Our travel agent had kindly arranged for us to visit Alcatraz this morning. It wasn’t as gruesome as I feared it might be; we had been to Robben Island off Cape Town in 2010 and that was stark and moving. There was an audio tour with personal headphones so in fact the entire boatload of visitors walked in silence around the prison listening to its story first as a federal fort protecting San Francisco in the late eighteen hundreds at the time of the gold rush through to its infamous time as a prison housing Al Capone and others and then on to the American Indian peace movement in the late 60s /early 70s when various groups of native Indians staged a sit in for over 19 months.
Once it became a prison (the most feared in the US) there were typically only 250-300 prisoners locked up at any one time and the guards and their families also usually lived on the island with the children catching a boat back to the mainland to go to school each day. Their grounds were beautifully tended and in stark contrast to the prison wings of course where only food and medicine was available as a right. Everything else was a privilege that had to be earned.
One former prisoner recounted hearing cheers from the mainland one New Years Eve given that it’s only just over a mile from the Bay and the wind was clearly in the right direction; in one sense it gave some relief from the monotony and separation but in another made him realise how far he really was from freedom.
After returning from the island we walked up to Lombard Street with its famous crooked road:
Tomorrow we leave this slightly crazy hilly city and head off again on the next stage of our adventure.