The visit was rather disturbing and the experience was rather unnerving as the ferry got closer to "The Rock" and further from the San Francisco dock. A feeling of isolation was palpable for me as the hustle-bustle and crowd-filled view of the city became smaller and smaller in the distance as we traversed towards Alcatraz in the middle of the bay.
Located one and one-half miles away off-shore from the City by the Bay, Alcatraz functioned as a maximum security Federal penitentiary from August, 1934 to March, 1963.
Then, in October of 1933, the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch on Alcatraz was acquired by the U.S. Department of Justice and became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons after the buildings were configured to meet the requirements of a modern security prison.
Over the course of its 29 years in existence as a Federal Prison, a total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts. Possibly, the most notable ones were the violent escape attempt of May 1946 known as the "Battle of Alcatraz", and the arguably successful "Escape from Alcatraz" by Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin in June 1962, for which the movie Escape from Alcatraz is based. Today, Alcatraz Island is part of the National Parks Service.
During my visit, I was struck with sadness as I walked through the halls. I thought of these lost souls - violent, most sociopaths, dangerous to society - and how their talents and lives were wasted because they chose to follow a life of crime.
During our visit, a former inmate, Jim Quillen was signing his book, Alcatraz: From Inside. I did not buy it, but I'm sure it had some very poignant stories.
It is of particular importance to note that my visit to Alcatraz was 22 years ago and while I'm sure much has not changed, I cannot say that with authority. One thing that is different today is the ability to get tickets for this tour online through the official Alcatraz website.
I know I will return to visit Alcatraz one day with my kids, when we visit San Francisco. It is one of those experiences that really affected - being inside a real prison and seeing things close up and personal as opposed to on television or on the big screen. As a result, I highly recommend seeing Alcatraz first hand one day.