The History Of Alcatraz Essay Research Paper

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The History Of Alcatraz Essay, Research Paper The History of Alcatraz Although Alcatraz sits in the middle of San Francisco Bay, only a little over a mile from the city, the island seemed as distant as if it were a thousand miles out to sea. The island seems uninviting and because of its unappeal, it played an important role in the history of California. The island had a number of uses. Alcatraz was the site of a powerful fortress, a military prison and a federal prison. The island is surrounded by treacherous cross currents and five-knot tides with a deadly undertow. The water temperature around Alcatraz averages fifty-four degrees which is frigid enough to induce hypothermia. In addition to the freezing temperature, there are occasional sharks and whirlpools strong enough

to drown a man. Although not appealing to a vacationer, the geography of the area was perfect for a prison as it made escape nearly impossible (Redden, 165). The California gold rush spurred the building of a lighthouse on the island. Wealth from gold increased San Francisco?s ship traffic and population and a guiding light was needed to take the ships safely through the bay. In 1850, the military used the island as a defense. Places for cannons and gun placements were carved out of the land slopes. More than four hundred soldiers were stationed on the island, guarding it from outside attack. The military?s Rodman cannon could shoot fifteen inch, 440 pound cannonballs as far as three miles. The military moved off the island when the defense system became outdated (Golden Gate

National Park Association, Discover Alcatraz, 2). During the Civil War, soldiers convicted of desertion, theft, rape, murder and treason were imprisoned on the island. During the Spanish War of 1898 military convicts were housed there. Later, groups of Native American activists occupied the island on three different occasions. Their stays ranged from four hours to nineteen months. The Native Americans claimed the island for the ?Indians of All Tribes? and offered to buy the island from the government for $24 in beads, colored cloth and other goods. Their point in the offer was to buy the island at the same price Manhattan Island was bought years before. During the Great Depression of the 1930?s, The Department of Justice wanted the island for a maximum-security facility. Alcatraz

reopened on January 1, 1934 as a federal penitentiary. (Golden Gate National Park Association, Discover Alcatraz. 3, 10). During the twenty-nine year history of the prison, 1550 prisoners were imprisoned. Alcatraz was Uncle Sam?s answer to the most notorious public enemies. Notorious prisioners like Al ?Scarface? Capone, ?Doc? Barker, Alvin ?Creepy? Karpis, George ?Machine Gun? Kelly, and Robert Stroud ?Birdman of Alcatraz? were kept here. Inmates who had proved problems in other prisons by escape risks and labeled troublemakers were sent to Alcatraz for security reasons. The cost to the American taxpayer of housing one inmate was estimated at $20,000 a year. During the twenty-nine year history as a federal penitentiary, there were fourteen escape attempts and many deaths. During

the escape attempts, seven men were shot to death and six men drowned (Golden Gate National Park Association, Discover Alcatraz, 9) ( Redden, 169) (Quillen, 164). The prison itself was made up of two cell houses with fifty-eight windowless one-man cells per tier and one hundred seventy-four cells per block. The inmate population never exceeded two hundred sixty-nine prisoners and only about six to eight new inmates were admitted each year. The turnover of prison population was small. Clifford Redden, America?s notorious ?flash bandit? spent more than twenty years in penal institutions, including two stretches of time at Alcatraz. Redden stated ?this mausoleum for the living dead was truly a soul-destroying, heart-hardening and sanity-shaking experience for its tough-fibered