You break the rules, you go to prison. You break the prison rules, you go to Alcatraz.
The trip across the bay was short, only 15 minutes or so, and on the advice of our coach tour guide, we skipped the half an hour talk about the wildlife of the island, and headed up hill to the prison tour. The tour is guided through headphones, with signage around the prison to prompt the track on your guide player. You're 'shown around' by prison guards, their families and previous in-mates. They explain about each cell block, visitation, the recreation yard, the food hall, and of course retell some of the stories which make Alcatraz so famous.
The prison was decaying. Windows were smashed through, there was a musty smell, the flooring is worn and old, and the exterior is weathered. But, if anything, these characteristics added to the whole experience. Ash took the below photo from the top of the stairs - you can understand why it was so important to the inmates to be at the top of the 'prison hierarchy' which entitled them to gaze at the city from the top step.
Seeing the paper mache head and the open grill was fascinating. To think that 3 men plotted their way out of the most secure prison in the States and have never been seen or heard of since is incredible. We also read about Al Capone, the Birdman and Machine Gun Kelly, as well as other escape attempts, prison fights and 'The Battle of Alcatraz' which saw two guards and three inmates killed.
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closed on March 21st, 1963, after 29 years. The last inmate to leave, Frank Weatherman, said "It's mighty good to get up and leave. This Rock ain't good for nobody." In 1972, Alcatraz became a national recreation area, and has since become the number 2 most popular attraction in the whole of the United States - second, of course, to Disneyworld.
A tip if you are thinking of visiting Alcatraz - book in advance. Our tickets came as part of our tour (booked here) so we didn't have to worry about it. But we saw a lot of people being turned away for tickets on the day, or even for the whole week. Some vendors who have managed to get tickets massively inflate the prices.