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Monday, May 2, 2016

Former Alcatraz guard visits Chamber

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

James Albright, the last prison guard to leave Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in 1963, spoke with the Clay County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday wearing his old prison guard uniform. Albright is the author of "The Last Guard Out", a book about his experiences working at Alcatraz.
The Clay County Chamber of Commerce met for its regular meeting Tuesday, and heard from former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary guard James B. Albright.

Albright was the last guard to leave Alcatraz, located in the San Francisco Bay, when the famous prison shut down in 1963.

Albright, along with his wife Kathy and their then 19-month-old son Kenny, moved to Alcatraz island in 1959, when, at the age of 24, Albright took a job as a prison guard.

Albright shared with the Chamber his experiences living on the island and working in the prison.

Albright said the island was very similar to a small town. There were apartments for families as well as apartments for young singles. According to Albright, the island had a church, library, bowling alley, community center, small store and more.

"It was very much like a small town," Albright said. "We even had our own gossip."

Albright and his wife raised three of their children on the island during the four years they lived there.

"Even though they were born in San Francisco," Albright said, "my daughters' birth certificates list 'Alcatraz Penitentiary' as their place of residence."

Albright's children spent time playing near the prison yards, and he and his wife enjoyed taking their children to ice cream socials and events for prison staff families.

Albright recounted many stories from his time as a prison guard, including interactions with famous prison inmates, various prisoner escape attempts, emergency situations and more.

Albright presented a slideshow of photos of the prison and island, including the warden's house, lighthouse, apartments, cells, corridors, kitchen, dining hall, showers and more.

Albright explained that many corridors in the prison were named after famous streets in the U.S. such as Broadway and Michigan Avenue.

"Michigan Avenue was so named because many of the men living in that corridor were criminals from Michigan," Albright explained.

As a guard, Albright's duties at the prison varied. He helped maintain order and direct inmates to where they needed to be, he helped run the control center and he also helped run the laundry room.

Albright explained there were approximately 265-270 inmates at the prison at any given time, though the facilities had enough space to keep around 300.

According to Albright, of the hundreds of inmates and large number of staff members who worked at Alcatraz, there are approximately a dozen inmates still living and a dozen staff members still living. Albright said two of the inmates are still incarcerated for their crimes.

Alcatraz was a place where, according to Albright, many prisoners were sent when they

had bad behavior at other prisons.

The prison is now used as a museum that attracts many visitors in the San Francisco area.

Albright was wearing his old prison guard uniform for the presentation, and said his old whistle, identification badge, his gate key and one of his old packs of cigarettes are currently on display with an Alcatraz traveling museum.

Albright and his wife enjoyed the time they spent living on the island, and though the job wasn't always easy, Albright enjoyed it.

"I loved working there," Albright said. "We loved living there too. We didn't want to leave when they closed it."

Albright has authored the book "The Last Guard Out" about his experiences working at Alcatraz.

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