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Devils Island As American politicians embrace a continually tougher stance on crime -- demanding longer sentences and tougher conditions in the belief that such measures will cure the problem of crime we might want to reflect back on the toughest penal colony of all time Devils Island The average American convict takes a perverse pride in having served time in a maximum-security prison To many men it is a rite of passage just as having served in combat is a rite of passage for others Yet no American prison has ever been as tough as Devils Island The most infamous prison in history it was a desolate place of exile in French Guiana Devils Island was actually a small island off the coast of French Guiana but the main prisons on the mainland over time became known collectively as Devils Island Just as we have school children and adults who have never heard of Hiroshima there are many more who have never heard of this most dreaded of all prisons During its existence as a penal colony 1884-1946 more than 56000 prisoners were transported to French Guiana from France Of this number perhaps one-fourth returned to France Many of those who evaded death in the jungle camps did so by escape--a feat that became increasingly difficult as the years passed At first the neighboring government of Dutch Guiana provided sanctuary to those who successfully crossed the piranha-infested Moroni River Later as a result of atrocities committed by bagnards the prison was referred to as the bagne the Dutch administration adopted a firm policy of returning all Devils Islanders except those of German nationality a policy instituted by Hitler on his accession to power in 1933 Thousands of the less imaginative convicts persisted in crossing to the Dutch side in an attempt to escape down the Moengo Road to Paramaribo the only passageway through the dense jungle Catching these convicts proved
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