by Aaron Jewett

What is Alcatraz

Alcatraz the name that made men shiver in their place. In San Francisco off the coast there is an island that held or most dangerous and feared criminals. Alcatraz was first sighted by Spanish in 1772 (possibly three years earlier). The name Alcatraz derives from the presence of a pelican colony, but Spanish and Mexican maps referred to Yerba Buena Island as Alcatraz until 1826. The Island came under the United States control in 1850 and was the first U.S fort in the west coast. In 1859 Alcatraz was used as a U.S military prison till 1934 when it became a federal prison to house the most feared and dangerous criminals. Alcatraz nicknamed “The Rock” was a symbol of the impregnable fortress prison with maximum security and strict discipline. A few years after the prison closed in 1963 a group of Native Americans activists occupied the island in the unsuccessful hope of establishing a center there. But some saw the need to do something with the Island and it later became part of the national park in San Francisco.

My question:

What makes “The Rock” a impregnable fortress?

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Alcatraz first became a military prison in 1859 then turned into a federal prison in 1934. It housed the most dangerous criminals. From the time it was a federal prison to the day it closed Alcatraz had housed more than 1500 prisoners. In Alcatraz eight people murdered by inmates on Alcatraz. Five men committed suicide, and fifteen died from natural illnesses. The Island also boasted it's own morgue but no autopsies were performed there. All deceased inmates were brought back to the mainland and released to the San Francisco County Coroner. Alcatraz has had 4 wardens in the time it was a federal prison. No one was sentenced straight to Alcatraz, most people had served sentences some place else and were then transferred due to their high dangerous level.
Machine Gun Kelly
Famous Inmates

Famous Inmates

Alcatraz held many criminals many of the criminals there were "famous" so to speak. One of the most famous of all inmates was probably Alphonse Gabriel Capone better known as Al Capone. He was a big time crime boss,who the great gift of speech, this allowed him to talk his way out of almost anything. This allowed him to twist the guards into doing what he wanted. After several years in prison he was sent to Alcatraz where he did the same thing. He was released a few years later.

Prison Life

For criminal the prison life was fairly rough, they had a cell to themselves that was 8 feet high, 5 feet in width, and 9 feet in length. The average sentence for an inmate was around 28-34 years. And during that time they did the same thing every day with little changes to the schedule.

Daily Schedule

The daily schedule consisted of 6:30 AM: Morning whistle. Prisoners arise, make beds, place all articles in prescribed order on shelf, clean wash basin and toilet bowl, wipe off bars, sweep cell floor, fold table and seat against the wall, wash themselves and dress. 6:45 AM: Detail guards assigned for mess hall duty; they take their positions so as to watch the prisoners coming out of the cells and prepare to march into the mess hall with them. The guards supervise the serving and the seating of their details; give the signal to start eating, and the signal to rise after eating. 6:55 AM: Whistle signal given by Deputy Warden or Lieutenant; all inmates step out of their cells and stand facing the mess hall. Upon the second whistle, all inmates on each tier close up in a single file upon the head man. 7:00 AM: Third whistle signal; lower right tier of block three (C-Block), and lower left ear of block two (B-Block), move forward into the mess hall, each line is followed in turn by the second and third tiers, then by the lower tier on the opposite side of their block, followed by the second third tiers from the same side. The block three line moves into the mess hall, keeping to the left of the center of the mess; block two goes forward at the same time, keeping to the right. Both lines proceed to the serving table; the right line served from the right and occupies the tables on the right; the left line to the left, etc... As each man is served, he will sit direct with his hands at his sides until the whistle is given for the first detail to begin eating. Twenty minutes allowed for eating. When they are finished eating, the prisoners placed their knives, forks, and spoons on their trays; the knife at the left, the fork in the center, and the spoon on the right side of the tray. They then sit with their hands down at their sites. After all of the men have finished eating, a guard walks to each table to see that all utensils are in their proper place. He then returns to his assigned position. 7:20 AM: Upon signal from the Deputy Warden, the first detail in each line stands and proceeds to the rear entrance door of the cell house to the recreation yard. Inside detail, or those not assigned any detail, proceed to their work or cells. 7:25 AM: Guards and their details move out in the following order through the gates:

The guards go ahead through the rear gates and stand opposite the rear gate guard. There they count prisoners passing through the gate in single file and clear the count with the rear gate guard. The detail stops at the front of the steps on the lower level road.

