From 1934 to 1963, the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was the preeminent prison of the United States. Indeed, it was declared inescapable. Surrounded by the cold, rapid waters of the San Francisco Bay, a mile from the coast and outfitted with advanced security systems, officials believed that inmates would never escape its concrete walls — at least not alive.

Five inmates, however, did escape. Their whereabouts remain unknown, and officially they are presumed drowned. But a tourist, as he crosses the bay on a ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf, might consider an alternate ending. He looks up at the prison and down at the bay. He considers the water temperature and the distance to the coast. He thinks he could make it.

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