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Escape From Alcatraz

Three scary criminals and their daring plan to break out of America’s toughest prison

Pictorial Parade/Hulton Archive/Getty Images (Frank Morris); Bettmann/Getty Images (John & Clarence Anglin); Lina Truman/Shutterstock.com (photo frames) 

These men may be the only prisoners to have successfully escaped from Alcatraz—ever!

Before You Read: Check out our Background Builder slideshow

 

    At exactly 9:30 on the night of June 11, 1962, the lights at Alcatraz prison went out. Most of the men living there shivered on their thin beds as they tried to fall asleep. 

    But not Frank Morris. He waited for the prison to get quiet. His heart was pounding. If his plan worked, he would never sleep in this prison again. 

    For months, Morris and three other prisoners—Allen West and brothers Clarence and John Anglin—had been secretly planning to escape. This prison sat at the top of an island surrounded by San Francisco Bay. People said it was impossible to break free from “the Rock,” as Alcatraz was known. 

    Morris and his friends had come up with a clever plan. They had been using tiny tools to chip away at the walls of their cells. Eventually, the men made holes big enough to crawl through. Then they climbed up the pipes behind their cells and set up a secret workshop. 

    Here they used stolen and handmade tools to make a raft out of raincoats. It was their only hope for surviving the rough, freezing waters of San Francisco Bay.

    It was 9:30 p.m. on June 11, 1962. The lights at Alcatraz prison went out. Most of the men living there tried to sleep.

    But not Frank Morris. He waited for the prison to get quiet. His heart pounded. If his plan worked, he would never sleep in this prison again.

    For months, Morris and three other prisoners—Allen West and brothers Clarence and John Anglin—had been planning to escape. The prison sat on an island in San Francisco Bay. People said it was impossible to break free from “the Rock,” as Alcatraz was known.

    Morris and his friends had a plan. They had used tiny tools to chip away at the walls of their cells. Slowly, they made holes big enough to crawl through. Then they climbed up the pipes behind their cells and set up a workshop.

    Here they used stolen and handmade tools to make a raft out of raincoats. They hoped it would keep them alive in the rough, freezing waters of the bay.

    At precisely 9:30 on the night of June 11, 1962, the lights at Alcatraz prison went out. Most of the prisoners shivered on their thin beds, trying to fall asleep.

    But not Frank Morris. Heart pounding, he waited for the prison to get quiet. If his plan succeeded, he would never sleep in this prison again.

    For months, Morris and three other prisoners—Allen West and brothers Clarence and John Anglin—had been secretly planning to escape. Alcatraz sat at the top of an island surrounded by San Francisco Bay. People said it was impossible to break free from “the Rock,” as the prison was known.

    Morris and his friends had come up with a clever plan. They had used tiny tools to chip away at the walls of their cells until they made holes large enough to crawl through. Then they climbed up the pipes behind their cells and set up a secret workshop.

    In the workshop, they used stolen and handmade tools to fashion a raft out of raincoats. It was their only hope for surviving the rough, freezing waters of San Francisco Bay.

The Crazy Escape

Jim Mcmahon ®mapman

    Morris had already escaped from several prisons. But Alcatraz was different. Security was tight. Guards counted the inmates many times each day and night. So Morris and his friends made dummy heads to fool them.

    On the night of their escape, the men tucked the fake heads into their beds. In the low light, the heads looked real. 

    Now, as darkness settled over Alcatraz, everything was ready. Well, almost. 

    At the last minute, West couldn’t get out of his cell. Morris and the Anglin brothers left without him. They wriggled out of their cells and climbed up plumbing pipes. Next, they stepped onto the roof. They crawled across quietly and scrambled down a drainpipe. 

    Finally, the men were out. 

    The salty breeze from San Francisco Bay blew against their faces. The men still had to climb a 12-foot fence and survive the shark-filled waters of the bay. Land was more than a mile away. 

    Inmates had made it this far before. But then they’d drown—or go back because of the rough waves. Morris took a deep breath. Could they pull off the most daring escape in the history of Alcatraz? 

    Morris had escaped from other prisons. But Alcatraz was different. Security was tight. Guards counted the inmates often. So Morris and his friends made dummy heads to fool them.

    On the night of their escape, the men tucked the fake heads into their beds. In the low light, the heads looked real.

    Now, as darkness settled over Alcatraz, everything was ready. Well, almost.

    At the last minute, West couldn’t get out of his cell. The others left without him. They wriggled out of their cells and climbed up plumbing pipes. Next, they stepped onto the roof. They crawled across it and climbed down a drainpipe.

    The men were out. But they still had to climb a 15-foot fence and survive the shark-filled waters of the bay. Land was more than a mile away.

