Friday, November 16, 2012

I went to prison.

On my last day in San Francisco, I had booked a ticket to prison.  Alcatraz, or "The Rock", was by everyone's account, a touristy thing worth doing.  After spending a few hours making the journey there by ferry, taking the audio tour, walking around the island and taking the ferry back, I have to agree!  It was a really special part of my trip.  In order to capture the full extent of the experience, this post is a bit photo heavy.

The morning started out drizzly and cold.
I was grateful to have booked a ticket in advance, since the tickets for the entire day were sold out when I arrived.

By the time we boarded, the sky had cleared!
The dreary start to the day set the right mood for a trip to a somber place.

I braved the chilly, windy external areas of the ferry boat.  The views were well worth it! 

The island is smaller than I had imagined.  The ferry trip to the island also served as my requisite "visit" to the Golden Gate Bridge.  You can see a bit of it in the left of this photo.

I did not take any inmates back to the mainland, I swear.

The distance between the mainland and the island is a very small 1.5 miles, but the waters are rough, the current strong and the temperature chilling.

The island has had a long history of use, dating back to the mid-1800s, with many of the building currently in a state of ruin.

The Island was occupied by Native Americans in 1969 as a protest to federal policies and treatment of Native Americans.    This was after the federal prison closed in 1963.  Prior to that, the island was home to a military garrison and then, military prison.  It is now a part of the National Park Services.

The audio tour of the cellhouse was a highlight for me.  The tour is narrated in part by former inmates and guards.  It includes stories about life in the prison, including sights, sounds, escape plans and the backgrounds and crimes of various well-known inmates.

typical cell
One cell showed a crocheted blanket in progress, as some inmates used handiwork to pass the time.

Gun Gallery and a key that played a role in the Battle of Alcatraz

The sea water and wind takes its toll on the prison.  A combination of the challenges of battling deterioration and plumbing concerns were the main reason behind the prison closing.

The windows allowed the sea air into the prison.  The island  was close enough that if the wind was right, prisoners said they could hear parties and sometimes smell food from the mainland.

So close, but so out of reach. View from a prison window.

escape plan - the 3 men who utilized enlarged vents as an escape route met an unknown fate.

golden gate bridge view from the prison yard

In addition to the prison, there are other buildings on the island. 

At one time, there was a community of people living on the island, made up of prison guards and their families.  A woman who lived on the island during her childhood currently works at the bookstore on the island.

There was a lovely agave garden on one side of the island and a flower garden on the other side.  Both evidence of a community of people living their free lives right next to a prison that held some of the most violent criminals of the time.

golden gate and the shore of The Rock

Luckily for me, escape boats were offered every half hour.

Should you ever find yourself in San Francisco, I recommend that you take a cruise to Alcatraz.
And, don't skip the audio tour!

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