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History of Alcatraz and Al Capone: Discursive Essay

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The history of Alcatraz (1775-1971)

On August 11, 1934, Alcatraz opened its doors. Alcatraz was the maximum high-security, minimum privileged Penitentiary for the most ruthless criminals, or the worst of the worst. That’s where its nickname came from, “The rock.” One of these criminals was Al Capone, who was one of the most wanted gangsters who practically ruled Chicago. Once he was sent to Alcatraz, he later said: “It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked”

Early Alcatraz 1775

On August 5, 1775 Juan Manuel de Ayala (1745-97) mapped and named Alcatraz La Isla De Los Alcatraces, which means the island of the pelicans. Juan Manuel named Alcatraz island this due to the huge flocks of sea birds that visit. Since then, according to the recorded owner was Julian Workman, who was sent by Mexican governor Pio Pico to build a lighthouse on Alcatraz Island, which would be the first working lighthouse on the west coast. To be more specific, the lighthouse was built on June 1846.

Military Prison Alcatraz 1868

A couple years later in 1850, president Millard Fillmore (1800-74) reserved Alcatraz island for military use. The lighthouse that was built by Julian Workman was finally in use. Other than the lighthouse, 100 cannons were installed for extras, as well as a fortress. The reason why Millard Fillmore built this fortress on Alcatraz island was because of the California Gold Rush and because of the American Mexican war. It caused the population to grow in California. Soldiers soon realized that a enemy attack could happen any moment. Furthermore, Alcatraz happened to be the perfect place to keep an perch to see everything. It was to make sure everything is safe. By the late 1850s, the first military prisoners were being housed on the island. While the use of cannons were not necessary any more, the idea of an prison would continue.

Alcatraz Island 1909-1939

In 1909, the Army demolished the fortress leaving the basement (the military prison) which would act as the lower solitary, (cells that prisoners go to when they act up.) Soon, it came to the Army’s attention that if they were going to run a prison, it needed to be bigger. From 1909 to 1911, the military prisoners from Alcatraz were ordered to build a bigger, better, prison for the U.S Army. As a matter of fact, the U.S Army were using the prison for 80 years! (1850-1933.) Suddenly, the island was given to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (a department where they are responsible for handling convicts who have violated the law or are accused of violating the law.) To make use of the big prison, The Federal Bureau Of prisons (BOP) decided to open a maximum-security, minimum privileged penitentiary for the most unstoppable, notorious rampant criminals and gangsters of the 1920s to the 1930s.

Alcatraz USP 1934

Alcatraz officially opened its heavy steel doors on 1963. Alcatraz opened because of the criminals and gangsters during The Great Depression. Furthermore, these convicts were illegally running underground nightclubs and passing around drugs. Again, illegally. The convicts also committed robberies and killed a lot of people. When Alcatraz opened, they set some ground rules. According to, some of the rules were good conduct, which means having a good record and following the rules on Alcatraz island. It also means having no contraband or no unruly behavior. The rules at Alcatraz were very strict, to prevent escape attempts. Some other rules of Alcatraz were Good Work record, which means your reputation at Alcatraz is clean and you’re willing to do your work, happily and not half-heartedly. To get into specifics, Alcatraz island is 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, California. Alcatraz could hold a capacity of 312 prisoners. According to, Each cell was 5 ft by 9 ft, plenty to fit a average man. Each cell was filled with an small sink that only ran cold water and a tiny toilet along with an small cot to sleep in. Most prisoners had a privilege to have visitors mainly 1 visitor per month. On Alcatraz, there was an A block, which was the original military prison later blocked offed and abandoned. Block B and C was the main blocks for prisoner cells and block D was solitary confinement, which was 6 cells completely isolated by other inmates and was for the prisoners who act up.

