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“You are entitled to food clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.”
(Number 5, Alcatraz Prison Rules and Regulations, 1934)

This rule was one of the realities of life inside the walls of the U.S. Federal Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island. The island is in the heart of San Francisco Bay, just a mile and a quarter away from one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The subject of many movies and books, Alcatraz became a symbol of America’s dark side. There are a lot of documentaries, movies, articles and books about Alcatraz. From fiction rather than fact, we have stories of the prison and of some of the real men who lived in its cells: Al “Scarface” Capone and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz”. Jolene Babyak, the author of Eyewitness on Alcatraz and a former resident of the island, says that the residents of the island were rarely interviewed and the truth of Alcatraz has often been overlooked, lost in the fog of its myths. Alcatraz has been so much more than just a notorious penitantiary.
In the time allowed I’d like to tell you about the major purposes the island served throughout its history.

Welcome to Alcatraz.

It all started on July 18, 1850 when a military board proposed a three-point defensive strategy for San Francisco Bay. This approach required that a massive brick fort be built on each side of the Golden Gate. Alcatraz was selected as the third site with smaller fortification. The city and its rich port were very tempting for Confederate raiders and during the Civil War Alcatraz was an important part of the U.S. Army’s western defense plan. However military technology advanced quickly and the island’s defense became obsolete. In 1907 the Army formally decommissioned Alcatraz as a fortification.

When the fort was decommissioned, regular army troops were replaced by the U.S. Military Guard. They tore down the citadel built during the war and start...

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