There Was Never a Harder Place Than ‘the Rock’

Used for 29 years to house the nation’s worst criminals, the penitentiary on Alcatraz earned its reputation as ‘Uncle Sam’s Devil’s Island’

The federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, the "Rock," was deliberately infamous. It was here that the worst cases in the entire federal prison system were sent. The threat of time on Alcatraz was designed to keep prisoners elsewhere in line. Conditions were indeed rough. Some prisoners mutilated themselves; others committed suicide. But the 336 cells never held more than 260 convicts at any one time, and altogether only 1,576 were sent there from the time the prison opened in 1934 until it closed in 1963.

As the last prisoner to leave Alcatraz was boarding the boat, he remarked to the crowd of reporters and photographers: "Alcatraz was never no good for nobody."

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