When my husband, Bob Schulenberg and I went to San Francisco for the first time, we wanted to make sure we saw all the sights of the area. I was especially interested in Alcatraz Prison, partly because of it’s unique location, but also because of its history. While visiting the prison, we had the opportunity to visit with an author, who had actually been an inmate at the prison. Jim Quillen recounted the years he spent at the prison, the corruption, abuse, and the Battle of Alcatraz, which took place from May 2, 1946 to May 4, 1946. The battle began with an unsuccessful escape attempt, and ended with the deaths of two guard, William A. Miller and Harold Stites, as well as three of the inmates. Eleven guards and one inmate were injured, and two convicts were later executed for their actions.
While most of the inmates and guards were in outside workshops, inmate Bernard Coy, a bank robber serving a 25 year sentence at Alcatraz, was in the main cellhouse sweeping the floor around C Block. Kitchen orderly Marvin Hubbard called on guard William Miller to let him in. He had just finished cleaning the kitchen. As Miller was frisking Hubbard for any stolen articles, Coy attacked him from behind and the two men overpowered the officer. They then released Joseph Cretzer and Clarence Carnes from their cells. They went to the gun gallery and obtained a rifle. As they attempted to make it down to the dock, hoping to catch the incoming boat, they quickly realized that was not going to work. Then, they decided to go back to prison and take some hostages.
At 10:00pm, unarmed guards went into the cellhouse. They were covered by armed guards in the two gun galleries overhead. They found the hostages, but one guard was wounded by a gunshot fired from the roof of one of the cell blocks. Then they locked the open door to D Block, and when the last officer reached safety, the guards opened fire with a massive barrage from machine guns, mortars, and grenades on the prisoners within D Block. The prison authorities thought one of the armed convicts was holed up there, but they were wrong. They eventually figured out that the rebellious prisoners were confined to the main cellhouse and ceased their attack until further tactics were worked out. Jim Quillen told us that the men tried hiding behind their mattresses, or anything else they could think of, but it was really no protection at all. The battle lasted until May 6th. Alcatraz was the home to many of the most notorious prisoners, and many said it was filled with corruption and abuse from the guards. After a checkered past, it became a tourist attraction, and continues as such today.