1. ) Laundry
2. ) Tailor Shop
3. ) Cobblers Shop
4. ) Model Shop
5. ) All other shops
6. ) Gardening, and labor details

The guard faces them to the right and proceeds to the shops, keeping himself in the rear of his detail. Upon arrival in the front of the shops, the detail holds and faces the shop entrance. 7:30 AM: Shop foreman counts his detail as the line enters the shop and immediately phones the count to the lieutenant of the watch. He also signs the count slip and turns it over to lieutenant making his first round. 7:30 AM: Rear gate guard drafts detailed count slip, phones it to the lieutenant of the watch, signs it, and proceeds with it to the lieutenant’s office. 9:30 AM: Rest period during which the men are allowed to smoke in places permitted, but are not allowed to crowd together. 9:38 AM: Foreman or the guard gives whistle signal; all of the men on each floor of shops assemble at a given point and are counted, and return immediately to work. This assembly is quickly done, the count is written on a slipof paper, signed by the foreman or guard, and then turned over to the lieutenant making his next round.11:30 AM: Prisoners stop work and assemble in front of the shops. The count is taken by the foreman or the guard. The foreman phones in the count and signs the count slip, turning it over to the guard, who proceeds with the detail to the rear gate and checks his detail in with the rear gate guard. 11:35 AM: In the recreation yard, the mess hall line is immediately formed in the same order as in the morning. The details proceed in the same lines to the mess hall. 11:40 AM: Dinner routine is the same as for breakfast, except at the completion of dinner, when the details immediately proceed to cells. 12:00 PM: Noon lock-up cell count; the detail guards remain in front of cells until the prisoners are locked up in the count made. 12:20 PM: Unlock and proceed the same as before going to breakfast. Except that the prisoners marched in a single file into the yard, number three (C) cellblock first. Shop details again form in front of their guards. 12:25 PM: Details are checked out of the rear gate the same as in the morning. 12:30 PM: Details enter the shops and are counted by the foreman and the guard. Procedures are the same as 07:30 AM. 2:30 PM: Rest period; the procedure and count are the same as in the morning. 4:15 PM: Work stopped; the procedure and count are the same as 11:30 AM. 4:20 PM: Prisoners into the gate, with count. 4:25 PM: Prisoners marched into the mess hall, with count. 4:45 PM: Prisoners returned to their cells. 4:50 PM: Final lockup. 8:00 PM: Count in the cells. 9:30 PM: lights out count. 12:01 AM: count by lieutenants and the cell house men of both shifts. 3:00 AM: count in the cells. 5:00 AM: count in the cells.
A total of 13 official counts are made each 24 hours. In addition, shop foreman make six verification counts. Sunday and holiday routines require their own schedules, with time reserved for haircuts, showers, clothing changes, and recreation.


There are many rumors and legends about Alcatraz, and all of us have heard about the prison, and some escapes, but not about the building and the land. One of the most famous rumor/legends was if in fact the building was haunted. Before even the toughest criminals set foot on the island, Native Americans had found the island. They instantly felt that there were bad spirits, and had even brought some of their own people here as punishment. If their crimes were really bad, they would leave them on Alcatraz permanently. In the attempt that they would die due to the evil spirits that haunted the island for eternity. If we fast forward a couple hundred years during a time when the prison closed down, Alcatraz became a landmark with rumors of evil spirits dwelling there. There are countless stories where people tell how they can feel, hear, and sometimes even see ghosts, evil spirits, and other forms of spirits. Many believe these spirits are dead prisoners from lessthan a century ago, but what if the Native Americans were right, and these evil spirits are centuries years old? “One story tells about a man who may have encountered one of the evil spirits that the Native Americans supposedly felt. An inmate was locked in solitary confinement, where people were only given bread, water, a hole to go the bathroom in, and given a mattress only at night. This man was locked in, when suddenly he began to scream and groan claiming to see glowing eyes. He would yell out about how this creature was torturing him. The guards assuming the inmate just wanted attention, ignored him throughout the night, but suddenly his cell went quiet. When the guards checked on him in the morning, they found the man strangled with hand marks around his neck. There was no possible way that hedid it to himself, according to his autopsy. Some believe that maybe guards on duty did it, but others believe that the strange creature the man had claimed to see, which has come to be known as "the thing," was to blame.”
When the prison was built on Alcatraz it was made to be inescapable. It was so well built that most inmates didn’t even try to escape they thought that it was a foolish plan. Most of the prison was designed by Reuben Turner who was a general in the late 1800’s his design is still a large part of the prison today. Most people think that it is impossible to escape and most of them would be right, the prison is on an island which is about a mile and a half away from San Francisco. With cold and rough seas which makes it extremely difficult to try to swim away. And this is just trying to leave the island, the prison itself is almost twice as hard. You have to try to pick a perfect time when the guards aren’t around, you have to try to find away out of the cell and slip by the guard and the guard dogs. Just the location and the guards make it almost impossible to leave



