The first residents of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary arrived in 1902. They were the beneficiaries of the Three Prisons Act of 1891, which established penitentiaries in Leavenworth, Kansas; Atlanta, Georgia; and McNeil Island, Washington. All three facilities remain open today. The Atlanta site is the largest Federal prison, with a capacity of 3000 inmates.
Inmate case files present mini-biographies of men confined in the penitentiary. Prison officials recorded every detail of their lives—their medical treatments, their visitors, their letters to and from the outside world, even the width of their foreheads. Through these files, we become secret outside observers, looking at the prisoners' every move with the same diligence as the prison guards who watched them.
Inmate William Young, #401
Sentence: 5 years
- Young's Prisoner I.D. Card
- "I am getting deeply concerned about my soul salvation." Letter from prisoner to Chaplain Tupper, August 1905
- Young was in solitary confinement for 65 days, 5 hours, 5 minutes. Punishment record, 1905.ID Card, 1902
- Young was found concealing salt and pepper, an offense that cost him 30 days "good time" lost. File card, June 18, 1906.
- Young believes he will revolutionize the cotton industry with his invention. Letter, July 9, 1904.
Inmate John Welshouse, #4816
Crime: Violating the white slave act
Sentence: 1 year, 1 day
After serving a year-long sentence for trafficking in prostitution, John Welshouse headed for Milwaukee. He evidently did not contact his wife, who a week after his release, wrote to the prison warden inquiring about her husband's whereabouts.