The Friendliest Neighbors Anyone Could Ask For
Convicts that were in prison for non-violent offenses did a lot of jobs for the families living on the island, like cleaning their laundry, picking up trash, and doing the landscaping. Every time there was a need for a handyman to do plumbing or electrical work, the convicts did that, too. So, not only were the parents getting cheap rent, but they were also getting almost all of their household chores done for free. It was so normal, the kids didn’t think anything of it. Many of the mothers became best friends, and they even took turns cooking dinner for one another. Friends would go over each other’s houses nearly every night of the week, which reduced the amount of time wives spent cooking.
One child who grew up on the island, Joyce Ritz, told Reuters that her shoes were repaired by Al Capone, and that he signed his name on the bottom of her leather sole. She wore the shoes every day to school, and threw them away when they got too old. Now, as an adult, she kicks herself, knowing that they would be worth a fortune today. Some of the kids kept momentos from their stay, like watercolor paintings and other artwork made by the prisoners.
Kids would see these men going about their daily duties, and wave to them. Every so often, they would even have short conversations or help them load garbage into the back of trucks, but the prisoners would usually move along. It was like seeing the garbage man, or the milk delivery driver. As far as the kids were concerned, they were just men just doing their jobs, and there was nothing to be afraid of.
Families were free to come and go from Alcatraz Island as they pleased to go into the city of San Francisco, but police officers might find it hard to believe that a wife and kids wanted to get on a boat to the prison. This is why every single member of the family had to get a special dog tag that proved they lived on Alcatraz. The ferry went back and forth from the island, and the last boat left San Francisco at 11:30 PM. Nearly everyone obeyed this rule, except for one story when an officer’s teenage daughter went on a date in the city. She miss the last boat, and ended up calling her father, crying. With no place to stay for the night, the ferry captain was ordered to turn the boat around and make one last trip for the teen girl. Obviously, this would have been an embarrassing story that the rest of the kids would have giggled about, knowing not to ever make the same mistake.
The prisoners themselves were said to have a very relaxed atmosphere inside the walls, too. They had open mic nights where they could play guitar and sing, game nights, and good meals. So the convicts were not exactly being tortured. One boy named Ed Faulk recalled that a prisoner his sister spotted one of the inmates, and called him “Pop’eye”, because he looked like the cartoon character. He called her “Olive Oyl”, and later found a ball to toss to her as a gift.
In 1946, convicts got ahold of guns, and there there was panic inside of the prison. Two guards were killed, but everything remained calm and safe in the residential areas. The kids were never in any danger, but the event was enough to suddenly make the reality of living in a prison feel more real. After that year, the kids stayed farther away from the prison, and did not try to become friends with the convicts anymore.