I grew up three hours north of San Francisco, and never once have I visited Alcatraz. My parents came to visit us recently, and together we all made the trek (or ferry, rather) to the island. It's a lovely 15 minute boat ride to the rock that housed 1,545 total men between 378 cells over 29 years of service. Among the most notable guests of Alcatraz included Al Capone, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Robert Stroud, "the Birdman of Alcatraz". 

Cells were located in blocks B, C, and D. Each cell in B & C block was 5 feet by 9 feet. They had a small sink with cold running water, a small sleeping cot, and a toilet. The cells in D Block (segregation) were more spacious, but still the least popular. In D-Block, inmates were confined to their cells 24-hours per days, with the exception of one visit per week to the recreation yard, and these visits were alone. We learned there were nights in this block where, if the wind was blowing just right, inmates could hear the laughter and music floating over from the Dolphin Club at the northern most point of San Francisco. Apparently New Years Eve was especially jubilant. 

The best part of the day was the audio tour. So interesting and well-done, with the voices of guards and inmates, theatricals, and involved storytelling. I once took off my headphones to notice we were a sea of people, wandering around in complete silence. It was a pretty peaceful experience really. The most fascinating part of the audio tour was listening to the suspenseful tale of the near escape of Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, and Clarence Carnes, formally known as "The Battle of Alcatraz". Spoiler: they all end up dead. Sorry. 

Overall, there were 14 escape attempts over 29 years. Officially, no one ever succeeded in escaping from Alcatraz, although to this day there are five prisoners listed as "missing and presumed drowned." The best guess is that they are in Venezuela. 

What I thought most interesting was the food in the prison. The food served at Alcatraz was the best within the entire prison system. As a prison rule, the food not only had to be nutritious, but had to be appetizing in its presentation. A breakfast menu is still preserved on the hallway board, dated 21 March 1963. The breakfast menu included assorted dry cereals, steamed whole wheat, a scrambled egg, milk, stewed fruit, toast, bread, and butter. The original daily menu included oatmeal, milk, fried bologna sausage, cottage fried potatoes, toast, oleomargarine, and coffee for breakfast. Dinner contained bean soup, roast beef, gravy, string-less beans, mashed potatoes, and coffee. 

Daily Activity Schedule


06:30 AM: Morning whistle. Prisoners arise, make beds, place all articles in prescribed order on shelf, clean wash basin and toilet bowl, wipe off bars, sweep cell floor, fold table and seat against the wall, wash themselves and dress.

06:45 AM: Detail guards assigned for mess hall duty; they take their positions so as to watch the prisoners coming out of the cells and prepare to march into the mess hall with them. The guards supervise the serving and the seating of their details; give the signal to start eating, and the signal to rise after eating.

06:50 AM: Second morning whistle; the prisoners stand by the door facing out and remain there until the whistle signal, during which time the lieutenants and the cell house guards of both shifts make the count. When the count is found to be correct, the lieutenant orders the cells unlocked.

06:55 AM: Whistle signal given by Deputy Warden or Lieutenant; all inmates step out of their cells and stand facing the mess hall. Upon the second whistle, all inmates on each tier close up in a single file upon the head man.

07:00 AM: Third whistle signal; lower right tier of block three (C-Block), and lower left ear of block two (B-Block), move forward into the mess hall, each line is followed in turn by the second and third tiers, then by the lower tier on the opposite side of their block, followed by the second third tiers from the same side. The block three line moves into the mess hall, keeping to the left of the center of the mess; block two goes forward at the same time, keeping to the right. Both lines proceed to the serving table; the right line served from the right and occupies the tables on the right; the left line to the left, etc... As each man is served, he will sit direct with his hands at his sides until the whistle is given for the first detail to begin eating. Twenty minutes allowed for eating. When they are finished eating, the prisoners placed their knives, forks, and spoons on their trays; the knife at the left, the fork in the center, and the spoon on the right side of the tray. They then sit with their hands down at their sides. After all of the men have finished eating, a guard walks to each table to see that all utensils are in their proper place. He then returns to his assigned position.

07:20 AM: Upon signal from the Deputy Warden, the first detail in each line stands and proceeds to the rear entrance door of the cell house to the recreation yard. Inside detail, or those not assigned any detail, proceed to their work or cells.

07:25 AM: Guards and their details move out in the following order through the gates:

  1. ) Laundry
  2. ) Tailor Shop
  3. ) Cobblers Shop
  4. ) Model Shop
  5. ) All other shops
  6. ) Gardening, and labor details

The guards go ahead through the rear gates and stand opposite the rear gate guard. There they count prisoners passing through the gate in single file and clear the count with the rear gate guard. The detail stops at the front of the steps on the lower level road. The guard faces them to the right and proceeds to the shops, keeping himself in the rear of his detail. Upon arrival in the front of the shops, the detail holds and faces the shop entrance.

07:30 AM: Shop foreman counts his detail as the line enters the shop and immediately phones the count to the lieutenant of the watch. He also signs the count slip and turns it over to lieutenant making his first round.

07:30 AM: Rear gate guard drafts detailed count slip, phones it to the lieutenant of the watch, signs it, and proceeds with it to the lieutenant’s office.

09:30 AM: Rest period during which the men are allowed to smoke in places permitted, but are not allowed to crowd together.

09:38 AM: Foreman or the guard gives whistle signal; all of the men on each floor of shops assemble at a given point and are counted, and return immediately to work. This assembly is quickly done, the count is written on a slip of paper, signed by the foreman or guard, and then turned over to the lieutenant making his next round.

11:30 AM: Prisoners stop work and assemble in front of the shops. The count is taken by the foreman or the guard. The foreman phones in the count and signs the count slip, turning it over to the guard, who proceeds with the detail to the rear gate and checks his detail in with the rear gate guard.

11:35 AM: In the recreation yard, the mess hall line is immediately formed in the same order as in the morning. The details proceed in the same lines to the mess hall.

11:40 AM: Dinner routine is the same as for breakfast, except at the completion of dinner, when the details immediately proceed to cells.

12:00 PM: Noon lock-up cell count; the detail guards remain in front of cells until the prisoners are locked up in the count made.

12:20 PM: Unlock and proceed the same as before going to breakfast. Except that the prisoners marched in a single file into the yard, number three (C) cellblock first. Shop details again form in front of their guards.

12:25 PM: Details are checked out of the rear gate the same as in the morning.

12:30 PM: Details enter the shops and are counted by the foreman and the guard. Procedures are the same as 07:30 AM.

02:30 PM: Rest period; the procedure and count are the same as in the morning.

04:15 PM: Work stopped; the procedure and count are the same as 11:30 AM.

04:20 PM: Prisoners into the gate, with count.

04:25 PM: Prisoners marched into the mess hall, with count.

04:45 PM: Prisoners returned to their cells.

04:50 PM: Final lockup.

05:00 PM: Standing count in the cells by both shifts of the lieutenants and the cell house guards.

08:00 PM: Count in the cells.

09:30 PM: lights out count.

12:01 AM: count by lieutenants and the cell house men of both shifts.

03:00 AM: count in the cells.

05:00 AM: count in the cells.