Saturday, April 16, 2011

Escape from Alcatraz: Part 2

(The first half of my Alcatraz experience is here.  The post was getting as long as a prison sentence hence the 2 part post.)

After discovering the Battle of Alcatraz, it was time to move away from the darkness and violence from within the cellblock, and we started to head towards the administrative offices and the outside of the building.  I chuckled as a former inmate explained that he had never seen the Warden's office while he was incarcerated there - it was only when he returned as a tourist later that he got to see it.  Because I have an entirely bizarre sense of humor, I wondered if he had to stand in line and buy tickets.

We got outside in to the very strong wind (thank goodness I had bought that hairbrush!), and while prisoners would not have been at this particular part of the island, the view was similar to what we had seen elsewhere.  There was freedom, only about 1.5 miles away.  It looks so close!  Really, in desperation, I probably would have tried to swim for it too, though logically I knew that with the wind as cold as it was, the water was an invitation to frostbite.

It was up here where the Warden's mansion once stood, which was sadly destroyed by a fire during the Native American occupation of the island a few years after the prison closed.  What was left had been taken over by birds (I love the seagull on the fireplace), which was fitting for in island named for its sea birds.  I'm always sad to see something of historic value destroyed, which is why I was glad to see the parks employees and volunteers working so hard to preserve the other aspects of the island, and present them as we might have seen them 60 years ago.  There were even gardeners working to restore parts of the islands that you might not pay attention to - to make them accurate to their former glory.  Amazing.

We enjoyed the freedom outside for some time, earning me a spiffy sunburn, before the tour brought us back in the the walls of the prison.  There was a moment of emotional reaction - "go back IN to the prison?  But...we're out here!"  Many thought the same thing, except didn't have the possibility of hopping on a boat back to Pier 33.  Some got to the point of desperation, of not having any hope for the future, of not wanting to spend one more day in those walls.

Some made their own plans.

There are no confirmed escapes from Alcatraz.  There were 2 instances where people got off Alcatraz and were never found (neither dead nor alive), and while Alcatraz's official stance is that they're all presumed dead, that is quite a biased stance!  They had reason to keep reporting that Alcatraz was inescapable, both for their current and future inmates.  You can't have people thinking they can just leave, right?

However (there I go with the howevers), the famous escape ("attempt") in 1962 is believed by many to have been successful.  Even the Mythbusters found it to be plausible!  As we were led back in to the prison, the story turned to the 1962 escape of Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin, and John Anglin.  This is the escape that was immortalized in a Clint Eastwood movie years later, and even now is fascinating to us!  On that night in 1962, the 3 men escaped from their cells through the air vents on the back - these air vents had been dug out and enlarged with spoons over a loooong period of time!  Behind the vents is a utility corridor, and the men made it through there, up to the roof undetected (where they had a raft made of raincoats waiting for them) and off the island they went.  To this day they have not been found, though a paddle and parts of the raft were found on Angel Island.  Who knows!  Maybe they got off the island and changed their identities and lived a crime-free life, perhaps fleeing the country to further avoid detection.  Maybe not.  It can be fun to cheer for the underdog, though.

With this, it was time for us to plan our escape, and as we headed back down the hill (stopping to see little corners that we missed on the way up), we saw that our boat was there and was getting ready to head out.  We ran for it and hopped on, and made a dumb joke about how "it sure is easy to get off this island!"  But really, the experience has stayed with me.  It's not really something you can...escape.


  1. These two entries have been beautifully written. I actually felt compassion for the prisoners.

  2. Thanks Amber! That's how I felt while I was there, and I'm glad to know I was able to convey that. :)

  3. I've been absolutely fascinated by your Alcatraz posts, you've managed to beautifully express the emotions of the place. It must have been an amazing trip. Thank you so much for posting about it.

  4. Thank you for reading and commenting! It really was an amazing trip, if you're ever in California I'd be glad to be your "tour guide"! Mostly, I just want to go again. :D

  5. yes but

    where was Nick Cage and Sean Conery?