Together with Fort Point and Lime Point, Alcatraz formed a "triangle of defense" designed to protect the entrance to the bay. The island was also the site of the first operational lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States. By the late s, the first military prisoners were being housed on the island.
While the defensive necessity of Alcatraz diminished over time the island never fired its guns in battle , its role as a prison would continue for more than years.
In , the Army tore down the Citadel, leaving its basement level to serve as the foundation for a new military prison. From through , the military prisoners on Alcatraz built the new prison, which was designated the Pacific Branch, U. Disciplinary Barracks for the U. It was this prison building that later became famous as "The Rock. The U. Army used the island for more than 80 years--from until , when the island was transferred to the U.
Department of Justice for use by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Federal Government had decided to open a maximum-security, minimum-privilege penitentiary to deal with the most incorrigible inmates in Federal prisons, and to show the law-abiding public that the Federal Government was serious about stopping the rampant crime of the s and s.
While several well-known criminals, such as Al Capone, George "Machine-Gun" Kelly, Alvin Karpis the first "Public Enemy 1" , and Arthur "Doc" Barker did time on Alcatraz, most of the prisoners incarcerated there were not well-known gangsters, but prisoners who refused to conform to the rules and regulations at other Federal institutions, who were considered violent and dangerous, or who were considered escape risks. The average population was only about the prison never once reached its capacity of - at any given time, Alcatraz held less than 1 percent of the total Federal prison population.
Many prisoners actually considered the living conditions for instance, always one man to a cell at Alcatraz to be better than other Federal prisons, and several inmates actually requested a transfer to Alcatraz. But while USP Alcatraz was not the "America's Devil's Island" that books and movies often portrayed, it was designed to be a prison system's prison. If a man did not behave at another institution, he could be sent to Alcatraz, where the highly structured, monotonous daily routine was designed to teach an inmate to follow rules and regulations.
At Alcatraz, a prisoner had four rights: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Everything else was a privilege that had to be earned. Some privileges a prisoner could earn included: working, corresponding with and having visits from family members, access to the prison library, and recreational activities such as painting and music.
Once prison officials felt a man no longer posed a threat and could follow the rules usually after an average of five years on Alcatraz , he could then be transferred back to another Federal prison to finish his sentence and be released. The island's most famous prisoner was probably Robert Stroud, the so-called "Birdman of Alcatraz" who spent 54 years of his life behind bars. Stroud never had any birds at Alcatraz, nor was he the grandfatherly person portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the well-known movie.
In , Stroud was convicted of manslaughter; while serving his prison sentence at the U. In , he murdered a Leavenworth guard, was convicted of first-degree murder, and received a death sentence.
Offender Reentry/Transition | National Institute of Corrections
His mother pleaded for his life, and in , President Woodrow Wilson commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. It was Stroud's violent behavior that earned him time in segregation. During his 30 years at Leavenworth, he developed his interest in birds and eventually wrote two books about canaries and their diseases.
Initially, prison officials allowed Stroud's bird studies because it was seen as a constructive use of his time.
Prison escapes: myth and mayhem
However, contraband items were often found hidden in the bird cages, and prison officials discovered that equipment Stroud had requested for his "scientific" studies had actually been used to construct a still for "home-brew. April 27, -- While working his job burning trash at the incinerator, Joe Bowers began climbing up and over the chain link fence at the island's edge. After refusing orders to climb back down, Bowers was shot by a correctional officer stationed in the West road guard tower, then fell about feet to the shore below.
He died from his injuries. December 16, -- Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe worked in the mat shop in the model industries building.
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Over a period of time, while working in the mat shop in the model industries building, they filed their way through the flat iron bars on a window. After climbing through the window, they made their way down to the water's edge and disappeared into San Francisco Bay. This attempt occurred during a bad storm and the Bay's currents were especially fast and strong - most people believe Roe and Cole were swept out to sea.
Officially, they are listed missing and presumed dead. May 23, -- While at work in the woodworking shop in the model industries building, James Limerick, Jimmy Lucas, and Rufus Franklin attacked unarmed correctional officer Royal Cline with a hammer Cline died from his injuries. The three then climbed to the roof in an attempt to disarm the correctional officer in the roof tower.
Escaping Prison Myths
The officer, Harold Stites, shot Limerick and Franklin. Limerick died from his injuries. Lucas and Franklin received life sentences for Cline's murder. January 13, -- Arthur "Doc" Barker, Dale Stamphill, William Martin, Henry Young, and Rufus McCain escaped from the isolation unit in the cellhouse by sawing through the flat iron cell bars and bending tool-proof bars on a window.
Hamilton remained free nine months before he was captured in Fort Worth. He died in the electric chair in August In modern times, no escape rivals that of the so-called Texas 7, who used an elaborate plot to get out of the Connally Unit near Kenedy in December Led by George Rivas , who was serving a year sentence for aggravated kidnapping and burglary, the group took several correctional officers and prison employees captive, stole their clothes and money, snared a prison truck, then used a series of ruses to get past the prison gate without an alarm sounding.
Word of the escape went out almost immediately. But outside assistance in the form of a car and money left at a designated spot enabled the group to get out of town.
They went to San Antonio, then to Houston and finally north, committing robberies to fund their trip, eluding capture and commanding public attention. Any public sympathy they might have gained evaporated, however, after they killed a police officer during the Christmas Eve robbery of a sporting goods store.
If Falk and Martin end up joining them there — killing a corrections officer is a capital offense — they would live locked in their cells for most of their remaining years. For that, they could thank Martin Gurule and six other inmates who attempted to break out of death row on Thanksgiving Day when it was still at the Ellis Unit near Huntsville. The seven used the time-honored trick of leaving hand-fashioned dummies to make it look like they were asleep in their beds when, in fact, they had remained behind in a recreation yard. They cut through a fence and hid on a roof for several hours before attempting to get free.
A prison guard spotted them and opened fire. Six stopped. Gurule kept going, dodging gunfire, making it over two fences topped with razor wire and into a wooded area. More than peace officers spent a week trying to find him, to no avail. Finally, his body was discovered by two off-duty prison employees baiting a trotline in a creek about a mile from the prison. Gurule, the first death row inmate since Hamilton to escape, had drowned.
References & Further Reading
Deep down, El Chapo just wanted to be the hero. Using a sophisticated 3D flow model of San Francisco Bay to replicate the weather conditions of that night in , Rolf Hut, Olivier Hoes and Fedor Baart prove that the men had a sporting chance of avoiding slipping under the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the Pacific to certain death. So, the trio test their theory by building their own raft out of patched-together raincoats and personally rowing it across the waters around the prison in a bid to reach dry land. Meanwhile, the Search for the Truth documentary looks at the shocking claims made by two nephews of the Anglin brothers.
Ken and David Widner have documents including a photograph, which, they say, proves that Clarence and John were alive until at least — 13 years after the escape. Law enforcement are naturally interested in the evidence, but there is huge mistrust from the Anglin family after what they see as FBI harassment of their family in the years after the escape attempt.
After a bit of horse-trading between the family and US marshals, their claims are investigated, uncovering an alarming secret history. The Widners refuse to believe the official version — they think Alfred died under interrogation.