Almost from the beginning, Alcatraz also housed a military prison. Bessie Crabbe got to know the Hopi Indians brought to Alcatraz in 1894 because they refused to let their children be sent to a government boarding school. Some prisoners were still kids themselves.
Fifteen-year-old Walt Stack lied about his age to join the army, but then left his post while stationed in the Philippines in 1925. Locked up on Alcatraz for desertion, he suffered through months of hard labor in the quarry and mistreatment by the older prisoners. Walt became an accomplished runner and swimming and is the only known inmate to ever success.
Some of the inmates were dangerous and kept locked up away from the families. But those convicted of nonviolent crimes like desertion and refusal to serve in the army worked around the island. Some cut the children’s hair in the post barbershop. Others called “pass men” worked for the families cooking, cleaning, and even babysitting. One prisoner known as Mason accompanied three-year-old Kenneth Michaelwaite all over the island, as the young boy checked out the foghorns and watched the ferryboats pass by.
Wanda Harrington’s grandfather was head lighthouse keeper in the 1920’s. From her bedroom in the lighthouse quarters, she could look right into the prisoners’ assembly room on the top level of the prison. There, twice a week, the families attended movie screenings right along with the convicts. Wanda and her friend Jacquie Schneider perched at the prisoners’ feet, while the adults sat in wicker chairs along the wall. On her eighth birthday the men showered Wanda with gifts.
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