If there was ever an inmate who was destined to escape from Alcatraz, it was Frank Lee Morris. In the movie entitled "Escape from Alcatraz" starring actor Clint Eastwood, Morris was accurately portrayed as the keen and brilliant mastermind of one of the most famous prison escapes in history. Frank Lee Morris had an IQ of 133 which is in the top 3% of everyone! The escape plan took several months to design, and it would necessitate the fabrication of clever decoys and water survival gear. The plan was extremely complexand involved the design and fabrication of ingenious lifelike dummies, water rafts, and life preservers, fashioned from over fifty rain coats that had been acquired from other inmates - some donated and some stolen. They would also require a variety of crudely made tools to dig with, and to construct the accessories necessary for the escape. By May of 1962, Morris and the Anglins and had already dug through the cell's six-by-nine-inch vent holes, and had started work on the vent on top of the cellblock. They later made life like heads, which they used as dummies as they made their escape. Many are unsure if they survived the journey across the ocean, but some believe that they made and that they have done the impossible of escaping Alcatraz. But the case is remanning open until the escapees have their 100th birthday which is in 2026, so they are roughly around the age of 86 years old.
Alcatraz is now part of the San Francisco state national park and is often opened for tours to help preserve the history of the prison.
Frank Lee Morris

The Closing of Alcatraz

Alcatraz was closed in 1963, there are many theories to why the prison was closed, the one that is most reliable is that the government wanted to stop having to pay for supplies to be taken out there, it was to much work just to keep the people we least wanted alive. Because of the harsh waves that would crash into the sides of the island it made it hard for ships to dock and it was extremely hard for boats to stay there for a long period of time. The other theory is that they didn't want an uprising of prisoners with the recent escape plan that may or may not have worked. But they felt as if the escape was successful and that they didn't need anyone else to attempt to escape the island.


In conclusion Alcatraz is a place with a ton of history surrounding it, it has been been used for many things it has a dark past but the future seems to be looking bright. In these statements above you can see that Alcatraz was one of the toughest prisons to live in during it’s time, and it was just as hard to make an attempt to flee. Alcatraz wasn't tough to escape just because of its rock solid buildings but because of the amount of guard and different precautionary measures with the 13 different counts they do to make sure no one leaves. Alcatraz will always be remembered as “The Rock” the impregnable fortress, and that will last forever.

For More Info:

Work Cited

"Alcatraz." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2013): 1. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.
This comes from an encyclopedia so this is a valid source. This also come from EBSCO Host which is a well known search engine. You can contact the encyclopedia to ask any questions you might have.

Cavendish, Richard. "Alcatraz Prison Closes." History Today 63.3 (2013): 11. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.
This is credible because he is a well known historian. He has also a well known author on history. This comes from EBSCO Host database which is a well known search engine.

Conway, Bryan. "20 Months In Alcatraz." Saturday Evening Post 210.34 (1938): 8-34. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.
He is a well known author who has written many popular books. He is also a State Historic Preservation Officer. He has contact information that I could follow up and ask him if I had any questions. This comes from EBSCO Host database which is a well known search engine.

HOPKINSON, DEBORAH. "Escape From Alcatraz." Scholastic Scope 60.9 (2012): 4-9. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.
This comes from EBSCO Host database which is a well known search engine. This is based of actual historical events, and there is a way of contacting this person via e-mail to ask follow up questions.

Loo, Tina, and Carolyn Strange. "Rock Prison Of Liberation": Alcatraz Island And The American Imagination." Radical History Review 78 (2000): 27. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.
This comes from a history review so it has history to back it up. This comes from EBSCO Host database which is a well known search engine. She has also written other credible historical articles.

Schama, Chloe. "Alcatraz: History And Design Of A Landmark." Smithsonian 43.1 (2012): 82. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2013. This comes from EBSCO Host database which is a well known search engine.

Siegel, Don, dir. Escape from Alcatraz. Dir. Eastwood. Universal, 1979. Film. 9 Apr 2013.
I give this film credibility because it was based off a true story and it has people, and actual events that happened at the prison at the time period the move showed.