The Warden Johnston
The Warden Johnston was a 65 ft. diesel motor launch built in 1945 by inmate labor at McNeill Island, Federal Prison in Washington State. "The Warden Johnston was more than a vehicle of transportation, it was a way of life, the link to the outside world. It took children to school, the sick to the hospital, housewives shopping; it brought food, news, mail, visitors, doctors. In short, it became to the residents as indisputably a part of their lives as their toothbrushes. It was used as a freighter by Federal Prison Industries, as a rescue boat to sailors in distress, a gunboat in search of prisoners. It was a link in the transfer and discharge of inmates; it was one of the forces around which local activities revolved." (Foghorn, March 61, the official publication of the United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz.)
The Warden Johnston ran almost hourly from 6:30am to 12:15am, each day to Rainbow Pier at the foot of Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. If you missed the last boat to Alcatraz, there was no going back to get you, you were going to spend the night in San Francisco. The Warden Johnston could carry about sixty-five passengers consisting of correctional officers and family members who worked or lived on Alcatraz, as well as inmates, to and from San Francisco.
Inmates, accompanied by Federal Marshals, were always dressed in civilian clothes. As school children traveling on the boat, we could always tell when an inmate was being transported due to the increased tension aboard the boat. We would play a game trying to guess which person on the boat was the inmate.
Each morning, prior to boarding the Warden Johnston for the trip to school in San Francisco, all inmates throughout the prison were counted, including six inmates working on the dock who were required to stand behind a yellow line at the far end of the dock during departure. Once the count was completed, a guard in the dock tower pushed a button to open the electric gate at the far right end of 64 building, allowing the children of Alcatraz and adults to descend to the dock area. Next, the boat key which was kept in the dock-tower, was lowered on a cord to the boat captain on the dock. The children and adult passengers were then allowed to board the boat for the trip to San Francisco. This routine was followed for every boat departure.