Alcatraz: mystical, mysterious, must-see

March 29, 2014

6207167896_5e8177d45b_zAlcatraz is a mystical place for me. That big rock sitting out in the middle of San Francisco Bay, sometimes glinting in sunshine and other times cloaked in fog.

Alc bare cell CUWhere convicted criminals were housed in cold, bare cells and isolated from the world. It’s said that at night they could hear the music and clinking of glasses from the city across the Bay, especially New Year’s Eve. I wonder what that felt like.

No matter how many times I visit Alcatraz its mystery and history engage me. The audio tour is world-class, enhanced with narrations by former guards and inmates. It’s a must-see for any visitor and even I have been at least half a dozen times or more. So when two of our nephews visited us from the East coast I had to take them.

Alcatraz tiktsEach time I visit I consider something new, and today I want to share this with you:

Alc libraryThe prison library at Alcatraz.

Alc library shelvesIt’s now a ramshackle place, but once its shelves were filled with books.  But here’s what’s so interesting:

Alc library sign gdThis is pretty heavy-duty reading for anyone, much less for prisoners in a maximum security prison.  In a world in which all of our mass media cater to the lowest common denominator, this fact makes me wonder: how far short have we sold our society? Because when given all the time in the world and the ability to read a variety of books, prisoners both educated and uneducated seem to have chosen the higher ground. This is one of the more fascinating thoughts to come out of my many visits to Alcatraz.

Alc gun galleryOf course, we can never forget that these were desperate guys. Real do-badders.

Alc watchtowerThat guards had to be watchful and wary. And they were said to be the most professional in the California prison system.

Alc bare cell barsAnd that being behind bars was punishment and at dank Alcatraz, pretty awful.

Alc rec yard betterThink about how it must have been when limited recreation time in the rec yard pictured above gave such a clear view of the freedom across the bay.

Bay by AlcAnd while we could ferry back to the mainland, they had to stay behind bars in this damp, foreboding place until their sentence had been served.  This place always takes me back to another era and another kind of life. It makes me consider and reconsider the effectiveness of our penal system and what it must mean to live without freedom.  Like I said, Alcatraz is a mystical place. If you haven’t been, I hope you will make it on your next visit to San Francisco.

Oh, one more thing: Does anyone remember this episode in our history?

Alc Indian signSo much to think about.

19 comments on “Alcatraz: mystical, mysterious, must-see
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    Fascinating! Thanks for the tour and the new things to appreciate about freedom.

  2. The bathroom photo…reminds me of one of the bathrooms I had to use when I visited Siberia, Russia back in 2004. I had to use old Russian documents for toilet paper. For real… 🙁

  3. Fascinating. I would love to visit Alcatraz one day. When we went up the inter coastal waterway with my parents, we went to a jail that closed in 1939 in Charleston, SC. It was haunted so the dimension was different. Places like this really do make me appreciate my freedoms.

  4. Marlene Cullen says:

    Fascinating. I have never wanted to go to Alcatraz. . . even though I was born and raised in SF. Your post kinda sorta makes me want to go. I worked for the U.S. Marshal’s Service during the Indian takeover. . . very interesting time! A few years ago, I met someone whose father was a guard and she lived with her family on the island. . . had to take a boat to go to/from school each day.

    • admin says:

      The award-winning audio tour makes it a unique experience. I read a book once about a family that lived on the island. A different kind of upbringing, for sure. I’m actually working on a post about the Indian takeover, I’d love to pick your brain.

  5. Barb Best says:

    Interesting! I’ve been on the boat ride around Alcatraz Island, but now I plan to take that audio tour.
    Remember the movie with Burt Lancaster – The Birdman of Alcatraz? Based on a true story of a notorious prisoner there… who most likely made good use of that library. Love your photos.

  6. Lisa Froman says:

    Thanks for the tour. I’ve always been curious about Alcatraz…
    I also want to visit San Francisco–looks so beautiful!

  7. Pat says:

    I was fascinated to find out that our most hard core criminals were reading such serious literature. Does make one wonder as you mentioned, “how far short have we sold society?”

  8. Kay Lynn says:

    I’ve toured Alcatraz 2-3 times but my favorite visit was when I took my teenage son on a mother-son trip to San Francisco about 12 years ago. It was a time when he didn’t want to be with parents but we really bonded on the trip.

    He loved the Alcatraz tour and we saw a anti-war protest in person (and actually got caught in the midst of a riot). In the Alcatraz gift shop one of the past prisoners was speaking and promoting his book on the experience. My son bought the book and talked about it for weeks.

    • admin says:

      We might have been there about the same time, I remember when one of the past prisoners made appearances. It really is an special place in an odd way.

  9. Haralee says:

    You give a different perspective on ‘The Rock’. The waters are supposed to be shark infested so that even if an inmate escaped and jumped in the search wouldn’t be truly necessary . I wonder if that is true?

    • admin says:

      I don’t know, but they sure did a search when those inmates disappeared! Being eaten by a shark isn’t a sure thing, I guess.

  10. Diane says:

    Fascinating. I went on a tour there years ago. I’ve never forgotten!

  11. Puneet Kumar says:

    Prisoner remained in prison of bricks and cement or they become a prison of their own thoughts and idea because these philosophers like Kant , Hegel has influenced the whole Human thoughts… rsrsr.

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