It’s cold and misty today here in San Fran, which is rather fitting in a way as I’m off to Alcatraz Island (pathetic fallacy-thanks A level English class!).
Alcatraz Island was once a military fortification, but is better known today for the time it spent as a federal penitentiary between 1933-1963; housing some of the USA’s most unsavoury criminals.
I take the train into town and hop the bus to Fisherman’s Wharf; it’s like an XXL version of the one in Monterey, and has several piers all full of gaudy seaside attractions.
I hit pier 33 and take our tour boat the 1.5 mile journey out to ‘The Rock’.
Once we disembark we are free to roam the island, but most make straight for the cell blocks (including me).
There’s an audio tour and it’s kind of creepy as we all shuffle through the gangways in silence, listening avidly to our guides; a mixture of former guards and inmates.
We visit the halls where new prisoners who arrived would collect their uniforms; and see the open shower stalls-their partitions removed for safety, but offering precisely zero privacy.
We walk the rows of cells, given names like ‘Broadway’ and ‘seedy’ (that’s blocks c and d!) and the cream and green painted walls kind of remind me of primary school.
I see the beds of infamous inmates such as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud (The bird man!!), and get a chance to sit in one one the tiny nine-by-five cells.
We are privy to the isolation unit, where no light was let in; the mess hall where the use of real cutlery was an everyday hazard (hence the teargas canisters lining the walls!); and the guards’ control room.
I learn about the famous ‘battle of Alcatraz’ in ’46 where an attempted prison break led to the deaths of both prisoners and guards; as well as the breakout of ’62 where three prisoners successfully escaped, never to be heard from again.
It’s pretty odd walking around, and even odder seeing the now burnt out former warden’s house, and hearing about how officers’ families and children lived here alongside the criminals.
The island offers the most gorgeous panoramic views of San Francisco, but with a brutal cutting wind. It’s not hard to imagine the inmates looking out on this beautiful sight, knowing everything they want is right there in front of them; but that they’ll never be able to reach it.
Alcatraz was closed as a prison in 1963 and its prisoners transferred elsewhere to serve out their sentences. Even Al Capone went on his way to Florida and died in the end of syphilis (practice safe sex y’all!!).
It’s certainly an experience out here on the rock; and I’m feeling kind of abandoned as the howling wind beats upon me on the boat journey back.
Once ashore, I’m keen to shrug this funk, and jump back to 2015, so I grab dinner and happy hour cocktails.
I have a perfectly lovely evening, but I seemingly can’t shake off the earlier cold from the island; and there’s certainly something eerie about that desolate place that’s sitting there deep in my bones all night long.
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