Alcatraz has gone down in folklore as one of the meanest prisons in history, as well as one of the toughest to escape from. That doesn’t mean to say no one tried it, but you had to be pretty determined, smart and lucky to get away from this maximum security site.
First of all, Alcatraz was on an island. Well, if you can call it that. It was little more than a rocky outcrop on which little raft-making or camouflage-creating foliage grew. This meant that any escape either had to involve a plane, boat or a long, hard swim. The water can often drop to 16 degrees C (60 degrees F) and the currents will slosh you about furiously, meaning you’re in for a rough ride. Another hazard was the Great White sharks that patrolled the area.
Secondly, it was pretty well defended. In a former life it was a fort, built in 1912 with steel and concrete the main, insurmountable barriers to a way off the island. The steel was called ‘tool-resistant’ and did exactly what it said on the tin – it was strong enough to resist any attempt to saw away with whatever blade the inmates were able to get their hands on.
Thirdly, there was no preferential treatment for any of the inmates. While big names crooks may have got treated well in other prisons, there was no room for celebrity at Alcatraz where all inmates were treated the same and were only allowed out for one hour of exercise a day.