    Inmates had made it this far before. But then they’d drown—or go back because of the rough waves. Morris took a deep breath. Could they pull off the most daring escape in the history of Alcatraz? 

    Morris had already escaped from several prisons—but Alcatraz was different. Security was extremely tight, with guards counting the inmates many times each day and night. To deceive the guards, Morris and his friends made dummy heads.

    On the night of their escape, the men tucked the fake heads into their beds. In the low light, the heads looked real.

    Now, as darkness descended over Alcatraz, everything was ready—well, almost.

    At the last minute, West was unable to get out of his cell. Morris and the Anglin brothers left without him. They wriggled out of their cells, climbed up plumbing pipes, and stepped onto the roof. Then they crawled across quietly and scrambled down a drainpipe.

    Finally, the men were out.

    The salty breeze from San Francisco Bay blew against their faces. The men still had to climb a 15-foot fence and survive the shark-infested waters of the bay. Land was more than a mile away.

    Inmates had made it this far before, only to drown—or go back because of the dangerous waves. Morris took a deep breath. Could he and his friends pull off the most daring escape in the history of Alcatraz? 

David Wall/Alamy Stock Photo

The Prison  
Alcatraz was built to be escape-proof. It is located on an island in the San Francisco Bay in California. The waters around it are rough, cold, and filled with sharks.

Ready for Troublemakers 

    Morris and the Anglin brothers didn’t have an easy journey ahead of them. That’s because Alcatraz was built to be impossible to escape.

    During the early 1930s, there were many robberies and murders in the United States. Some people thought that the country needed a “super-prison.” Alcatraz seemed like the perfect place to lock up these criminals. It sat by itself on a tiny island one-and-a-half miles from shore. 

    In August 1934, Alcatraz opened as a federal prison. Other prisons were told that Alcatraz would take their biggest troublemakers. By the end of the year, Alcatraz was home to more than 200 criminals.

    Morris and the Anglin brothers had a hard journey ahead. Alcatraz was built to be impossible to escape.

    In the 1930s, there were many robberies and murders in the United States. People thought the country needed a “super-prison.” Alcatraz seemed like the perfect place to lock up these criminals. It sat on a tiny island one-and-a-half miles from shore.

    In August 1934, Alcatraz opened as a federal prison. Other prisons were told that Alcatraz would take their biggest troublemakers. By the end of the year, Alcatraz had more than 200 inmates.

    Morris and the Anglins had a difficult journey ahead of them—Alcatraz was designed to be impossible to escape.

    During the 1930s, an alarming number of robberies and murders were taking place in the United States. People became convinced that the country needed a “super-prison” to contain the most difficult and dangerous criminals. Alcatraz, which sat by itself on a tiny island one-and-a-half miles from shore, seemed like the perfect location.

    In August 1934, Alcatraz opened as a federal prison. Other prisons were told that Alcatraz would take their biggest troublemakers. By the end of the year, Alcatraz was home to more than 200 criminals.

Life in Prison

    A prisoner at Alcatraz found himself in a harsh world. Prisoners banged on bars. No newspapers were allowed. Inmates could only listen to certain radio shows. 

    At 6:30 a.m., the men would wake up. They stood to be counted. Then they cleaned their cells and marched in one line to breakfast. After breakfast, guards counted the forks, knives, and spoons. They had to make sure no one used them later as weapons. 

    During the day, guards marched the inmates to jobs in places like the laundry room and the garden. The prisoners were counted constantly. Bedtime was at 9:30 p.m. on the dot. Anyone who broke the rules faced cruel punishments.

    Life at Alcatraz was hard. Prisoners banged on bars. No newspapers were allowed. Inmates could only listen to certain radio shows.

    At 6:30 a.m., the men would wake up. They stood to be counted. Then they cleaned their cells and marched to breakfast. After breakfast, guards counted the forks, knives, and spoons. They had to make sure no one used them later as weapons.

    The inmates worked in places like the laundry room and the garden. The men were counted often. Bedtime was at 9:30 p.m. sharp. Inmates who broke the rules faced cruel punishments.

    A prisoner at Alcatraz found himself in a harsh world. Prisoners banged on bars. No newspapers were allowed, and inmates could listen to only certain radio shows.

    At 6:30 a.m., the men would wake up. After standing to be counted, they cleaned their cells and marched single-file to breakfast. After breakfast, guards counted the forks, knives, and spoons to make sure no one used them later as weapons.