Inmates Of Alcatraz 1934-1963

“The Rock” got its name from their prisoners, who actually experienced Alcatraz. Some notable prisoners were George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Robert Stroud who was known as “The Birdman of Alcatraz” And lastly but most importantly Al Capone, who you might of heard as “Scarface”. These prisoners were notorious for many reasons. George “Machine Gun” Kelly got his nickname from his favorite weapon, a Thompson Submachine Gun. In the article, it claims that His wife, Kathryne Kelly bought him this machine gun and forced him to practice with it, for self-defense. George Kelly was put in Alcatraz because of kidnapping a wealthy oil tycoon and businessman, Charles Urschel. In July 1933 he plotted this plan with his wife, Kathryn Kelly, and both were sent to jail. Kathryn Kelly was sent to a federal jail in Cincinnati, while George was sent to a jail in Leavenworth, Kansas. George Kelly threatened to all the people that he would escape and get his wife and have a happy Christmas. It soon became such a big threat that the was sent by train to Alcatraz in September 4, 1934, to be fully monitored. In Alcatraz, he regretted all of his crimes and missed his wife. He sent letters to Charles Urschel, saying sorry but never got an response. He worked as a laundry person at Alcatraz. George Kelly was released from Alcatraz in 1951 and returned to Leavenworth. On July 18, 1954, George Kelly died from an heart attack. On that exact day, it happened to be his 59th birthday. His wife, Kathryn Kelly was released from prison in 1958 and got an job at the Oklahoma hospital as a bookkeeper. According to, Kathryne Kelly might have died in 1998.

Another notable inmate was Robert Stroud’s “Birdman of Alcatraz”. Robert got his nickname from his interest of birds. Robert Stroud was sent to Alcatraz because in 1909, he shot a bartender. Then, he took the bartender’s wallet and stole money from him. When police figured out in 1911, Stroud was convicted of manslaughter. After that, he was sent to McNeil Island, a penitentiary in Washington State. His record there was to be very bad. He actually very violent and hard to manage. In the hospital, he was said to have threatened a nurse and when it didn’t go his way, he killed the nurse. On a different day, he stabbed a fellow inmate. After McNeil couldn’t handle Stroud any more, he was sent to a prison in Kansas called Leavenworth. In 1916, Stroud refused to meet an visitor for him, his brother. While the guard said you should, Stroud hated this. So, the stabbed the guard to death. The BOP was fed up with his behaviour so they decided to hang him. But in the meanwhile, he would serve his sentence in solitary confinement. But Stroud’s mother begged for his life. Finally, in 1920, president Woodrow Wilson compromised and said that Stroud would get a life sentence and there would be no release date. Over the time he served at Leavenworth, he developed an interest in birds. One day when the was walking through the recreational yard, the came across a injured canary. After that, the grew an interest with canaries and birds. Due to being locked up all the time, they let Stroud take birds in his cell. Eventually, the even got privilege to write and publish an book on canaries and another one on canary diseases. In 1942, Stroud was transferred to Alcatraz. He was said to have spent 17 years there, 6 in solitary confinement and 11 in the prison hospital. In 1995 he was sent to the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri. On November 21 1963 he was found in the hospital dead because of natural causes and old age.

