10 Unbelievable Facts about Alcatraz Island

by Sasha Selkirk

“If you disobey the rules of society, they send you to prison. If you disobey the rules of prison, they send you here.”

Alcatraz Island was once America’s premier maximum-security prison, holding not necessarily the most disturbing of criminals but the naughtiest of prisoners: the rule breakers and escape artists. Today, the infamous island is one of the most popular tourist attractions of San Francisco and it is essential to book tickets in advance

Films like Clint Eastwood’s Escape from Alcatraz do an amazing job of reimagining life behind the bars. But how much of it is true to reality and how much is just Hollywood? Check out these insane facts to find out:

1. Al Capone was incarcerated in Alcatraz

Alcatraz island

Alcatraz put up Al along with some of America’s most infamous criminals, the likes of the Birdman of Alcatraz and Machine Gun Kelly. 

2. Al Capone starred in a prison band

It wasn’t all doom and gloom: prisoners earnt privileges for good behaviour – including access to a library and participation in the prison band, within which AL Capone played the banjo! But the prison wasn’t always so noisy…

3. During the 1930s inmates were not allowed to speak 

In the early years no one was permitted to speak outside of mealtimes and recreation periods and punishment for breaking this rule of silence was militantly enforced. This was later deemed too harsh and revoked. 

4. Prisoners earned a living 

Inmates were kept busy working in the laundry room, kitchen, burning rubbish and tending the docks for the princely sum of 5-12 cents an hour. 

5. Each Inmate had a cell to call his own

All inmates occupied separate cells, the average of which measured 5 feet by 9 feet and had room for little else than a single cot, sink and toilet. 

6. Alcatraz had the best kitchen of the federal prison system  

It wasn’t all lobster and caviar but with breakfasts of coffee, cake, cereal, and fruit and with lunches and dinners of meat, vegetables, bread and hot tea – practically Michelin starred dining in prison standards.

7. All Inmates had hot showers

Hot showers were another ‘luxury’ that the inmates of Alcatraz received. Many conjecture that the combination of fattening foods, restricted exercise and steamy showers were to make sure that the prisoners would be too unfit and unaccustomed to the cold to face the cold swim that separated them from freedom. 

8. 36 Inmates Attempted to Escape the “Inescapable”

Alcatraz was renowned as an inescapable jail, but that didn’t stop its residents trying! Of these 36, the majority were shot on attempt, drowned at sea or recaptured and shipped back. However…

9. 5 of the Escapees were never seen again

The authorities said that “they must have drowned” but many more conjecture otherwise. The most famous escape was made by the Anglin brothers and Frank Lee Morris in 1962. Over a period of 6 months the convicts chipped away at their walls and created paper mâché dummies of themselves from loo roll, soap and hair trimmings from the barbershop. Leaving these decoys, they climbed through the vents and paddled away on a makeshift raft. 

10. Alcatraz’s closure had nothing to do with the brothers’ escape 

Alcatraz island

Although the prison shut the following year, it had nothing to do with the trio’s escape. The closure had in fact been long planned due to the expense of running it. Or so they say…

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