Monday, March 26, 2012

Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island is an island located in the San Francisco Bay, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) offshore from San Francisco, California, United States. Often referred to as "The Rock", the small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison, and a Federal Bureau of Prisons federal prison until March 21 1963. Beginning in November 1969, the island was occupied for more than 19 months by a group of American Indians from San Francisco, who were part of a wave of Indian activism across the nation, with public protests through the 1970s. Later, in 1972, Alcatraz became a national recreation area and received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Today, the island's facilities are operated by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; it is open to tours. Visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Pier 33, near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. In 2008 the nation's first hybrid propulsion ferry started serving the island. Alcatraz has been featured in many movies, TV shows, cartoons, books, comics, and games.

The United States Disciplinary Barracks on Alcatraz was acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933, and the island became a Federal Bureau of Prisons federal prison in August 1934. During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held such notable criminals as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda (a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who attacked the United States Capitol building in 1954), Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. "Doc" Barker, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate). It also provided housing for the Bureau of Prisons staff and their families.

The majority of the prisoners at Alcatraz had been sent there after causing problems at other prisons.

During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed no prisoner had successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, and three escaped and were never found. The most violent occurred on May 2, 1946, when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to the Battle of Alcatraz.

On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin carried out one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Behind the prisoners' cells in Cell Block B (where the escapees were interned) was an unguarded 3-foot (0.91 m) wide utility corridor. The prisoners chiseled away the moisture-damaged concrete from around an air vent leading to this corridor, using tools such as a metal spoon soldered with silver from a dime and an electric drill improvised from a stolen vacuum cleaner motor. The noise was disguised by accordions played during music hour, and the progress was concealed by false walls which, in the dark recesses of the cells, fooled the guards.

The escape route led up through a fan vent; the prisoners removed the fan and motor, replacing them with a steel grille and leaving a shaft large enough for a prisoner to climb through. Stealing a carborundum abrasive cord from the prison workshop, the prisoners removed the rivets from the grille and substituted dummy rivets made of soap. The escapees also constructed an inflatable raft from several stolen raincoats for the trip to the mainland. Leaving papier-mâché dummies in their cells affixed with stolen human hair from the barbershop, they escaped. The prisoners are estimated to have entered San Francisco Bay at 10 p.m.

The official investigation by the FBI was aided by another prisoner, Allen West, who was part of the escapees' group but was left behind (West's false wall kept slipping so he held it into place with cement, which set; when the Anglin brothers (John and Clarence) accelerated the schedule, West desperately chipped away at the wall, but by the time he got out, his companions were gone). Articles belonging to the prisoners (including plywood paddles and parts of the raincoat raft) were discovered on nearby Angel Island. The official report on the escape says the prisoners drowned while trying to reach the mainland in the cold waters of the bay. But there were reported sightings of the men over the years, and friends and family of Morris and the Anglins claimed to have received postcards written in the men's handwriting.

The attempt was the subject of the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz with screenplay by Richard Tuggle, directed by Don Siegel, and starring Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris, Jack Thibeau as Clarence Anglin, and Fred Ward as John Anglin. The film implied that the three made it. The MythBusters investigated the incident, concluding it is "plausible" that the three survived their intricate escape attempt.

Frank Morris and the 1962 escape were examined in a 2011 National Geographic Channel program entitled "Vanished from Alcatraz." According to the newly uncovered official records discussed on the program, a raft was discovered on Angel Island with footprints leading away from it. There was also a report of a car stolen in the area that night, which could have been used by Morris and the other escapees. However, while confirming these facts, which were hidden from the officials for quite some time, the findings of further investigations remain inconclusive. As a result, the U.S. Marshall's office is still investigating this case, which will remain open on all three escapees until their 100th birthdays

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