There are likely very few of us who have not heard of Alcatraz, the sitting within San Francisco Bay, just 2 km from the nearest shore. As well as being the home of the legendary prison of the same name that operated from 1934 through until early 1963, the island also served as the location of a lighthouse marking the island and the rocks around it and a military fort and barracks that also served as a military prison (notably holding Confederate prisoners of war during the US Civil War). It was in this latter capacity that the island received what is still perhaps its most famous landmark: the great prison block that straddles the island’s spine to this day, construction of which started in 1909.
From the start, the strong currents and cold waters of the Bay were seen as the most effective means of keeping those confined to the island on the island, thus leading in part, to the prison’s reputation when it became a federal prison. Intended to house the those prisoners who repeatedly caused problems in other federal prisons, it quickly gained a reputation for unforgiving firmness – the warders being trained purely in matter of security and control, but on in support and rehabilitation – that eventually lead to the expression that is one of the first things modern day visitors to the island – a US National Historic Landmark since 1986 – read on their arrival:
IF YOU BREAK THE RULES, YOU GO TO PRISON. IF YOU BREAK THE PRISON RULES, YOU GO TO ALCATRAZ
These are also the words Justice Vought uses as a tag for his latest region design, The Rock, which recently opened its gates to visitors in-world, and to which he invited me to pay a visit. And as with all things Justice does with his region designs, it offers mix of reality, art and mystery, whilst being highly photogenic as well as catching much of the spirit of the original.
Like the physical world’s Alcatraz, this La Isla de los Alcatraces (“Island of the gannets”, to use the original name coined by Juan Manuel de Ayala but which is oft given as “The Island of the Pelicans”), this one is reached via a ferry boat ride from the edge of the region as it abuts Justice’s main setting of :Oxygen: – just click on the red block over the water at the wharf landing point, then take a seat on the ferry when it appears.
Chugging away from the wharf, the ferry curves out and across the waters of the region to arrive at The Rock, coming alongside at Building 64, which originally served as a residential building for the military officers and their families living on the island, following its construction in 1905.
Recreating the entire 22 acres of the island – or just the 12-ish acres given over the prison – is not really feasible within a single region of 65,536 square metres total area, But what Justice has produced more than captures the core essence of the island: Building 64, the main prison block (sans mess / dining hall), the parade / exercise area, the lighthouse, the power generation building and its chimney and the water tower that forms one of the three major vertical structures on the island visible from the shore (alongside the aforementioned chimney and lighthouse).
Both Building 64 and the prison block have interior spaces, the former celebrating the legend of the prison and its cinematic history, the latter containing some of the tiny cells in which inmates were confined for the larger portion of their day, and the stark signage used to remind them that beyond food, clothing, shelter and access to medical attention, they had zero right to anything. The are cells made famous by latter-day day and night tours of the island, with visitors getting a brief opportunity to experience what it was like to be within the cells with the doors shut. Within the Rock, we can experience something of the same – and a little more.
Part of the fable of the prison is that, officially, no-one ever escaped alive – but up to three men may have actually done so (Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin), although their actual fates remain a mystery. However, like them, Justice offers visitors the means to make their own escape; only in this case, the escape route appears to make use of historical remains only discovered in 2019 by means of ground-penetrating radar – a “bombproof” shelter, tunnels and ventilation shafts under the former parade ground / exercise yard. Find the way into these, and route to a boat on the shore (rather than a raft, as with Morris and the Anglins) might be found, giving a way for people to get back to the “mainland” of :Oxygen:. I’ll leave you to find the way into the escape route, however!
Finished with a sound scape reflective of the physical island, the cry of gulls, the crash of surf on rocks and the plaintive call of a foghorn and caught under a lowering sky, The Rock offers a nicely atmospheric visit, one very different in tone – but no less appreciable – to that of :Oxygen: itself as it sits within its latest iteration.
However, a tour of :Oxygen: is a treat for another day and another article. For now, my thanks to Justice for the invitation and the opportunity to make the visit.
- The Rock (Element, rated Moderate)