The first prisoners held on Alcatraz Island were not bank robbers or thugs; they were Confederate sympathizers, disobedient soldiers, and Native Americans. From 1861 to 1933, Alcatraz Island was a military prison. In 1934, it became a federal prison.
Born of necessity, perhaps even political expediency, the prison at Alcatraz represents the federal government’s response to post-Prohibition, post-Depression America. Both the institution and the men confined within its walls are a part of this era. Prisons are a reflection of society.
Alcatraz prisoner number 238 was loosely associated with John Dillinger and closely associated with “Baby Face” Nelson. He was with Nelson in the shootout where “Baby Face” was mortally wounded with 17 rounds in him (238 was captured a month later). Number 238 was a California native whose association with Nelson began on a small dairy ranch in Santa Venetia, just north of San Rafael, California.