Sin City vs. The Rock

I was all set to write about my trip to Las Vegas when I realized I’d never written about my day trip to Alcatraz. So, Sin City will have to wait. We did have a fantastic visit to Vegas, but I digress.

The Birdman of Alcatraz. The Rock. Escape from Alcatraz – only a few of the many movies made about the maximum security prison and its inmates, even though it closed more than forty years ago. Al Capone is probably its most famous prisoner, but “Machine Gun” Kelly and other criminals who were considered “incorrigible” also called Alcatraz home.

We left our hotel at 9 am in T-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket weather. It was July! Why was it so cold??? Okay, overcast I expected, because after all, this was San Francisco, home of rainy weather, or so I’d heard. We hopped on a Rice-A-Roni car (my son still calls it that even though he’s old enough to know better) and headed to the pier.

Here’s where Myth #1 was debunked. I believed the prison sat w-a-a-y out in San Francisco Bay. It looks a long way out, but it’s actually less than a mile from the mainland. The big deterrent to escape wasn’t the distance or the sharks (myth #2), but the cold water and the currents. According to the tour guide, there was never a documented successful escape. Two men (I think) were never found, and it’s assumed they perished in the bay.

In case anyone got any ideas, this sign greeted anyone who crossed the bay to the prison.

Perched high on the rock is the main prison. I was tempted to take the little tram they offered for those who needed it, but I didn’t think laziness qualified as need. So we climbed … and climbed … and climbed.

New prisoners started here. Not exactly Saks, or even Wal-Mart (no choice of color, style, or even size if all the clothes in your size were already taken)

Each of the main cell blocks was named – Broadway, Michigan Avenue, even Seedy (C-D) row, where the isolation cells were located. New inmates started out on Broadway. Hmm, not one neon light to be seen.

A 5×9′ cell with an open toilet 😯 Notice the pillow – it’s on the end of the bed closest to the bars. Seems to me you’d be a target when you’re asleep for any other prisoner with a grudge. But sleeping with your pillow at the other end, EEEWWWW!!!!

The prisoners ate well, the only stipulation being that if you put it on your tray, you had to eat it. The menu for the last breakfast served in the prison is still posted. It rivals some restaurants I’ve eaten in.

Alcatraz was one of the few prisons who supplied hot water for showers, the theory being the authorities didn’t want the inmates to become acclimated to cold water, making it less likely they’d try to swim across the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay. But even though they had hot water, there was no room for modesty.

Guards and their families also lived on The Rock, and from what we heard, growing up on the island wasn’t so bad. This building housed many of the unmarried guards.

The ruins here are what’s left of the building where prison officials, guards and their families held parties, meetings, and other social gatherings.

I can’t imagine spending years – or maybe even the rest of my life – locked away, and I wonder if the inmates had any remorse, especially when they could see the city so close by, and hear the sounds of freedom (like a New Year’s Eve celebration) carry across the bay in the dead of night.

PS. The sun did eventually come out, and because I hadn’t remembered sunblock, I ended up with a sunburn on my nose that would make me a shoe-in to drive the sleigh on Christmas Eve. Just one of the souvenirs I brought back from my visit to The Rock.


Sin City vs. The Rock — 2 Comments

  1. Great report, Margery! The guys on MythBusters proved on one episode, though, that it was possible to escape from Alcatraz. Not pleasant but possible.