Alcatraz Island, home to its namesake famous prison off the San Francisco Bay, welcomed back its last inmates for the 50th anniversary of the closure of one of the most notorious penitentiaries in the world.
Former residents and their families returned to Alcatraz to recount their stories last week.
Due to high maintenance costs, the federal penitentiary closed on March 21, 1963, leaving the island facility in the middle of San Francisco’s bay to become a high-profile tourist attraction. The island prison also turned into a mythical spot of folkloric proportions and was the focus of numerous movies, including the famous Escape From Alcatraz.
"Just as the inmates couldn't wait to get off the island, the public couldn't wait to get on," Superintendent Frank Dean from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which now oversees the property, told The San Jose Mercury News.
Now the abandoned prison draws 1.5 million visitors every year.
The officers and prisoners who took part in the anniversary celebration described the unique experience that was Alcatraz Island.
Former Alcatraz correctional officer Jim Albright described Alcatraz like a small town.
Life there was "sometimes very exciting, sometimes very fearful, sometimes very boring,” Albright told the Mercury News.
Prior to its closure, over 60 relatives of former Alcatraz workers lived in homes on the island and created a small, tight knit community.
For the children who lived on the island, life was a one of a kind.
74 year-old John Brunner described his decade long experience while living on Alcatraz.
Moving there at age 10, Brunner became accustomed to having to take a boat to and from school every morning.
He also adapted to learning how to communicate with those not living on the mainland.
There was “a lot of lines waiting to call the boyfriend or girlfriend in the city," Brunner told the Mercury News.
Still living close to where he grew up during his teens, Brunner now organizes an annual Alcatraz alumni get-together in San Francisco. He also created a website to keep the island’s former residents updated on one another’s lives.
Former correctional officer John Mahoney was on the last boatload of inmates off the island, most of whom were considered very dangerous.
"You had to do something very serious to be on Alcatraz," Mahoney said of the mostly male prison population who were convicted of murders and other violent crimes.
"These guys were pretty tough," Mahoney told the Mercury News.
"When they decided someone was going to leave this world, they left it."
While they may have been dangerous, the inmates still were respectful towards the prison guards.
During his seven years on the island, Mahoney never saw any officers injured by a prisoner.