Keeping inmates constructively occupied is vital to prison security. The busier an inmate is, the less time to plan or commit infractions. Tension and violence is reduced. Many prison programs are designed to prepare inmates for successful reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens after release.

Although Alcatraz inmates were more closely supervised and controlled than inmates at other prisons, the facility offered an array of work, education, and recreation programs.

Photograph GOGA 19200e
Federal inmates are required to work, unless they are medically unable to, or are violent or disruptive. At Alcatraz, work included factory work, laundry, general prison maintenance, and food preparation.

Inmates received nominal wages. As cash can be a dangerous commodity in the prison, wages were credited to individual accounts in the prison trust fund. Inmates drew on their accounts to buy from the prison commissary, pay fines, or send funds to their families. Any remaining balance was paid out in cash when the inmate was released.

Photograph 40046-047
Reading was not just an educational activity at Alcatraz. It was a leading recreational activity. Inmates had access to a library of 15,000 books and 75 popular magazines subscriptions. They could do artwork, write letters, and play stringed instruments in their cells. There was even an inmate band. There were several talented artists, including James Widner and John Paul Chase, whose work is featured here.

By the 1940s, each cell had been wired with earphone jacks allowing inmates to listen to radio broadcasts approved by the warden. Religious services were held in a chapel, with different faiths alternating from week to week. Movies were shown once or twice a month. On Saturdays and Sundays, inmates were allowed onto the outdoor recreation yard. Here, they congregated as they pleased, relaxed, and played baseball, handball, chess, checkers, horseshoes, and dominoes.

Oil Painting GOGA 18472
Photograph GOGA 18352g
Dust Brush GOGA 18544, 9231
Dominos GOGA 12439
Horse shoe GOGA 98 Painting GOGA 12446  Drawing GOGA 12450 Drawing GOGA 12451 Drawing GOGA 12452 Drawing GOGA 12453 Drawing GOGA 12454
Drawing GOGA 12455 Drawing GOGA 12475 Cigarette Case GOGA 13718, 13719 Drawing GOGA 17541 Drawing GOGA 17542 Drawing GOGA 17543 Drawing GOGA 17544
Drawing GOGA 17545 Drawing GOGA 17546 Drawing GOGA 18367 Drawing GOGA 18368 Painting GOGA 18466 Painting GOGA 18467 Painting GOGA 18468
Painting GOGA 18469 Painting GOGA 18470 Painting GOGA 18471 Palette GOGA 18683 Drawing GOGA 18684 Drawing GOGA 18865
Wrench GOGA 9235 Shoe GOGA 9315 Leather Wallets GOGA 13722, 13720, 13723, 13724 Sign GOGA 18682 Cribbage Board GOGA
GOGA 8172 Laundry BagHistoric Photographs Slide Show