History of Alcatraz

Essay by Anonymous UserUniversity, Bachelor's July 2007

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Alcatraz is one of the most well known prisons in the United States. Although it is no longer a functioning prison it still holds the reputation for being one of the most brutal and most of all inescapable prisons in history. It also held some of the most infamous inmates of its time.

The name Alcatraz was originally derived from the Spanish word "Alcatraces." It was discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. Alcatraz Island was opened from 1934 to 1963. At that time it was the last stop in the federal penitentiary pipeline. It housed famous criminals such as Al "Scarface" Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and Robert Stroud, "The Birdman of Alcatraz." The warden, James Johnston, turned it into such a brutal place that even the most hardened criminals started calling it "Hellcatraz". Located on a twenty-two acre island in San Francisco Bay, about a half mile off shore, Alcatraz was built out of an old military fort.

It consisted of a cell house, the old fort, work buildings, a lighthouse, and a mess hall. Some considered Alcatraz escape proof. The entire structure was surrounded by a cyclone fence topped with barbed wire. The cell house was three stories of reinforced concrete. Elevated gun galleries were built at each end of the cell house. Inmates were monitored constantly by guards on a central walkway surrounded by bars. All doors on the island were electronically operated and were designed to slam and let the inmate know the guards were in total control. Coming back from work inmates were checked eleven times and had to get through three metal detectors. Then in their cells they were counted up to thirty times a day. Well behaved inmates could spend their Saturday and Sunday afternoons watching a...