Incarcerated Gardeners: Richard Franseen

Historical mugshot of Richard Franseen, Alcatraz Inmate and gardener.

Richard Franseen was sentenced to Alcatraz from 1937 to 1946 for counterfeiting. He had been raised on a farm in Minnesota and had some experience growing plants. By 1940, he was assigned to yard duties, tending to a greenhouse and a little garden.

Franseen proved to be a capable plant propagator and raised many seedlings that he shared with his friend and fellow incarcerated gardener Elliott Michener. The officer in charge noted that Franseen was "diligent…having a deep interest in his work." Franseen's correspondence from July 1945 confirmed the positive effect gardening had on him: “I have a good job in the garden and greenhouse and have done so much hard work on them that I've grown a bit attached to the place.”

Franseen was paroled to a dairy farm in Wisconsin, where Elliott Michener eventually joined him. The farm's site supervisor reported that Franseen "became an expert in the science of horticulture."