Invited guests to the Bikers' Banquet at the Washington State Penitentiary

Guests arriving for the Bikers’ Banquet

Starting in the summer of 1971, B. J. Rhay permitted various inmate organizations to hold banquets to which outside guests were invited. This tradition was continued and expanded both by Rhay and his successor, Douglas Vinzant. One group to hold annual banquets was the Washington State Penitentiary Motorcycle Association, better known as the Bikers.

The Bikers took over most of an old abandoned power house in the middle of the institution (see site plan). This is where they had their club area, reconditioned motorcycles, made shanks, smoked dope, and ran their heroin trade enforcement activities. Like the other major inmate clubs, the Bikers had the only keys to their building.

The Bike Shop had barrels of gasoline, acetylene torches, vices, bench grinders, and every other tool needed to work on motorcycles. One wall inside the Bike Club was decorated with an enormous swastika.

At first the Bikers tested their choppers in the northwest corner of the main institution, just to the west of their club. Later they were permitted to ride their bikes in the Big Yard where they also held their annual banquet.

Bikers 1

Chilling in the Big Yard

Entertainment at the banquet

Entertainment at the banquet

Some of the motorcycle clubs attending the banquet

Many motorcycle clubs were represented inside the prison and also came as invited guests


With their cell block destroyed, inmates from the Eight Wing riot spent the summer of 1979 in the Big Yard. Emergency contracts were let and Eight Wing was not only repaired, it was totally rebuilt. Gone were the old porcelain sinks and toilets that could be easily broken. It their place were high security stainless steel prison combo fixtures. Bunks were bolted to the wall. There was new wiring, new lighting, improved ventilation, shatterproof windows, metal detectors, and fresh paint. Living conditions in the Big Yard were more primitive.

The date on the picture below is European style: day, month, year. In this case, the 16th day of July, 1979 – nine days after the riot in Eight Wing.

Inmates spent the summer of 1979 living in tents in the Big Yard

Living in the Big Yard

State Patrol troopers manning the wall

State Patrol troopers manning the wall

Weapons found in the Big Yard after the inmates returned to their cells

Weapons found in the Big Yard after the inmates returned to their cells