Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Alcatraz Island

The History of Alcatraz
Written by: Jennifer Zhang

Alcatraz was the home for violent and prisoners that don't follow the rules at regular prison. It was a frightening place to be, but it did not always started out that way. The island Alcatraz was founded by a Spanish explorer called Juan Manuel de Ayala and was also the first to sail in what is known as the San Francisco Bay. It used to be called Alcatraces, but it's now shorten to Alcatraz, which means“strange bird" in Spanish.

In 1850, the president wanted to set aside the island for use of the U.S. military reservations, but because of the California Gold Rush and the growth of San Francisco, the need for protection of the bay grew and the Army made plans to install 100 cannons on Alcatraz and it became a defense for the entrance of the bay. It also became the first lighthouse in the West Coast of the U.S. With Alcatraz as a military site, it also became the first military prisoner house. The necessary for defense died down after the Gold Rush and so in 1909, Alcatraz became a military prison. The nickname for this prison house became“The Rock". In 1993, Alcatraz was transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice and for use by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Alcatraz was then decided to be used to deal with the most incorrigible inmates in the Federal prisons as a threat to the public about stopping rampant crimes in the 1920s.

Alcatraz is actually not as bad as books and movies portray. The average amounts of prisoners are around 260-275 and the prison never even reached its capacity of 336. Alcatraz did not held that many prisoners because only the most violent ones were chosen to go and the conditions were not all that bad. For instance, there is always one man to a cell and it is better than the other Federal prisons. Several inmates requested to be transferred to Alcatraz. Prisoners that are sent to Alcatraz are mostly ones who refuse to conform to the rules and regulations at the other Federal prison houses and not all are like Al Capone and other big life gangsters. The prisoners there are mostly considered violent, dangerous, and had great escape risks.

The four rights that a prisoner had in Alcatraz are: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. There are other privileges that are earned through working including: family visits, prison library, and recreational activities. Once a prison official felt that a man is no longer a big threat and can follow rules, the prisoner is usually sent back to a Federal prison to finish his/her sentence or will be released. Prisoners usually stay at Alcatraz for about five years or so.

Even though it is about five years, there still were escape attempts made. Over the 29 years of working Alcatraz, there were 36 men who attempted to escape and had 14 separate escape attempts. Of these men, 23 were caught, 6 were shot and killed, and 2 drowned. Of the 2 men that attempted, but were caught, they were later executed in a gas chamber for death of an officer during their attempt.

Alcatraz may seem to a eyes of a person as a frightening place, but it was better off than most Federal prisons. I would say that the most frightening part is where a prisoner would look out and only see water. The feeling of isolation of land is pretty scary if you asked me.

*Some pictures come from

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