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The first people to visit Alcatraz Island were native peoples who arrived between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. Two major groups lived around the bay: the Miwok, who lived north of the bay in present-day Marin County, and the Ohlone, who lived in the coastal areas between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay.

Early use of Alcatraz by these indigenous people is difficult to reconstruct, since most of the tribes’ oral histories have been lost. Historians believe that Alcatraz was used as a camping spot and an area for gathering foods, especially bird eggs and marine life. One tradition implies the island may have been used as a place of banishment for tribal members who violated tribal law.  Alcatraz / Photo courtesy www.citymama.com

By the time the first Spanish explorers arrived in 1769, more than 10,000 indigenous people lived around San Francisco Bay.

• On August 5, 1775, Spanish Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala sailed his ship into San Francisco Bay and spent several weeks charting the harbor. During his surveys he described a rocky, barren island and named it “La Isla de Los Alcatraces” (Island of the Sea Birds). Historians debate which island Ayala actually sited, but the name eventually was given to the 22 acre rock today called Alcatraz.

• California became a possession of United States on February 2, 1848 in a treaty with Mexico that ended the Mexican War. A week earlier, on January 24th, gold had been discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Within three years, the population of San Francisco would explode from around 500 to more than 35,000 as gold seekers poured into California.

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Religious Programs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis

Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons have access to a number of religious programs at their local prison facility.  While religious service offerings depend on locality and security level, all federal prisoners in general population status can expect to have access to a Religious Services Department where they can explore and strengthen their spirituality.  Those in more restrictive settings (e.g., control units, Special Housing Units, administrative housing, etc.) enjoy less access to religious programming.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website, “Institutions schedule religious services and meeting times for inmates of many faiths.  Religious programs are led or supervised by staff chaplains, contract spiritual leaders, and community volunteers.  Chaplains oversee inmate self-improvement forums such as scripture study and religious workshops, and provide pastoral care, spiritual guidance, and counseling.”  All such activities are facilitated in a federal prison’s Religious Services Department.

In a typical federal prison, the Religious Services Department offers a number of religious programs each week.  All major religions are represented in such services.  For example, at FCI Petersburg, Buddhist, Jewish, Rastafarian, and Wiccan faith groups all have one service a week and one study a week.  This amounts to around 3 hours of worship and study time, respectively.  Other groups, for example, the Christians at FCI Petersburg, have several additional services due to a Christian rock band’s practice slot, the Christian choir’s practice slot, and additional time afforded for impromptu worship sessions.  While it can be hard for “lesser” religions to gain a foothold in a federal prison’s chapel (e.g., the Buddhists, Wiccans, Hare Krishnas, and Santerias at FCI Petersburg have had some problems with this), with agitation, some of the extra Christian worship, fellowship, and hang-out slots can be afforded to groups which have minimal worship slots attributed to their group.

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