Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay and the skyline of San Francisco, California, USA (Getty Images)Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay and the skyline of San Francisco, California, USA (Getty Images)

Alcatraz Island lies in the San Francisco Bay, and it has an interesting history. From 1934 to 1963 it was a prison with a special reputation: it was impossible to escape from. But some prisoners – 36 of them – tried. Some were shot by guards, some drowned in the dangerous currents around the island, and others were recaptured.

But maybe – and only maybe – three inmates managed to get out of the prison, cross to the shore, and remain free.

On 11 June 1962 Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin climbed through the prison’s ventilation system and used a raft made out of raincoats to get to the shore. The FBI found parts of the raft and some things which belonged to the prisoners, but they never found any bodies. The men may be alive to this day – or maybe not.

These three men are some of the most famous of Alcatraz’s prisoners, but the prison was home to many others. They include Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly, two of the most dangerous criminals of the 1930s.

Empty prison cells in Alcatraz (Getty Images)Empty prison cells in Alcatraz (Getty Images)

The prison was closed in 1963 because it was very expensive to keep inmates there. Now you can visit Alcatraz if you want to, but you don’t have to be a dangerous criminal! The island is now a museum, and you can see for yourself how the prisoners used to live.





Find the parts of the text which mean the same as these sentences:

  1. It is possible that the prisoners who escaped are still living.

  2. You and I can visit Alcatraz.

  3. People thought that nobody could get out of Alcatraz.

  4. Alcatraz was shut down for financial reasons.

  5. The federal police in the USA cannot prove that the escaped prisoners died.


Activities for the links below

Form groups of three or four and look at a selection of the many pictures of Alcatraz provided by Google. Each member of the group chooses a set of pictures - for instance those showing the island, those showing the blocks, those showing the cells - and writes a paragraph on the subject.  When each of you has written something, join your paragraphs together into a presentation of Alcatraz.

On the first InfoPlease link, you will find some statistics on the USA’s federal prison population in 2003. Make sure you know what all the words in the table mean. Then do this task:

How many prisoners were serving sentences for doing the following?

  1. Entering the country illegally.
  2. Dealing in or using narcotics.
  3. Stealing things.
  4. Getting hold of money by telling lies.
  5. Killing people.
  6. Breaking into other people’s buildings.
  7. Owning guns, etc.
  8. Committing any type of crime.

Go to the article at the second InfoPlease site. Find the following numbers in the article and explain what each number signifies:

– 10.4%
– 10,000
– 2,166,260