Alcatraz: the cellhouse


he three-story cellhouse included the main housing blocks of the jail (A-Block, B-Block, C-Block, and D-Block) as well as the warden's office, visitation room, and the library.

The cellhouse had a corridor naming system named after major American streets and landmarks. Michigan Avenue was the corridor to the side of A-Block. Broadway was the central corridor in which the inmates would assemble as they massed through Times Square (with a clock on the wall), before entering the dining hall for their meals. Broadway separated B-Block and C-Block. Prisoners along this corridor had the least privacy in the prison.

The corridor between C-Block and the library was called Park Avenue and the corridor between the portion of C-Block and D-Block was called Seedy Street (C-D Street). The corridor in D-Block was named Sunset Strip and the corridor along the A-Block was called Sunrise Alley (presumably named thusly because the windows catch either the rising or setting sun). Gun galleries lay at the end of each block, including the West and East Gun Galleries.

Facing the cells along the opposite block, the cells along Broadway were the least desired as they offered the least amount of privacy.

The west gun gallery was above the dining hall where a guard would be located…with a gun.

The Dining Hall was also known as the gas chamber because of the tear-gas canisters attached to the ceiling which could be remotely activated in the even of a riot or escape attempt.

Inmates were permitted to eat as much as they liked within 20 minutes, provided they left no waste and it is said that the food at Alcatraz was some of the best in the federal penitentiary system.

The library was located at the end of D-Block. Upon entering Alcatraz, every inmate was given a library card and a catalog of the near 10,000 – 15,000 books available for reading (although most were left over from the army days).

Inmates were allowed a maximum of three books in addition to up to 12 text books, a Bible, and a dictionary. The library was governed by a chaplain who regulated the censorship and the nature of the reading material to ensure that the material was wholesome.

Alcatraz Library