Alcatraz Prisoners’ Library

It was pouring down rain this weekend, with whipping cold winds, but we soldiered on and made our trek to Alcatraz anyway.  It was well worth the journey …

The more than 1,500 men who served time at Alcatraz read voraciously.

The more than 1,500 men who served time at Alcatraz read voraciously.

Alcatraz, and its in-house library, closed in March 1963.

Inmates were never allowed inside this library. Each prisoner had a catalogue of the books, which were delivered and picked up through the bars of their cells. So why the church-like pews?

Today, when you pass through the metal cage doors of that library, it is hard to imagine this sea salt-corroded room once contained more than 10,000 books.

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10 thoughts on “Alcatraz Prisoners’ Library

  1. Sandra Bell Kirchman

    Holy cow, what great but grim pictures. It gave me goosebumps – even as I type, my arms are covered with them. That usually means to pay attention to something, but I’m not sure what.

    I guess these men had more time than the average person in the community and that their minds were hungry. I hope that reading helped them.

    Thanks for sharing these pictures and your comments!

  2. lisahgolden

    Would it be wrong to wish for one day a week in prison if it means I can read without interruption? I suppose I’m romanticizing prison, aren’t I?

    But I can definitely see the need to read to pass the years stretching out ahead of you when you’re in captivity.

  3. erikamarks

    Great pictures, Teri–and chilling, yes.

    Lisa, your comment made me laugh–self-imposed incarceration to get some reading done. My husband and I always joke with our little ones that, trust us, when you grow up, you’d give anything for someone to tell you you HAD to go to your room and just read or take a nap for an hour!

  4. Teri Post author

    The 2 most surprising things on this visit:

    (1) How small the cells really are/were. 5 ft wide x 9 feet long x 7 ft tall, with bed taking up 2/3 of the space. Truly like living in a concrete box. Not that they didn’t deserve it for their crimes, but still … a concrete box.

    (2) That 60 families of prison employees lived on the island, and how SAFE they all felt, never bothering to lock doors. All with the most heinous criminals in the U.S. — Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Robert Stroud — living right next door. Prisoners could hear the children playing in their yards.

  5. amyg

    we visited san francisco two years ago and all my husband talked about was getting to see alcatraz. when we arrived and planned our first day to go, we learned that you have to reserve your spots way more than a day in advance to get on the island. i was never really that let down that we didn’t get to go…until now.

  6. Pingback: A Peek into Alcatraz’s Library | Exploring Prison Librarianship

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