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The Alcatraz Prison Escape

About 1.25 miles from the coast of San Francisco, California sits The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on the once petrifying Alcatraz Island. It was home to the most conniving of murderers, most treacherous thieves, and the most nefarious of mankind.

The former penitentiary grew out of an army station that housed an army prison. On July 1, 1934, the maximum-security prison was established with modifications intended to make the prison, enclosed by San Francisco Bay's icy waters and fierce currents, inescapable. As an isolated and distinctive prison, it was a last resort to contain high profile criminals who were deemed too perilous to be near society 

In its 29 years as a functioning penitentiary, it had encaged notorious criminals like the infamous gangsters Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly. The Alcatraz was seen as ‘the prison system’s prison,’ and was a facility where the most troublesome convicts were sent to dwell in cramped quarters with minimal privileges. Here, penalization had a higher priority than rehabilitation. 

When sentenced to Alcatraz, there was one thing most prisoners understood; there was no way out. Nevertheless, over 14 escape attempts were made by 36 fearless prisoners, with most being inefficacious. However, one of the most notable and successful attempts in the history of the facility was meticulously devised and executed in June 1962 by Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence Anglin, three career criminals with a history of jail evasions. The fourth member, Allen West could not make it out of his cell in time and later obliged to blow the gaff.

The men began conspiring when they transferred to adjacent cells. They loosened and widened the air vents of their cells by drilling spaced holes around the cover with primitive equipment, including a makeshift drill and spoons, to set up an unguarded utility behind their cells. The men took cover in the cacophony of the daily music hour. The getaway gear included an inflatable raft and life vests made from over 50 stolen raincoats which were vulcanized by hot steam pipes, wooden paddles, and a musical instrument as a raft-inflating tool.

On the evening of June 11, 1962, the men geared up and scaled the ventilator onto the roof, escaped over the fence, and fled Alcatraz’s iron clasp. What ensued remains a mystery to date. Was the swim to the shore possible or were the stories of peril indeed real?

Evidence of inmates making the swim in much colder conditions and in the nude exists. The Anglin brothers were skilled swimmers, having honed their skills as children in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. Given that Frank Morris had a high IQ of 133, the reports of Morris acquiring tide forecasts from guards’ newspapers may indicate a well-calculated escape. Furthermore, the triumphant swimmers each year at the ‘Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon’, insinuate the fugitives’ survival.

Delft University scientists later went on to replicate the night’s circumstances. Their model suggested that the men would’ve likely drowned and debris would have washed ashore on Angel Island. They were accurate about the debris and probably in its entirety. In 2015, an alleged photo of the Anglin brothers in Brazil began to make the rounds, after which a letter reportedly from John Anglin surfaced; neither of which yielded conclusive reports.

With no tangible evidence of their drowned bodies or their unsolicited liberation, one can only ruminate on whether Alcatraz broke the men or contrariwise.

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