This former federal prison was home to some of the worst criminals in the US. Alcatraz was a military prison in 1868 and a federal prison from 1933 to 1963. It was shut down in March 21st 1963 since it was too expensive to operate, and has become a national landmark that people can explore today. You can find Alcatraz on a rocky outcrop within San Francisco Bay. The island may only be 1.5 miles to the mainland but due to the strong currents and cold water temperatures, it’s almost impossible for prisoners to escape. Or so they were told. Another “rumor” is that the surrounding sea is teeming with sharks that circle the island and would attack the prinsoners as soon as they dipped a toe in the water.
“It’s mighty good to get up and leave. This Rock ain’t no good for nobody.”
Frank Weatherman, last con to leave Alcatraz, March 21,1963
The ticket includes the boat there and an audio guide. Guided tours are the best way to learn all about the famous inmates (including Al Capone), prison breaks and general history on the island. On the island you have several tours hosted by the rangers, that can provide you with some historical context. We wanted to find out more about the escapes and we were lucky to catch the tour regarding that. I would suggest booking your ticket here, wayyy in advance as it can get quite busy. If you are visiting during the summer, book your ferry early, as it gets very full!
Since this was my second time visiting Alcatraz, I wanted to take the night tour. Unfortunately they were making some improvements and this was not available due to the renovations. 🙁 Still, I enjoyed the guided tour again. It is so awesome, since the former guards and inmates are whispering into your ears everything you need to know, making you feel like you are right there, in the middle of the action.
Here’s a peek at what some of the cells were like when the inmates were in them.
Broadway, the central walkway between B and C cell blocks.
And this was the kitchen and cafeteria, with the actual breakfast menu from the last day Alcatraz was open.
In D Block is where the most difficult prisoners were housed. The prisoners held in this block could see the colors of the sunset stream in through the windows facing their cells and those on the top two tiers could even see San Francisco across the Bay. They’d see the city lights at night and could hear the sounds of music and voices on passing boats and ships. One might think the prisoners would have welcomed the reminders of freedom D block offered but in actuality was considered a form of torture to see what they couldn’t have.
“It was all there for you to see… everything I want in my life, and it’s there. It’s a mile and a half away and yet I can’t get to it”
Jim Quillen, inmate from 1942 to 1952
This was one of the solitary confinement cells in D block. The inmates are calling these cells the Hole, as they contained no windows. You can step inside for a few minutes, which goes pitch black. Imagine enduring this for weeks! I couldn’t stay inside for more than a few seconds, it was just so spooky.
There’s also a theater, bookstore, exhibit area, and huge gift shop. When we visited, we found one of the last surviving inmates of Alcatraz in the exhibit area/gift shop. He was there signing his autobiography. William G Baker or inmate #1259, looked like any sweet old grandfather figure at this point, like he couldn’t hurt a fly. I had to pause to remind myself that, in reality, he probably did some pretty bad stuff in his day to get sent to The Rock. After spending most of his life in different prisons, he got government assistance. This led to him saving up enough money to buy the computer he used to write “Alcatraz #1259”. He is now off public assistance, supporting himself, and sitting in the author’s chair at Alcatraz whenever the opportunity arises.
Thinking about doing the Alcatraz Island Tour? Share your thoughts or questions you have in the comments!
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