Inside Alcatraz – Rare Behind the Scenes Look at Life on ‘The Rock’

Kristin Thomas
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Alcatraz, or “The Rock,” is a rugged island surrounded by the cold, choppy waters of the Pacific and is located 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco, California.

First used as a military prison in the early 1900s, Alcatraz became notoriously known for the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary that housed some of the most famous mobsters and criminals between 1934 and 1963.

In addition to prisoners and prison staff living on the Rock, families of the guard staff also resided there.

It’s estimated that 300 civilians including women and children occupied the 22-acre island at any given time.

While they did have their own convenience store and bowling alley, families would take the ferry into San Francisco for shopping and other activities.

Aerial view of Alcatraz prison in San Francisco.


Alcatraz Island, 1895.


James “Whitey” Bulger’s mugshot at Alcatraz, 1959.


Alcatraz guard, 1955.


Prison chow menu


Al Capone while incarcerated at Alcatraz.


Alcatraz, C-Block.


Alcatraz dining hall interior.


Alcatraz dining room band practice.


Alcatraz guards.


Alcatraz inmate band.


Alcatraz laundry.


Alcatraz sewing room.


Arthur ‘Doc’ Barker, was an American criminal, son of Ma Barker and a member of the Barker-Karpis gang.


Clarence Carnes, Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson on their way to court.


Dummy head from the June 1962 Alcatraz escape attempt.


The escape hole – an enlarged air vent that led to an unguarded utility corridor.


Henri Young, 1941.


Inmates bake bread in the prison kitchen.


Inmates at Alcatraz.


Mug shots, Machine Gun Kelly.


Prison life, 1955.


Prisoners in the Alcatraz recreation yard.


Retirement dinner in Alcatraz.

During the 29 years the prison was operating, 36 prisoners made escape attempts. Of the 36 escapees, 23 were caught, eight died while trying to escape, and the five prisoners remaining are presumed to have drowned in the coastal waters that surrounded them.

One of the most famous prison escapes in U.S. history took place on Alcatraz in June of 1962 when John Anglin, Clarence Anglin, and Frank Morris successfully made it off the island — although what events took place following remains a mystery. The three inmates spent several weeks preparing for their daring escape, a plan that was hatched by Frank Morris. The men used stolen spoons to chip away at the walls, stolen hair from the barbershop they attached to fake heads they made out of soap wax, and dozens of raincoats to make inflatable rafts. When it came time for their escape, the three men exited through a ventilation shaft into a utility corridor that lead to the roof. From the top of the prison, the three men then slid down a pipe with their makeshift raft and made it to the ground — allowing them to set sail on the San Francisco Bay.

The fate of the infamous trio remains unknown but less than a year later, the fate of Alcatraz prison itself was sealed on March 21, 1963, when it officially closed down. Due to the islands remote location and increasing costs, it became too expensive (nearly three times the cost as other federal prisons) to continue operating.

Read another story from us: Alleged Alcatraz Escapee Sends Letter to FBI 50 Years Later Revealing He Survived

In the fall of 1973, Alcatraz was opened to the public and is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern California. Thanks to both scheduled day and night tours, nearly a million people a year come from all around the world to visit Alcatraz — eager to see firsthand it’s famous history, reported hauntings, and what remains on the island.