Alcatraz was no ordinary prison. Prisoners got the full treatment, with a guard to every three inmates. Every cell was a single cell. According to the movie’s warden,
If you disobey the rules of society, they send you to prison. If you disobey the rules of prison, they send you to us.
Sure, there have been escape attempts–some even reaching the strong current of the bay–but there is no proof of a completely successful escape. In 1962, Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers came close. Did they make it to safe land? Mythbusters says it’s plausible. The FBI says they’re dead.
Clint Eastwood plays Morris, the brains of the operation. After being threatened by fellow inmates, shut up in solitary confinement, and hosed down, he’s ready to bust the joint. So he takes a nail clipper he swiped from the warden to his cell’s air vent. The moist salt air hasn’t done much good for the Rock.
His tale is real and remarkable. Out of 28 years as a federal prison, Alcatraz saw 1,545 prisoners. Fourteen escape attempts. Eight resulting deaths. No known successes. No one ever saw Morris again.
Now, people are angling to get in, not out. And paying good money too. Alcatraz was an expensive operation, costing about $10 a day per prisoner (compare that to Atlanta’s $3 a day). But it should have been a tourist attraction all along. It’s $26 for the boat ride, which launches roughly every half hour from 9 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. The audio tour will cost you $8.
Of course, most San Franciscans wouldn’t dare rub elbows with so many tourists, let alone get that close to Fisherman’s Wharf. Most San Franciscans, in fact, pride themselves in thoroughly avoiding tourist hot spots. Please. We live here. Don’t be so gauche, with your fanny packs in line for the streetcar. Now excuse us while we crowd Tartine for some bread pudding.
Alcatraz is a part of San Francisco that San Francisco would rather ignore, save for the fact that, well, it’s pretty. It gives you something to look at rather than just Oakland’s shore. Wildlife flock to the island…literally. Have you seen all those birds? Not to mention the abundance of agave growing along its hillside.
With a growing interest in quality tequila, it’s surprising someone hasn’t started bottling up Alcatraz Island Prison Tequila already. Surprising, too, that the remaining hippie dippy types aren’t out there collecting some nectar for their next batch of homemade ice cream. Think of all the money the city’s missing out on. The only thing Alcatraz needs is a tequila saloon for all those thirsty tourists. Or maybe somebody doesn’t want a $3,000 suit. Come on.
Doesn’t it always work out so much better when you can earn a buck off some poor convict schmuck’s misery and misfortune? The answer is yes.
Starring San Francisco is Appeal events editor, Christine Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a locally set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at email@example.com