SAN FRANCISCO — For a few moments Monday, Tom Allen voluntarily entered solitary confinement.
The cell doors inside the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary were open to visitors, so the Indiana University football coach walked into the darkened room and let his mind wander.
“Just the thought of that was — ooh,” Allen said.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game against No. 19 Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, the Hoosiers stepped away from football on Monday morning for a field trip to one of the world’s most famous prisons.
It was a history lesson that IU’s coaches and players seemed to enjoy, walking through the corridors and stepping into cells that once housed some of the 20th century’s most notorious criminals.
“Most of us haven’t been over here to the West Coast, so I think it was cool to see that,” All-American linebacker Tegray Scales said. “You hear a lot about it and who was in there, like Al Capone. I thought it was cool to walk through there and experience it.”
To get there, the Hoosiers first had to find their sea legs.
Players joked about developing sea sickness after boarding the Alcatraz ferry, but perked up once the boat was in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. A throng of Hoosiers crowded the port side of the ship to take photos of the city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance and, eventually, Alcatraz Island itself.
After walking into the penitentiary, visitors were given audio devices paired with headphones that allowed each person to enjoy their own personal walking tour of the facility. The audio included narration by former prison guards and inmates, allowing IU’s players and coaches to wander through the cell blocks and hear the voices of the men who once spent their days in the building.
“I think the audio was super cool because it helps you visualize what was actually going on,” receiver Ricky Jones said. “Then, hearing from the guys that were actually there, the prisoners and the guards, it really painted a picture in my mind as I was going through different things, like the grenades getting dropped (during the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz) and the different escape attempts. It was pretty cool.”
Indeed, visitors were briefed on some of the different escape attempts, many of which were chronicled through scenes in the actual cells where they occurred.
That included the cells of Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin, prisoners who cut through the walls of their cells with sharpened spoons and placed dummy heads in their beds to fool guards during their 1962 escape.
“It’s like, man, this is crazy,” Allen said. “The way they do the audio tour, I’ve never been to a place that did that. I thought it was the coolest thing. You have the voices of the former inmates. It was really, really cool. I wish we could’ve been there longer.”