Inmates & Officers
Inmates serving time at Alcatraz were generally transferred from other federal prisons as unruly or disruptive individuals especially in terms of incitement to riot. Alcatraz Inmates were generally well treated and well fed and all were offered a job, either in prison industries, on the dock crew, gardening or resident garbage detail.
Inmates and Correctional Officers at Alcatraz ate the same food, prepared by inmates in the cell house kitchen; however, they ate in separate dining rooms. Meals for inmates were probably the best food served at any prison in America. They could eat all the food they wished, at each meal, which had to be eaten in the dining room within the time allowed. In the later days on Alcatraz, inmate dining went from eating on long picnic style tables seating 10 persons each to square tables for four with tablecloths.
Inmates were single celled which afforded them a greater measure of privacy and more importantly, safety. Prisoners were not hand cuffed or chained when attending disciplinary hearings or escorted throughout the prison compound except when leaving in a group, transferring to another prison, in which case they were shackled arms to waist chain, feet shackled and inmates attached to one another in line as in a “chain gang.”
Although as in any prison, there are officers who are abusive, physical abuse was not allowed or condoned at Alcatraz. As a child of an Alcatraz official living on the island during the early 1950s and again in the early 1960s I never witnessed an officer talking down or disrespecting an inmate. What I saw and heard was a mutual respect between officers and inmates which was not the image the public had of Alcatraz.
Alcatraz made no pretense of rehabilitation. Convicts were there to be punished as America’s worst federal offenders. Punishment, rather than raw and brutal, was simply complete control, loss of freedom, long periods of boredom, hell nighters where individuals were mired in their own nightmarish thoughts and knowing they were just a boat ride away from one of America’s most beautiful and desirous cities.