Group of soldiers sitting around a 15-inch Rodman gun at Battery McClellan on Alcatraz, 1868. San Francisco can be seen in the background.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) created the first supermax prison to house its most hardened criminals. It reinforced the prison with stronger iron bars, erected guard towers in strategic locations, and constructed only one dock for ships to approach. Guards conducted 12 to 13 roll calls, or bed checks, per day. Alcatraz’s first warden, James A. Johnston, planned to separate prisoners by providing each man with his own cell. At the level that those criminals functioned, that became a perk. You didn’t have to worry about your cellmate beating or killing you, which was a very real danger for the likes of Chicago crime boss Al Capone and Irish mob boss Whitey Bulger, both of whom did time in Alcatraz. Johnston also hired one guard for every three inmates, to provide an appropriate supervision ratio. Warden Johnston also recognized that in order to find happiness, you need something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. He instituted two important programs on the island—a work program that let prisoners earn a modest income while producing useful items and an education program that allowed them to learn a trade or finish their high-school or college education. Although these



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