Unusual Tourist Sites: Alcatraz Island Prison San Francisco, California Part 1

About the unusual tourist site of Alcatraz Island Prison in San Francisco, California, history and information.

San Francisco, California

Alcatraz Island ... For 30 years "the Rock" had one of the most forbidding and chilling reputations of any place on earth. Its impenetrable isolation, the near-impossibility of escape, and tales of hair-raising brutality behind the walls fed the legend. Federal prison officials did little to challenge it, reasoning that the more foreboding it sounded, the more the threat of spending the rest of their days there would deter would-be troublemakers in other jails. Adding to the mystique were Hollywood movies about life inside, with tight-lipped wardens, sadistic guards, scheming cons, and daring escapes.

Although physical mistreatment of prisoners was not allowed--in fact the food was considered the best in the Federal prison system--the harsh regime, the absence of all news of the outside world, and a tough work schedule made life far from pleasant. Adding to the sense of deprivation were the pleasure boats that daily circled the island and the bright lights of San Francisco across the bay. Because of the Code of Silence--abolished after a few years--inmates were not allowed to talk to each other under threat of a stretch in isolation, the standard and dreaded punishment for any infraction of the rules. No outside newspapers or radios were allowed, and letters and visits were restricted to imparting family news. One of the few instances of the world's intruding was when the warden posted a notice that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

Isla de los Alcatraces (Isle of the Pelicans), as it was named by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Avala in 1775, sat barren and unpopulated until after the California Gold Rush, when the U.S. Army began fortifying it as a defense post for San Francisco Bay. After the need for such a fortification passed, the Army, with its fondness for uninhabitable places, used it for a military prison. Detainees included deserters who chose not to fight in the Spanish-American War, troublesome Indians, and, during and after W.W. I, conscientious objectors and the victims of Att. Gen. Mitchell Palmer's raids on political dissidents and labor agitators.

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