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Article Alcatraz

America's most notorious prison

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Alcatraz
Inserted: 10.08.2023
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com
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Alcatraz is a small island in San Francisco Bay that has become known as a prison for the worst criminals in the United States. Because of its notoriety, this prison has also appeared in several well-known films.

In the middle of the island, a sprawling building serving as a military prison was built in 1910–12 on the site next to a mid-19th-century fort. In 1934, the prison was taken over by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, rebuilt again, and subsequently converted into a maximum security prison. The country's most dangerous criminals were housed here. The prison was known for its strict discipline and harsh conditions. The prisoners were isolated from the outside world and were under constant surveillance

The prison was in operation until 1963 and during that time over 1,500 prisoners passed through it. Alcatraz's most famous inmates included Al Capone, Robert „Birdman“ Stroud, and George „Machine Gun“ Kelly.

A tour of the famous prison

Today, Alcatraz is a tourist attraction with millions of people visiting it every year. The prison is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm and, despite the $45 entry fee, there is such demand to visit that tickets must be reserved in advance.
The trip to Alcatraz begins at pier number 33, where the port terminal is located. From there, visitors are transported to the island by boat. The cruise is less than three km long and takes about 15 minutes. After arriving on the island, tourists can freely walk around the island and view the prison and the entire campus. Individual audio guides are used to give them a good understanding of life on the island. It's a great way to learn about the history of the prison and the lives of both the prisoners and the guards.
In Alcatraz, there was a very strict regime enforced by harsh punishments, and many prisoners compared their stay here to hell. In the American prison system, the motto was „Break the law and you go to prison, break the prison law and you go to Alcatraz!“ Prisoners were entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Anything else was considered a privilege they had to earn.

A tour of the famous prison
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com

A large prison building

The main prison building consists of four cell blocks, a dining hall, a kitchen, a control room, wardens' offices, a visiting room, a library and other auxiliary spaces. The cells were placed in three floors above each other. There are showers, changing rooms and storage rooms in the basement, and a prison hospital was located on the upper floor. There were 336 cells in total, but they were never all occupied. The average number of prisoners was 260.
You can freely walk through most of the premises, listen to the interpretation from borrowed headphones and even enter several prison cells.

A large prison building
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com
Small cells
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com

Small cells

For safety reasons, the cells were built so that none of them adjoined the outer wall. Each cell was intended for only one prisoner and measured 2.7 × 1.5 meters. The entire front part facing the corridor was without a wall, only closed by a massive lattice. A simple bed was placed so that the head was right next to the bars, so that the prisoners could be easily controlled even at night. Next to the bed was a small table with a seat, and on the back wall was a toilet with a sink and shelves. There was also a small ventilation shaft here, but it could not prevent the strong smell from the toilet, which flushed with sea water.

Dining room

A dining room with a kitchen is located at the northwest end of the building. The large dining hall was one of the few places where the prisoners could meet each other. Interestingly, the quality of the food here was said to be very good and the prisoners were allowed to eat as much food as they wanted. It was said to be to prevent a prison riot. Nevertheless, it was not always possible to prevent riots. Several guards were even killed during them.
Food was served three times a day, and at the end of each 20-minute meal in the mess hall, forks, spoons and knives were laid out on the table and carefully counted to ensure nothing was taken as a potential weapon. The mess hall was a risky place from a security point of view, so it had tear gas tanks attached to the ceiling that could be activated by remote control if the prisoners rioted or tried to escape. A metal detector was placed in front of the dining room for security reasons.
On the wall we can still see the breakfast menu from March 21, 1963, the day the prison was closed and the last prisoners were taken to other facilities. The menu included cereal, steamed whole wheat, scrambled eggs, milk, steamed fruit, toast, bread and butter. There were tables and benches, each for six people. However, these are nowadays replaced by an exhibition of photographs and stories of the most famous prisoners.

Dining room
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com
Prison Breaks
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com

Prison Breaks

Located on an island in the middle of the cold waters of San Francisco Bay, the prison was nearly impossible to escape. Nevertheless, a total of 34 daredevils attempted it. Two of them even twice. Nothing is known about the fate of five of them, it is assumed that they drowned. The others were all caught.
A part of the exhibition is devoted to the curious escape method of the three prisoners. On the night of June 11, 1962, three prisoners placed paper models of heads in their cells, crawled through holes dug out of the cells into the ventilation shaft, climbed onto the roof, and descended the chimney outside the prison building. From there they crept ashore. Here they put a makeshift raft on the water, which they had made from rubber raincoats, and set sail. They have not been seen since. A special section of the exhibition is dedicated to this escape, including the opportunity to see the cells of the refugees with models of heads and holes in the walls.

A huge seagull nest

On the southern slope of the island, a former show yard, today an extensive nesting ground for birds, which, thanks to the absence of predators, have an undisturbed paradise. It is home to one of the largest gull colonies on the Northern California coast.

A huge seagull nest
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com

Indian occupation of the island

A huge hand-scrawled sign „Indian Land“ can be seen above the port. It is a memory of an interesting episode in the history of the island. In November 1969, a group of Indians occupied the island and made a number of demands to the government. The Indians were of different tribes and had different demands. Some demanded the return of Alcatraz Island, which was traditional Native American territory in the past. Others demanded the right to self-determination and the return of other Indian territories. Indians also demanded an end to discrimination against Indians by the US government. The Indian occupation of Alcatraz lasted 19 months and was ended only after the intervention of the police.

Indian occupation of the island
Author: Martin Javorský © gigaplaces.com
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