Today is Sharing Sunday!
I went to Alcatraz Island yesterday in San Francisco and here is my adventure through the U.S. Federal Penitentiary.
The night tour was a great experience and I highly recommend the audio tour if you decide to go.
In 1853 construction began on Alcatraz Island building a military brick fort because of San Francisco’s increasing popularity after the Gold Rush. Soldiers were stationed on the island guarding it with the latest weapons and canons.
In 1854 the lighthouse lit the oil lamp for the very first time. It was the first lighthouse in operation on the Pacific Coast.
In 1907 the fort was decommissioned and the army started tearing down buildings and built a concrete cellhouse. The cells housed military soldiers convicted of desertion and crime. In 1934 Alcatraz opened as a federal penitentiary allowing only male prisoners who were known as being disruptive or previously escapees of other prisons. Notorious criminals such as Al Capone “Scarface,” “Doc” Barker, Robert Stroud “Birdman,” among many others were sent here while serving their sentence.
The maximum security prison, known as “The Rock,” was meant to house prisoners without any way to escape. From 1934-1963 during the years of operating as a U.S. Federal Penitentiary 36 men attempted to escape. Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe were the first two to escape and were never caught or captured. In 1962 Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin were the only others to successfully escape the prison and were never heard from again. The famous film from 1979 “Escape of Alcatraz” shares the story of their meticulous plan to escape.
It’s a great film and I recommend watching it.
The vines have taken over the Warden’s House making this structure even more artistically beautiful. Once a home with 17 rooms including a greenhouse the blue sky pierces through the open air windows of the remains.
The recreation yard was open to the prisoners on the weekends where they could soak up the sun and play various sports. A door in the rec yard caught my eye and the thoughts of what a prisoner felt like standing where I stood inspired me to write this poem…
Perhaps the thoughts of a past prisoner on this island looking out at the busy world just 1.5 miles away:
“A Glimpse from Alcatraz”
Stuck inside this prison, living a life behind bars
Residing on a island near what others call The Golden City
Over a mile of choppy waters separate the Alcatraz prison from civilization
A door in the recreation hall gives a glimpse of the outside world
The beautiful skyline peaks through as the door opens
Stunning shades of blue painted in the sky
The birds fly freely coming and going as they please
I wish I were a bird, soaring above these magnificent waters
As I walk closer the glowing rays of orange and yellow blind my eyes while darkness sheds upon the door
Am I afraid of what the world is like beyond what I have known for 20 years in this prison cell?
Is the city too vast for me to live in?
The hustle and bustle of cars speeding across the glorious bridge
I look up at the sun again as it blinds and stings my eyes
The warmth on my skin feels invigorating
This confinement behind bars stings my soul while the warm feeling food and a bed serve my body
The unknown world beyond my line of sight excites and scares me
I walk back to the recreation yard and see the doors close in front of me
The rays of the sun shining past the door will always be a reminder of the light greater than me
An unreachable light for me in this lifetime but perhaps the next will be a little brighter
Freedom, the inaccessible within these walls.
A 19 month occupation began in 1969 by the Indians of All Tribes (a political Native American activist group). They lived on the island wanting to take over the land.
In 1970 a fire broke out destroyed several buildings. Because of this and the tribe falling apart the local media steered away from supporting them in reclaiming land and the congress created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972 making Alcatraz a part of the National Park Service. Now open to the public for historical and wildlife preservation as many birds and marine animals have lived here for many years.
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