Living Memories From The Last Days Of Alcatraz

Fifty years ago, the notorious Alcatraz prison shut its gate behind guard Jim Albright as he escorted the last inmate off the island on March 21, 1963.

"As we're going out, I know, when I come back from this trip, I don't have a job, I don't have a home anymore," Albright remembers. "I didn't want the island to close, I didn't want to leave. I liked it there."

Since that day, Albright estimates that he's visited the island a dozen times, along with many other tourists to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. But even without prisoners, Alcatraz remains one of the most infamous prisons in America. It continues to capture the public's imagination, decades after it closed.

Robert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks. i i

hide captionRobert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks.

Courtesy Alcatraz The Rock
Robert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks.

Robert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks.

Courtesy Alcatraz The Rock

Remembering "The Rock"

Former inmate Robert Schibline was brought to Alcatraz in 1958, after he was caught robbing banks while on shore leave from the Navy — and using the aircraft carrier on which he was stationed as a getaway vehicle.

"Well, the reputation of Alcatraz went far and wide, even to us convicts," Schibline says. "I had a bit of a trepidation when I got off the bus, and seeing that thing sitting on the island, out in the bay, shrouded by fog, I thought, 'Oh boy, here I go again, into the world unknown!'"

Albright was also nervous on his first day on "The Rock."

"I remember I was only 24 when I started there, and I had no previous experience," he says. "So it was kinda fearful, and you'd be apprehensive and it was exciting and everything, especially when you walked through the door for the first time and they slammed the door behind you. Because you didn't know what to expect."

The Night Of The Escape

Albright and Schibline remember each other from those days, though guards and inmates did not socialize. They also recall the night when inmates Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin made history as the first successful escapees from "The Rock."

The daring trio placed homemade dummy heads in their beds to fool the guards, then climbed up onto the roof and into the San Francisco Bay on a raft made of raincoats. They were never heard from again.

"All the inmates felt like they made it and all the officers felt like they didn't make it," Albright recalls.

"Everybody was very happy that they made it out of the cell block and out of the prison," says Schibline, who did his own small part to help the Anglin brothers escape. "I was able to get access to the paper out of the garbage can and get the tide tables off to Clarence."

Whether or not that helped the escapees is uncertain, and most believe they drowned in the ocean. A year after the escape, Alcatraz prison was shut down.

Alcatraz: The Last Day

Life Magazine assigned photographer Leigh Wiener to cover closing day at Alcatraz on March 21, 1963. Most of what he shot went unpublished until his son Devik rediscovered the images 45 years later. In 2012, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy published Wiener's photos in a book, Alcatraz: The Last Day.

  • Not everything made it out of Alcatraz, including recreation yard equipment.
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    Not everything made it out of Alcatraz, including recreation yard equipment.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • After guard Jim Albright, left, escorted the last of the convicts from Alcatraz, he realized he was out of a job — and out of a home.
    Hide caption
    After guard Jim Albright, left, escorted the last of the convicts from Alcatraz, he realized he was out of a job — and out of a home.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • Alcatraz's guards lived in special housing on "The Rock" with their families.
    Hide caption
    Alcatraz's guards lived in special housing on "The Rock" with their families.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • At the West Road guard tower on Alcatraz Island, all boats had to stay at least 200 yards offshore.
    Hide caption
    At the West Road guard tower on Alcatraz Island, all boats had to stay at least 200 yards offshore.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • A prisoner's cell had few comforts.
    Hide caption
    A prisoner's cell had few comforts.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • Two-inch-thick bullet-proof glass protected guards in the control center.
    Hide caption
    Two-inch-thick bullet-proof glass protected guards in the control center.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • On the last day of Alcatraz, convicts were handcuffed, shackled and marched out of the prison.
    Hide caption
    On the last day of Alcatraz, convicts were handcuffed, shackled and marched out of the prison.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • The breakfast menu on the prison's last day included dry cereals, steamed whole wheat, scrambled eggs and stewed fruit.
    Hide caption

    The breakfast menu on the prison's last day included dry cereals, steamed whole wheat, scrambled eggs and stewed fruit.

    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • Convicts were herded onto boats for their last ride from "The Rock."
    Hide caption

    Convicts were herded onto boats for their last ride from "The Rock."

    Courtesy Devik Wiener
  • San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge was within sight of the island's inmates.
    Hide caption
    San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge was within sight of the island's inmates.
    Courtesy Devik Wiener

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Albright went on to work in other prisons for the next 22 years, and Schibline opened a successful scuba diving shop after his release from prison. Both are now retired.

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