Alcatraz started out as a fort to protect San Francisco Bay. During the civil war, instead of using it as a fort, they turned it into a minimum security prison for prisoners of war. The prisoners had a good life as the good ones were shown leniency and they all has various duties to perform around the prison that kept everything in shape and order. Fear that the prisoners would escape was not too high because of the fact that the prison was on an island surrounded by freezing cold water. The few who braved the waters in an attempt at freedom either turned back or died from hypothermia before they ever reached the shore.
As time went by, the military prison became a federal prison and things began to change. The Great Depression and Prohibition came through and that period saw a huge increase in crime. This is when organized crime came on to the scene. It was not good because the American people saw how the mafia groups took control over entire areas.
In an attempt to contain the situation, Alcatraz was the solution that the government came up with. So instead of some old disgruntled war criminals, Alcatraz started filling up with a new breed of ruthless men who ruled the streets back home.
To keep up with the changing times and to prepare for the onslaught of criminals that were to come, the prison got a major upgrade. Iron bars were installed in the windows, utility tunnels were cemented and each cell got electricity. Special galleries were set up that allowed the armed guards to patrol and keep an eye on prisoners. Tear gas canisters were installed that could be remotely activated from different places and guard towers were set up around the perimeter. The cell house had 350 cells that were placed far away from the walls. If you managed to get out of the cell, you still had to find a way out of the cell house, not to mention all the other obstacles, and the freezing waters.
The warden was as tough as the prison itself, he was a strict disciplinarian and, although not cruel, he was very strict and expected to be obeyed and respected. He was praised for his attempts at prisoner reform and his work with the prisoners.
Life in prison would not be easy for the inmates. No privileges were handed out. It did not matter who you were or what you did when you were on the outside. When you got sent to Alcatraz you became just another member of the jail population.
Visitation rights were something that you had to earn.You would be given the first three months to try to earn your first visitation, and if you did well, you got them. There was a prison library, but that too had limited access. If the reading material was not approved of the warden, the prisoners did not get to read them. Some other privileges included mail, after the letter had been censored and rewritten by prison officials, being able to go and work, etc.
The prison thrived on discipline and routine. When you went to Alcatraz, you ceased to exist for the outside world.
In 1963 the prison was closed for good, as maintenance was just too expensive. Eventually it became a tourist attraction and nothing more...