The last but most powerful American Gangster was Al Capone. His nickname, “Scarface” came from an day at the bar. The made a rude comment to an lady but Capone didn’t realize that her brother was hearing. The lady’s brother came with a knife and slashed his side of his face. Towns people noticed this scar and started calling him “Scarface”. Al Capone was completely ashamed of what happened and didn’t like this name. But before that, in his childhood, Al Capone was raised on the streets of New York City. Al Capone had 8 siblings, and Gabriele Capone and Teresina (Al Capone’s parents) could not afford clothes and good food for all 9 kids. All of the negative things like Gangsters and nightclubs were all a influence to Al Capone because the saw bad things happen. Capone thought it was good. His scar made it easy to believe that he’s a gangster. So, Al Capone grew up to be one of the most notorious and well known gangsters and most richest people in all of Chicago. Before the even reached 20, the was doing bad things which included running nightclubs. As for his reputation, people at Chicago soon figured out that Capone murdered a couple other gangsters from a different group. Since the people in Chicago found out, his reputation lowered. Al Capone didn’t want to go to jail for this or want his reputation to lower. So, as harsh as he looks Capone actually opened one of the first free soup kitchens caused by the great depression. Along with that, he gave free milk to kids at school. It wasn’t long before the police finally realized what really happened. Shortly after, he was sent to the Eastern State Penitentiary. It was supposed to be the toughest jail and sure, it was. But the problem was that the guards were very gullible. Eventually, Al Capone bribed the guards, and soon the guards listened. Al Capone got an VIP cell, which was bigger than any other cell. Other inmates were restricted to 1 peice of their furniture, but Capone fully furnished his cell which the called “home”. Soon the head of the jail saw this happening and quickly sent him on a railroad cart to Alcatraz. When the arrived at Alcatraz, the was standing in line to wait for his cell and inmate number. When he stood in front of the guard, the tried bribing him, like he did in the previous prison. But the guard didn’t let it happen. In alcatraz, he soon discovered that he wasn’t treated special like the did with his fame from being a gangster. The was treated like an normal inmate. One day, he was standing in front of the same guard and told him “It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked”. A while later, Capone was working in the basement of the prison when all of a sudden, a inmate came with a pair of hair cutting scissors and stabbed Capone in the back. Capone was immediately sent to the prison hospital and came back a few days later. On a different occasion, Capone got in a fight with a another inmate at the recreation yard. By this, he was put in solitary confinement for 8 days. After spending 4 and an half years at Alcatraz, Capone got sick. His time at Alcatraz had come to a end. So, he returned to his mansion in Palm Island, Florida, to spend his last few years with family. On January 25, 1947, Capon died of cardiac arrest.

Life At Alcatraz 1934-1963

In Alcatraz, you didn’t just do nothing in your cells, you actually had to work. Along with that, there was an schedule. On a daily basis, at 6:30 sharp a morning whistle blew. In under 15 minutes, inmates were required to clean their cells from top to bottom and clean themselves up and dress. At 6:45, inmates only get 5 minutes to walk out of their cells and eat at the mess hall. Soldiers keep a very sharp eye on the inmates. After that, all inmates go back to their cells to be counted. When the head of the guards finishes, he blows the second-morning whistle. Next, inmates get back out of their cells and make a line strictly one head behind the other. At 7:00, block C and block B went to mess hall to eat. When everyone was finished, guards counted utensils and knives to ensure nobody steals any for a easy weapon. Then, form 7:05- 7:20 inmates are escorted to the recreation yard where they will then be escorted by other guards to go to their specific job. According to, the jobs at Alcatraz were Laundry, Tailor Shop (A clothes maker) Cobbler shop (A shoe maker) Model shop (A workshop) gardening, and other shops. From 7:25 to 9:30 men are all required to work. At 9:30 inmates are all counted and after that, they are allowed to take a break and even allowed to smoke in permitted areas. When the whistle blows, inmates are supposed to get back to work immediately. They work until 11:30 where they are lined up and counted again. Following that, at 11:35 inmates line up, and just like in the morning, they line up for what’s called “dinner” but is actually lunch time at the mess hall. They eat for 20 minutes and then are counted right after they are put in there cells. After a 20 minute rest break in their cells, they are unlocked and follow the same work routine as in the morning. At 12:30, inmates go into their shops and work there (same thing as 7:30 in the morning.) They work until 2:30 and take a break period, same as the morning. They then work until 4:15. Prisoners are then counted, again. Prisoners then go into the mess hall and are then counted again. At 4:45, prisoners return to their cells with an count, and the guards lockup their cells. During the duration from 4:45-5:30, the guards switch shifts and count the inmates. At 8:30 they count in the cells. At 9:30, there is a lights out count. The guards at Alcatraz are supposed to count the inmates to make sure nobody has escaped. When they wake up, the same schedule repeats. On holidays, inmates can schedule and reserve spots for haircuts, showers, clothing changes, and recreation. As for shaving, inmates are supposed to shave 3 times a week.

