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After serving a 3-1⁄2-year stretch in a federal penitentiary, Brian Christensen decided to change his ways.

Actually, Christensen worked at a prison — Alcatraz, to be exact — as a visitors' guide, until he gave notice earlier this month. But let's start at the beginning: 2008.

"I was living in Pasadena and working at Panavision in Hollywood as a technician servicing motion picture cameras," he says. "My wife, Jennifer, who is a school counselor, got a great job offer up here, and in August 2008 we moved to Petaluma. She is now a college counselor at Marin Academy. This all happened within a year of us getting married."

Christensen's film degree was of little use in the Bay Area. "I interviewed at Kerner Optical (a now-defunct spun-off division of George Lucas' Inudstiral Light & Magic) and they were going through the same transition from film to digital as Panavision," he recalls. "When I left Panavision, there were 12 people in my division; now there's four."

After many job interviews, nothing panned out. "The job market in general tanked in 2008," he says, "and I was unemployed for eight months."

Then Christensen spotted a job posting on Craigslist for a visitor services representative with the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy.

"I had to take anything, so I threw my hat in the ring. And then I get the call and I find myself taking a boat across the Bay to Alcatraz for a job interview."

Christensen was hired. His duties included supervising the audio tours, manning the information kiosk, and leading behind-the-scenes VIP tours.

"I showed (Giants pitcher) Ryan Vogelsong and his family around one day, and I chatted with Cate Blanchett, who took the audio tour on her own," he recalls. "She was in the middle of filming the latest Woody Allen movie in San Francisco, and she came back again a week later with her two kids."

Not a bad perk, hobnobbing with the stars.

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