The Rock Hosts Reunion

Former guards, prisoners reunite on Alcatraz to mark 75th anniversary of prison's opening

By Jackson West
|  Friday, Aug 7, 2009  |  Updated 1:35 PM PDT
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The Rock Hosts Reunion

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Sunny skies will probably greet a homecoming like no other on the island of Alcatraz.

You wouldn't think that anyone would willingly return to a barren, windswept rock where they served hard time or had to watch over America's most notorious criminals.

But that's exactly what former Alcatraz prison guards and some of their imprisoned charges will be doing on Sunday at a reunion probably more considerably more awkward than hanging out with former high school classmates.

The reunion, marking the 75th anniversary of Alcatraz's debut as a jailhouse, is in part a benefit to restore buildings that were damaged when Native American activists occupied the island to agitate for more rights and recognition.

What began as a military fort, then a disciplinary barracks became a federal prison in 1934. Infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone spent four and a half of his eleven year sentence on the rock.

Contact with the outside world was so limited, prisoners considered the worst cells on the block the ones from which the energetic bustle of San Francisco could be heard carrying across the Bay.

As usual, you won't be able to get last-minute tickets -- while once the island was the last place anyone wanted to end up, it's now one of the first places visitors think to tour.

Jackson West is surprised the place hasn't been converted to condos yet.

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