Escape Attempts of all types

But not all inmates followed rules at Alcatraz. Some wanted freedom. They wanted to live life not in prison like the other inmates. But it’s hard to escape when Alcatraz has the highest security and its in the middle of an salty bay, that is to be so cold that many died from hypothermia from escaping. Some of these escape attempts included the shortest escape, the longest escape, and brainy escapes.

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One of the shortest escape attempts was by John Bayless. The never planned his escapes, the just made a run for it! By the time the jumped into the water, a guard was already chasing him. One day in 1941, the was working as a garbage detail. This job was actually very privileged because you got to see the bay and get to work outside. AN guard stood close by, watching. John noticed the thick fog and thought that the guard wouldn’t see him, but the did! John ran to the end of the island and jumped in the water but it was too late. The security had already spotted him and the guard blew his whistle. The water was so cold and the fog was so thick the was actually relieved to go back into Alcatraz. His foolish mistake of escaping made him serve more years at Alcatraz. Even so, the decided to escape once again without any thinking. This was when he was at an trail for his crime the committed. The was not successful, though. He was to serve another 30 years at Alcatraz. He tried to escape many times. He continuously went in and out of Alcatraz and once, he even came back to Alcatraz when the tried to escape. He was told to have been out of Alcatraz for 4 months. He was left at Alcatraz as a sick broken man, not the young person the used to be.

Another escape attempt was the longest escape. The longest escape was committed by John Paul Scott. (It’s only a coincidence that the first inmate was named John, too.) In the book Alcatraz Believe It Or Not by: T.C Bakker he says “was John paul Scott the luckiest man alive or the unluckiest?” Well, Scott had been transferred to Alcatraz because he was known for his brainy escapes. Alcatraz was heard to be the place where a prisoner would not escape. So, John was sent to Alcatraz. John got his escape idea when he was sent to work at the prison basement to help the cooks prepare food. A lightbulb flickered when he noticed that 1 guard had to watch both the upstairs and the downstairs. The guard had to switch downstairs in the basement then upstairs, in the prison. John took advantage of this. When the guard went upstairs, that’s when John noticed the bars for windows were half way cut through. So, the ran over and started cutting through the metal. Over the course of days, the window was finally cut through. When the day came he waited until the guard left. Then, he plunged out the window with another inmate he invited and was finally outside. With John, the brung a few pieces of a prison shirt, a few rubber gloves and a long electrical cord. When they got out they were on the west side of the prison building. To get on the other side, they climbed up the wall, with the pipes and when they were on the roof they ran over to the other side of the building on the roof and took the electrical cord and lowered themselves down on the ground. They ran to the edge of the cliff and blew up the gloves and tied them up. Then they stuffed it into their prison clothes like an swim floatie. They jumped in the water and swam. But it was very, very hard because of the choppy water. Making it even harder, the sun had just gone down and it was dark. John’s friend who was with him Darl Dee Parker had lost false teeth because of the such choppy waves. While they were gasping for breath, Darl swam to a small rock called “little Alcatraz” and caught his breath. The cold current forced them to swim towards the golden gate bridge, but that was near the Pacific Ocean which would have made them a meal for the sharks. While they tried to swim to San Francisco, the cold current still forced them to the Pacific Ocean. Both wished that they were back at Alcatraz. The night was getting colder and they were on the verge of getting hypothermia. There fingers, then their hand, then their arms were getting numb. It was getting so hard to move, even their legs weren’t responding. The rocks were cutting his skin and the violent waves tore off his clothes. The was completely naked except for his socks. The wanted to jump on a rock and take a break but now his limbs weren’t even working. Then, the passed out. The waves were too violent and the couldn’t take it. He was washed up on shore of San Francisco, he had made it but he was unconscious. Soon, 2 teenagers found him and called the hospital. The hospital thought the wouldn’t make it but then they warmed him up. He was alive and the made it 3 miles off of Alcatraz but he was then sent back to Alcatraz.

