… break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz”!Approaching Alcatraz Island
That’s right, one of the major highlights of our trip was going to Alcatraz. Not only did we go, we went at night! Alcatraz is one thing that Kyle can now cross off his “bucket-list”. He has always wanted to go there, so needless to say, he was very excited! I was excited as well. I really had no idea what to expect. When we had told our friends we were going at night, everyone said it would be too creepy for them, so I figured for sure, it would be creepy. Honestly, not very creepy. That was probably my only disappointment with going there.I thought it would give you the creeps, but it didn’t. I also thought it was much bigger and farther off the mainland. It’s surprisingly small, but when you hear the facts, you understand why (only 200 or so prisoners at a time – never full).
So this is how our experience went. You take a ferry around the island and approach the side that is not facing San Francisco. It is only about a 10-15 minute ferry ride.
Since we went on the night tour, it was a smaller group and we had more interactions with the National Park Rangers. After getting off the ferry, A ranger guides small groups up and around the island to the cellblock (stopping along the way to point key buildings and facts out). One thing that I hadn’t really thought about before going, was the families that were on the island. There were 84 children that had to grow up on the island – how strange that must of been! Your home was only feet from the most dangerous people in the country! No thank you!
Then it was time to enter the main cell block building! You go through this area with an audio tour so you can wander around and go at your own pace. It was a good way to see everything and not have to worry about keeping up with a group of people.
Thankfully we were also given a tip by one of the park ranger to pause our tour at 815 and head to the hospital area before it closed, then continue with our tour after. The hospital area was really interesting. The cells are much bigger in this area, but that is because they were for 4-6 people at a time and some medical equipment.
Al Capone and The Birdman (Robert Straud) spent most of their time in this area since they were very sick. The Birdman was “lucky” enough to have the whole cell to himself since he had to be in solitary confinement.
Ok back to the main cells — they are TINY. There were a few different areas, but the main type of cells were the general population cells. To give you a sense of the size, if you put your arms out in front of you, then to the side and then up to the ceiling – that is about the size. They also had solitary confinement cells, which were about the creepiest part of the tour because they were pitch black with no windows, bars, etc. Just a big metal door that closes into the cell. imagine spending 20 of your 24 hours in that cell!
Next you moved to the administration area of the prison, where the officers and the prison warden had their offices. There was also a visitation area, but most people never got visitors. When an escape was reported, this is where all officers had to meet and then execute their plan. All escapes were considered unsuccessful, since no one was ever found after escaping, but you never know! Some where caught and killed.
Lastly you moved on to the Dining Hall area, which they described as all the prison population eating their 3 meals and being “armed” with a Fork, Spoon and Knife. It was one of the most dangerous areas of the prison. You can see some containers on the ceiling, they were filled with tear gas, so if a riot broke out, they would activate. They never were needed though. Everyone seemed to behave in the dining hall, as it was a privilege to be out of the cell. If someone started anything, the warden would blow his whistle and it was time for everyone to go back to their cells. They provided pretty good food, it was one compromised that was made for the prison of the most dangerous people – have good food.
After finishing our tour, we were able to attend a Sound of the Cellblock demonstration. They went through the daily routine of a prisoner (wake up, inspection, breakfast, back to cell, work, back to cell, dinner, back to cell, lights out at 9pm until 7am). They also opened and closed the cell doors (they are on manual levers) so that we could hear how loud it was, and hear the echos of the prison – it was awesome!
All in all, we had a great time – it was really interesting! I almost wish it was more creepy, or haunted or something, but no hauntings going on there apparently! I would really recommend checking it out if you head to San Francisco and the few bucks extra for the night tour is completely worth it! And saving the best for last, no mug shot for Kyle but he did go behind bars!
More pictures from our visit are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heatherterrell/sets/72157626471132877/detail/