Homes of Infamy:
Maximum Security Prisons and Penal Colonies
of the 1930s and 1940s

Andaman Islands, Great BritainOf all the penal colonies maintained for violent or political prisoners, this had the claim to be the most humane. Violent prisoners from India were sent to this archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. Prisoners were allowed to marry or send for their families. They were permitted some self-government. Unlike many other prisons listed here, the Andamans were not plagued by escapes or mutinous uprisings. At the time of Alcatraz's opening, transportation to the Andamans had stopped.
Devil's Island, FranceThe most infamous prison ever operated, Devil's Island was just a small part of a much larger French penal colony on South America's Caribbean coast. The French relied on malarial mosquitoes and the infernal climate to kill off their most unwanted citizens. It's most famous inmate, Captain Dreyfuss, was a political prisoner falsely accused of espionage because he was a Jew. Another inmate, nicknamed Papillon, wrote of his successful escape from this grim, tropical outpost.
Eastern State Penitentiary, PennsylvaniaThe world's first penitentiary developed a bad reputation because of its pioneering "Pennsylvania System" in which prisoners were strictly separated from another. The enforced silence and isolation drove many mad. Eastern State was still operating at the time Alcatraz was opened, but the Pennsylvania System had been abandoned many years before.
Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, KansasAmerica's largest federal penitentiary was built by convict labor forced-marched from West Virginia. There were (and are) two prisons at Leavenworth: "Little Top" or Fort Leavenworth, a military stockade and "Big Top", the main U.S. Penitentiary. Many Alcatraz prisoners made their first stop in the BOP system here.
Lipari, ItalyThis little island off the coast of Sicily -- in the shadow of the volcano Stromboli -- held enemies of Benito Mussolini. An escape of political prisoners from Italy's Rock generated world headlines.
Maria Madre, MexicoAn island off the coast of Mexico where the worst felons were kept.
San Quentin, CaliforniaOnly Angel Island and the Tiburon Peninsula obscured this penitentiary from the eyes of Alcatraz inmates and guards. Warden James A. Johnston perfected his disciplinary system here beginning in 1911. When Federal prisoners at Alcatraz were to be executed, they were taken to this penitentiary's Death Row to await their moment in the infamous gas chamber.
Singsing, New YorkWhile Warden Johnston was securing Alcatraz with the Rule of Silence and armed guards, this prison was furthering the cause of reform by eliminating armed guards and treating prisoners more humanely.
Solovetsky Island, Soviet UnionThis Arctic island was one of the first prisons in the Soviet Union's infamous Gulag Archipelago (which stretched across the wilder portions of the Soviet Union). Alexander Solzhenitzen would later write the history of these penal camps for political prisoners.
Tucker State Farm, ArkansasMany sought to escape from this hell on earth where the prison trustees were known to shoot a man for his new going out coat. Abuses continued into the 1960s when an excavation of the prison grounds turned up hundreds of corpses, the bodies of prisoners slain over the years by corrupt trustees.
Villa Cisneros, SpainEnemies of the Republican regime were sent here in 1932. After the Spanish Civil War, it became a holding place for enemies of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
Return to Alcatraz: The Warden Johnston Years