"Break the rules, you go to prison, break the prison rules, you go to Alcatraz."
That's what wardens told convicts locked up throughout the nation between 1934-1963.
As Northern Californians, many of us take for granted the tourist attractions that bring millions to the Bay Area annually.
For $30 per adult, a 10-minute ferry ride will take you from San Francisco's Pier 31 to the U.S. National Park known as "The Rock" — the secluded penitentiary once home to the nation's most evil, poorly behaving and dangerous criminals.
As you arrive on the island, it's hard to envisage the secrets the castle walls hold, as the island gives way to panoramic views.
A 13-story equivalent climb leads onlookers to a galley once considered the entrance to the main prison, where complimentary headsets are handed out to guide sightseers through an uncanny piece of history.
"Keep your mouth shut and your back to the wall," Officer Pat Mahoney, seven-year veteran guard, rings sternly through your headphones. Silence suddenly vibrates from the concrete walls as dozens enter the solemn cellblock.
"Everyone wants to be a human, but you weren't at the rock," a haunting inmate voice tells you, "Alcatraz is the point of no return, you were considered buried if you made it here."
Sit in barred 5' wide, 9' deep, by 7-foot tall rooms that 1,500 men lived in for more than 20 hours per day. Stand inside the hole cells, where inmates being punished would spend days in dark solitude.
Walk beneath the gun galley, where guards stood ensuring there was "one gun on every prisoner."
Hear accounts of two escape attempts, including one known as the Battle of Alcatraz, a two-day lockdown war that led to the death of eight guards and several prisoners. See the holes in the ceiling and floor where the military ended the incident by dropping grenades into the chaos to regain order.
Gather in the most dangerous room of the cell house, the dining hall, also known as the gas chamber. "Imagine 200-men armed with forks and knives; luckily there was never an incident that required triggering a release."
Feel heartfelt interviews from detainees who accepted this would be their home for the remainder of their lives.
"There wasn't a day that you didn't see what you were missing, you could see the city skyline only a mile and a quarter away," he tells you, "At night, if the wind blew just right you could hear the sounds of the free world."
Inmates could earn ways to entertain themselves. Mail, music hour, oil paints, crochet materials, education, recreational time and library books were available to cons with exceptional behavior.
Even explore a community outside of the walls where officers lived with their families on the island as well.
Learn the rich history of the monument, and how, eventually, criminal detention began its movement toward rehabilitation rather than punishment. The warden walked his last prisoner off the rock on March 1, 1963, after the prison shut due to financial issues.