Learning Prison Slang on Alcatraz Island

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You must be prepared if you want to visit Alcatraz Island. The island is isolated and hard to get to, which is what I imagine prisoners thought about San Francisco while Alcatraz was a working federal prison. Okay, maybe not. That’s an intensely exaggerated comparison but you get the idea.

The only way to get to Alcatraz Island is by booking tickets way in advance (I’m talking weeks) and getting on the ferry. Forget about planning breakfast, lunch or dinner before your tour, do it after. You do not want to be late. Your spot will be given away.

The ferry ride itself is worth the price of your ticket. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz Island have you surrounded and anxiety takes over as you attempt to photograph all three landmarks at once. Your time on the island starts with a short greeting from one of the park rangers – many people are not aware that Alcatraz Island is a national park . You are then given a map and left alone. Your tour of Alcatraz is designed and lead by you– it can be as long or short as you want.

I found Alcatraz enchanting.

All my knowledge about prisons comes from Orange is the New Black, but it seems like most prisons are built away from populated areas. Alcatraz, though not easily accessible, is front and centre in San Francisco.

Out of small dirty windows, prisoners could catch glimpses of freedom and everyday life happening right before them. The self-guided Cellhouse Audio Tour told a story about how during New Years Eve, when the wind was strong enough, echoes of women laughing and champagne glasses clinking from parties across the bay would sneak through the cracks of the prison walls to haunt the men.

It’s easy to find yourself on the side of Alcatraz prisoners. I rooted for them when I spotted evidence of failed escape attempts on the cell walls. As I stepped inside the dark cells of solitary confinement I was sure that Al Capone didn’t deserve it. I secretly hoped that Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers got away and enjoyed few too many piña coladas off the coast of somewhere warm.

It wasn’t until the recent prison escape in New York that I came to my senses.

But, still, I loved Alcatraz so much that I shoplifted a few souvenirs: a deck of cards featuring prison slang, postcards for friends, and a book called Alcatraz-1259, where a former Alcatraz prisoner recounts his experience. Nah, just kidding. I paid for them.

Alcatraz
(415) 981- 7625
Pier 33, Alcatraz Landing
San Francisco, California 94133
http://www.alcatrazcruises.com/

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