Alcatraz is an island in the San Francisco Bay. Originally a notorious prison, and home to criminals such as Al Capone, and the Bird Man of Alcatraz. It is now preserved as a state park and a popular tourist destination.

Located on an Island in the San Francisco Bay, the former federal penitentiary known as Alcatraz island serves as a landmark and tourist attraction for those who are interested in learning about United States history and the prisoners, staff, and families that at one point lived on this infamous land.  When most people think of Alcatraz, they think of some of the most famous convicts in the world and a place where crime would no longer be tolerated, due to the hundreds of convicts that were incarcerated on this island. Although this is true, there is a lot more to Alcatraz Island than most people are aware of. In 1775, a Spaniard by the name of Juan Manuel de Ayala explored the land and decided to call it “Isla de los Alcatraces” which translates to “Island of the Pelicans”, this translates to Alcatraz in English.  It was not until around the year 1850 that the United States was able to cease this land. The United States originally claimed this land with the intentions of building a fortress to protect the city of San Francisco if there was ever any harm to come about. The United States did not end up needing to use the Island of the Pelicans for protection, so around 1868 the United States government decided that they would use this land to create a military prison.

By 1909 most of the original architecture that had been designed for protection was demolished, and the United States decided that they would rebuild a new prison on the Island. This prison became known as “The Rock.  The Rock is most widely known because the inmates who were incarcerated on the island, assisted in building the prison which they would reside in. Alcatraz Island was designed with the intentions that the prisoners on the island, would not be able to escape from the island. The United States government soon learned about this and realized that they could do even more with the land they owned, and continue to house inmates in a prison away from land. In 1933 Alcatraz was officially claimed by the United States government and became known as a prison for the most wanted criminals across the nation.  In the beginning, there was little to no contact for the prisoners to the outside world. At this time, there was no such thing as Instagram, Twitter, etc. So reaching the outside and receiving information about what was going on in the world outside the island was increasingly difficult for the inmates who inhabited this land.

Because Alcatraz was considered to be a place where only the most dangerous convicts were sent to when Alcatraz was first opened it is said that the Warden’s were very strict and ran the prison with an iron fist. This would slowly change over time due to the surprising number of families that lived on the island. At any given time there were approximately 250 prisoners living on the island, and 150 staff members not including their families. Over time, the prison changed from a place with little to no connection allowed to the outside world, to a place where families could be raised. In fact, there was even a school on the Island where children of the staff could attend school. Prisoners who were being held in captivity were also able to attend a separate school and some were even eligible to earn a job if they behaved well enough. One of the most famous convicts on Alcatraz island was a man named Al Capone. Al Capone, who went by the name of “Scarface” was an infamous American Gangster who worked on Alcatraz Island, doing the laundry of the families who lived there. This is how the famous book “Al Capone Does My Shirts” came to be.

 [3] Here is a photo of what the inside of Al Capone's cell on Alcatraz Island looked like when he was residing there in 1939.

Today, people are able to purchase tickets to visit Alcatraz Island and get a glimpse into what living on the island was like for the prisoners, families, and staff that lived on Alcatraz Island. Those who have gone say that the experience is one that they will never forget. The tour includes a Ferry ride from the mainland across the water to Alcatraz Island. Inside the prison, members of the staff greet the tourists with headphones and tape recordings for the visitors to listen to as they walk through the once prison.  The tape recording describes events and details about what occurred in each room the visitors are passing through. Some of the main attractions are Al Capone's cell, the prison school classrooms for staff member's families to attend, and the cafeteria. The tape acknowledges some of the most famous convicts as visitors pass by their cells, popular places for convicts to hang out, and where they would go to work. The tour is very descriptive and there are very few things that visitors are not allowed to see. In the cafeteria, visitors are given the opportunity to eat lunch where the prisoners used to sit and eat.  There are different options of tours that you can take, one of the options even includes a tour of the dungeon that was used for prisoners who behaved exceptionally bad. The prisoners who were sent to the dungeon would be trapped down there all alone for days, in a completely dark room. The room was dark 24 hours a day and had no windows. If one is ever given the opportunity to visit Alcatraz Island, it is an unforgettable experience that will leave you wanting to know more. Below is a photo of the dungeon so you can see just how terrifying it really was. If you are ever interested in finding out more information about Alcatraz Island, there are several famous convicts that are great to research in order to learn more about it. Some of these convicts include Al Capone known as Scarface, George Celino Barnes, known as Machine Gun Kelly, and Robert Stroud known as the "Birdman" of Alcatraz. 


Alcatraz as seen from a ferry