Online news: Alcatraz Island, surrounded by the cold water of the largest bay on the west coast of the United States, houses the most feared maximum security prison and the oldest lighthouse in the United States, from which no one successfully escaped for 29 years.
Alcatraz was a desert island long before it became home to the famous maximum security prison. Native Americans of the area avoided this island because they thought that evil spirits lived there. The tribe known as Ohlon used the island as a place of punishment and sent those who broke the tribe's laws there. The first Europeans to visit this island were the Spaniards. In 1775, explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first to cross San Francisco Bay and named one of the three islands "Isla de los Alcatraces" or "Pelican Island".
The name was later shortened to what we know today as Alcatraz. When the Spanish began their campaign in Southern California, many members of the Ohlone tribe used the island as a hideout to avoid the European imposition of Christianity.
The first recorded owner of the island was Julian Workman, who was appointed by Mexican Governor Pio Pico to build a lighthouse in June 1846. In 1848, at the end of the American-Mexican War, California along with the island became the property of the United States. In the early 1860s, when the Civil War broke out, Alcatraz served as a place to protect and store firearms for the San Francisco Armory.
Realizing its strategic position, a fort with 11 cannons was placed on top of it. During the war, Confederate sympathizers were sent to the island. In 1868, after the construction of the brick prison, it was officially designated as a long-term detention facility for military prisoners.
From 1909 to 1911, a new and improved prison was built. The new building, later known as "The Rock", was built by the prisoners themselves. The island was under the jurisdiction of the United States Army from 1850 until 1933, when it was transferred to the ownership of the Department of Justice and used by the Federal Bureau of Corrections. It was then decided that Alcatraz would become a maximum security federal prison, with minimum privileges granted to the most dangerous prisoners on American soil.
The first prisoners were brought in in 1934, handcuffed and guarded by FBI agents. The main director of the prison was James Johnston, who managed the prison with an iron fist until 1948. There was absolute silence from the prison authorities and the presence of the press was prohibited.
The number of prison staff at the beginning was about 150 people who lived on the island with their families. Usually, there were 250 prisoners, each of them had their own cell. Although known as "Devil's Island", many inmates wanted to be transferred there because the living conditions at the time were more suitable than many prisons in the United States.
At Alcatraz, prisoners had four rights: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Any other privilege such as: working outdoors, correspondence with family, visiting relatives, access to the penitentiary library, activities such as painting, writing, or working had to be earned. When prison authorities believed that the inmate was no longer a threat, he was sent to another federal prison to serve out the rest of his sentence.
From 1934 to 1939, the most famous gangster, Al Capone, was imprisoned in Alcatraz. They were followed by George Kelly aka "Machine Kelly" and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, Enemy No. 1, from 1936 to 1962. By 1963, there were 14 escape attempts involving 36 people, of which 23 were arrested, 6 were shot dead. The bodies of the remaining 6 prisoners, who were not identified in the previous statistics, were never found, and their fate remains in the aura of uncertainty to this day.
Alcatraz was closed in 1963 by Robert F. Kennedy due to the high costs of transporting equipment to the island. In 1969, a group of Native Americans claimed ownership of the island until 1971, when they were evicted by authorities. Currently, the island is open to visitors.