The rock

by Alison, 16/02/2014

The first thing we did in San Fran was to take a ferry out to Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz sits in the middle in San Francisco bay. It has been a military fort, a prison, a protest site and is now a state park. However the reason we went to see it, was to learn more about its most famous incarnation as a maximum security prison which held America's most notorious gangsters. 

As the saying goes 'Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz'. This prison held the men who in their day struck fear and fascination into the public mindset. Only a 15minute ferry ride from shore, these men could see the world and society that had left them behind. The views over the city and landscape from Alcatraz are stunning. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the downtown avenues, when the mist clears they are all thrown into stark relief. What must have been even more taunting was on a clear night the sounds of the cities night life apparently floats cleanly across the bay.

While on Alcatraz you were 'entilted to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Everything else was a privlage'. There were few comforts and the notion of rehabiliting prisoners to return to society had not yet been formed when Alcatraz was opened.  For some it was the turning point in there lives, for others they couldn't cope. There were some escape attempts, though no known sucesses. Even after getting out of the prison the prisoners had to swim across the cold and trecherous San Francisco Bay. Having just surfed further down the coast I can attest to the fact of swimming in these waters unprepared would be more then most people could take.

However standing in the sunshine in the current national park there is a beauty to the island. Gardens are tended by volunteers and due to the lack of preditors it is a santuary for wild birds. I often find historical sites like this strange. The grim reality of the place does not fit the sunshine and blue skies that surround it. Due to the black and white images I always imagine these places as grey and grainy, not sparkling in the sunshine.

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