Another escape attempt was brainy ones. The first brainy escape attempt was when 3 inmates made dummy heads. On a early morning of June 12, 1962, 3 inmates didn’t want to wake up. One of the guards said he would wake them up, and then the slapped the pillow. All of a sudden, the head bounced off the pillow and clattered on the floor. The cell was empty and the sirens began to wail. Months earlier, a fellow inmate named Alan West allowed those inmates to lots of resources that other inmates weren’t allowed to. At the end of it, the police figured out that if you moved the inmates bed to the left, it revealed an hole. The hole leads to a workshop in the pipe area where the missing inmates probably escaped because there’s a vent that is a easy escape route! These inmates were never found again…

Another brainy escape was during Alcatraz Military prison. One of the inmates wanted to escape the easy way so when he was working outside, the saw a shed which gave him a good idea. Inside the shed the saw a box. It was big so the jumped into it and had another inmate screw the lid on. The inmate was lucky in three ways: The box was to be sent to an hospital across the bay, the box had said “handle with care!” on the side and the last one was that he actually found this box! When the box actually arrived at the hospital, it wasn’t opened right away. The next morning, the prison found a missing box and a missing prisoner. It was pretty clear what had happened. Concluding that, that prisoner wasn’t found again.

The last brainy escape is probably the most brainy. 4 prisoners who worked at the printing department wanted to escape. In Alcatraz when inmates are allowed to be released early, they get a slip of paper from the government and are sent with clothes, money and other goodies on a silver plate. When they printed out the fake slips, the guards at Alcatraz actually bought it. So, those prisoners were put on a boat and were given all these good goodies. When they arrived at San Francisco, all of the inmates spent money on bars and drinks and had fun. But one inmate was missing. This inmate actually bought plane tickets to think for the long term run. The other inmates were found and put back in Alcatraz because they found out what they actually did. The inmate who bought an plane ticket was never found. Brainy!

Other than these escapes, there were countless other recorded escape attempts. Some were killed by guards, a lot were found missing, most were found, and others never tried escaping.

Alcatraz Closes Down 1963

In 1963, Alcatraz decided to close down. Due to expensive regulations, Alcatraz sent all the prisoners throughout America. In an normal prison, each prisoner is $5 dollars to maintain but in Alcatraz, each prisoner is $10+ dollars and it was to expensive for the government. On top of that, the newest security was pricy but Alcatraz still bought it. The food was exceptionally good for a prison, which was more pricy. Each cell was actually equipped with an radio, which you could put on headphones and listen to. That was also extra expenses. Now, Alcatraz is a tourism spot and is open to the public. Alcatraz is the best spot to visit when you go to San Francisco.

Protest Site Alcatraz 1969-1971

This protest started because of the American Indian war. The American Indians claimed that Alcatraz island was first Indian land. So, they decided to put up a protest. After Alcatraz closed, they occupied Alcatraz by putting their tents and live there. For the protest part, they made a treaty for the government. In the text, they have the full treaty that the Indians proposed. The Indians painted Alcatraz land with red paint that said things like “this is Indian land” and “Indians are welcome”

They were finally making an point until in 1971 the government forced the Indians off Alcatraz land and told them to move away. The Indians did it with hesitation but finally moved away. They made themselves clear, though. When Alcatraz opened up as a tourist site, everyone sees the red paint that they painted.


Alcatraz is indeed very tuff for inmates. Alcatraz was there from the very beginning: 1775-1971. Some people only know about the prison Alcatraz, but there’s a bigger story than just that. 1775-1971 is well over 1 century! Well, you just think that Alcatraz is just a tourist spot now and that’s it. But some still hear the faint voices and screaming from the worst inmates. Many people think that there is paranormal activity that roams the empty halls of Alcatraz.

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