    During the day, guards marched the inmates to jobs in places like the laundry room and the garden. The prisoners were counted constantly. Bedtime was at 9:30 p.m. on the dot. Anyone who broke the rules faced cruel punishments.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (recreated cell); Dorling Kindersley ltd/Alamy Stock Photo (head); Album/Prisma/Newscom (cell)

The Escape  
Frank Morris escaped through a hole he carved in his jail cell. He even created a dummy head to slip under the covers of his bed to fool the guards. It was made out of toilet paper and cardboard. And it was covered with hair stolen from the prison barbershop!

Daring Escapes

    Alcatraz was a prison for 29 years. But by 1963, it was too expensive to keep open. The government shut it down. Today, Alcatraz is a landmark run by the National Park Service. More than a million tourists visit every year. They learn all about the 36 men who tried to escape.

    Of the 36 men, 23 were caught, 6 were killed, and 2 drowned. Experts believe that two others who tried to escape were swept out to sea. 

    That leaves three men: Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin. After the night of June 11, 1962, they were never seen or heard from again. 

    There was a big search for the men. Some people thought they escaped safely. In the end, officials said that the prisoners probably drowned. But not everyone believes that. There are still rumors that the men are alive—and some people even say they’ve seen them. More than 50 years after the escape, a federal officer is still investigating the case. 

    What do you think? Did Morris and the Anglin brothers make it? Or did they die in the rough waters of San Francisco Bay?

    Alcatraz was a prison for 29 years. But by 1963, it was too expensive to keep open. The government closed it. Today, it's a landmark run by the National Park Service. More than a million tourists visit every year. They learn about the 36 men who tried to escape.

    Of those 36 men, 23 were caught, 6 were killed, and 2 drowned. Experts believe that two others were swept out to sea.

    That leaves three men: Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers. After June 11, 1962, they were never heard from again.

    There was a big search. In the end, officials said the men probably drowned. But some people don’t think so. There are still rumors that the men are alive. Some people say they’ve seen them. More than 50 years after the escape, a federal officer is still investigating the case.

    What do you think? Did the men get away? Or did they die in the rough waters of San Francisco Bay?

    Alcatraz was a prison for 29 years—but in 1963, the government shut it down because it had become too expensive to operate. Today, Alcatraz is a landmark run by the National Park Service. More than a million tourists visit every year and learn about the 36 men who tried to escape.

    Of those 36 men, 23 were caught, 6 were killed, and 2 drowned. Experts believe that two others who tried to escape were swept out to sea.

    That leaves three men: Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin. After the night of June 11, 1962, they were never seen or heard from again.

    A massive search for the men was conducted. Ultimately, officials concluded that the prisoners probably drowned—but not everyone believes that. There are still rumors that the men are alive, and some people even claim to have seen them. More than 50 years after the escape, a federal officer is still investigating the case.

    What do you think? Did Morris and the Anglin brothers make it—or did they perish in the rough, icy waters of San Francisco Bay? 

Terry Smith Images/Alamy Stock Photo 

Ready for Visitors  
Alcatraz opened for tours in 1972. Guests can go inside a prison cell and hear recordings from inmates.

Background Builder

ACTIVITY: 
Finding text evidence

You’ve just read “Escape From Alcatraz”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

You’ve just read “Escape From Alcatraz”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

You’ve just read “Escape From Alcatraz”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

Where is Alcatraz located? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section and in the caption on p. 10.

Answer: Alcatraz is on an island surrounded by the rough, shark-filled waters of San Francisco Bay. 

Where is Alcatraz located? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section and in the caption on p. 10.

Answer: Alcatraz is on an island surrounded by the rough, shark-filled waters of San Francisco Bay. 

Where is Alcatraz located? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section and in the caption on p. 10.

Answer: Alcatraz is on an island surrounded by the rough, shark-filled waters of San Francisco Bay. 

What challenges did the men face after they escaped their cells? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “The Crazy Escape.”

What challenges did the men face after they escaped their cells? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “The Crazy Escape.”

What challenges did the men face after they escaped their cells? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “The Crazy Escape.”

How did the guards at Alcatraz keep track of prisoners? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Life in Prison.”

How did the guards at Alcatraz keep track of prisoners? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Life in Prison.”

How did the guards at Alcatraz keep track of prisoners? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Life in Prison.”

What happened to the other prisoners who tried to escape Alcatraz?

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Daring Escapes.”

What happened to the other prisoners who tried to escape Alcatraz?

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Daring Escapes.”

What happened to the other prisoners who tried to escape Alcatraz?

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Daring Escapes.”

Think About It! What do your answers tell you about how difficult it was to escape Alcatraz?

Think About It! What do your answers tell you about how difficult it was to escape Alcatraz?

Think About It! What do your answers tell you about how difficult it was to escape Alcatraz?

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