Secrets of America’s Favorite Places: Alcatraz
Sunday, 6 p.m., Discovery Family Channel
Surrounded by the swift currents of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz receives 1.5 million visitors annually.
America’s most notorious prison, Alcatraz once housed celebrity gangsters Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Today it is a popular tourist attraction, drawing 1.5 visitors a year, and a seagull sanctuary. Its storied history, down to the peeling paint, is recounted in “Secrets of America’s Favorite Places.” The episode’s star attraction is Bill Baker, among the prison’s last surviving inmates, who talks for the first time on television about his three-year stint (1957-60) in cell 1259. But Alcatraz was not only home to convicted felons. Thirty-five to eighty kids — the children of guards and corrections officers — also lived on the island. One of them, Jolene Babyak, recalls her memories of the infamous 1962 escape by three prisoners in a raft made of 40 raincoats.
The Post spoke to senior supervising producer Paul Sauer about Bill Baker and his own experience filming on Alcatraz.
Baker’s booking mug shot
How did you find Bill Baker?
Bill Baker was hiding in plain sight in the Alcatraz bookstore. There was this line snaking out of the store. One of my producers] realized the guy inside was a former inmate. We got copies of his [self-published] book, “1259,” and then we arranged an interview. We worked with the National Park Service to bring him to Alcatraz. We had to be off the island before 8:30 a.m. They will only let you film when there are no tourists on the island.
How did his perspective help you shape the narrative?
Bill could have been the whole show. Alcatraz is his job. He draws crowds. Before they open the prison in the morning, they have him come out and deliver an opening act for the crowd. He’s like a standup comedian.
What does Alcatraz smell like?
A cross between sea air and decay, old paint. You see the history coming off the walls.
What was the most surprising secret about Alcatraz?
The biggest problem was the boredom and the malaise. And that Alcatraz had the best food in the entire US prison system. I also didn’t realize the island had to generate its own power and bring in its own water. The plumbing in the toilets was sea water and corroded everything. It went out to the bay, untreated, and played a huge role in why Alcatraz closed in 1963.