Calabrese added, "The days and nights on the island, walking and taking photographs, never lasted long enough and left me with a profound sense of the history concerning the island of Alcatraz and the people whose lives were entwined with the island's lore."

His wife, Sharanne, adds, "Tony's involvement with the Alcatraz project was opportune and formative. It was a rare composite of Tony's two lifelong passions - photography and corrections."

When working on the Alcatraz project and interacting with former Alcatraz employees, Calabrese noticed a consistent theme of pride concerning their careers.

He remarked, "All seemed pleased to have contributed to an important mission within the United States Department of Justice. When it was time for me to shift from graduate school to a full-time job, I too, was drawn to pursuing a career in public service and had the privilege of working for nearly 25 years at the Rochester Federal Medical Center."

A recent retiree, Calabrese understood that during those working years, his focus needed to be on family and career. He is now beginning the next chapter of his life where he hopes to again spend more time pursuing photography as well as other interests.

The interests occupying Calabrese's free time since his retirement in August of 2009 include serving as a high school cross-country assistant coach, fishing and astronomy. He also enjoys traveling with his wife, Sharanne, to the sporting events of their children, Nicole and Carl, as well as being in touch with his parents.

Calabrese believes he has had the good fortune to have two mentors during his lifetime. "One is my father and the other is Dave Ward, both are men of incredible integrity."

Calabrese added, "My father modeled for me what it meant to be committed to one's career and, more importantly, what it meant to be a father. Since meeting Dave Ward in the mid 1970s, he has been unconditionally supportive of my academic, personal and professional endeavors. Both men have always been there for me."

Arts has always been a top priority in the Calabrese family. Sharanne explained, "Tony and I, because of our shared enthusiasm for the arts, found it easy to encourage our children to participate in artistic endeavors. We were proud that our kids participated in the musical and theatrical opportunities that Kingsland offered. Our kids are creative problem solvers because of our encouragement to be active in the arts."

Calabrese's children, Nicole and Carl, mostly remember their father as their personal sports photographer as they climbed the ladders of success in the fields of cross-country and track at the high school and collegiate level.

Nicole, who is finishing up her studies at Wartburg is impressed that her father is passionate about his experiences with Alcatraz, saying that "his eyes light up when he talks about it and a variety of other interests he has."

She is also impressed with his work ethic. "Monday through Friday for many years, my dad got up at 5:18 a.m. to go to work every day. He worked hard in the federal prison system and Carl and I saw that and we both apply that work ethic to specific areas in our lives."

Carl said, "He is the best father I could ask for. He is very supportive, and his whole life evolves around making sure that his family is happy. Over the years he's hardly missed any of my or Nicole's sporting events, and has always done his best to help us through rough times. He was never a man for much fanfare about himself, always other people centered, especially his family! He seems to have a positive impact on anyone he talks to and is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. He's a great man, and an even better father."

Nicole continued, "Something Dad ALWAYS says, 'No matter what, I support whatever decisions you make 100 percent.' Obviously, this is true. No matter what, he ALWAYS puts family before anything else, even himself. Now that he is retired, I hope he can finally take time for himself. He would take vacation time to watch Carl and me compete. If I need ANYTHING, rides to the doctor or home from Waverly, he will do whatever it takes to get me what I need. He has sacrificed so much to give my mom, Carl and myself a good life and I recognize that."

Carl recalled " I went to a presentation on Alcatraz at the library a few years back, and I remember being most impressed with my dad's ability to connect to the crowd to whom he was speaking. They seemed to hang on his every word; he just seemed to have an aura about him that caused people to want to listen."

Calabrese will be presenting a program at the Spring Valley Public Library on Friday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m.

"The staff at the library are very excited to be able to offer such an excellent presentation on Alcatraz," shared library director Dianne Swenson-Sikkink. "I've seen Tony's magnificent slides and heard him tell of this penitentiary's historical importance and was so impressed with this special presentation."

The presentation is open to the public at no charge. His 90-minute program will be featured after regular library hours.

"We hope many people are able to join us in the Fireside Room on the 23rd," added Swenson-Sikkink.