Children of Alcatraz
Excerpt from the chapter entitled:
Military Prison 1861-1934

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.

Further Reading:

Babyak, Jolene. Breaking the Rock: The Great Escapes from Alcatraz. Berkeley, CA: Ariel Vamp Press, 2001.
Babyak, Jolene.Birdman: The Many Faces of Robert Stroud. Berkeley, CA: Ariel Vamp Press, 1994.
Babyak, Jolene. Eyewitness on Alcatraz: Interviews with Guards, Families and Prisoners Who Live On
the Rock
, Berkeley, CA: Ariel Vamp Press, 1988.
Bunting, Eve. Someone is Hiding on Alcatraz Island. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, reissue edition ,1994.
Chandler, Roy F. and E. F. Chandler. Alcatraz: The Hardest Years 1934-1938. Jacksonville, NC: Iron
Brigade Amory Publishers, 1989.
Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts. New York: G.P. Putnam, 2004.
Fortunate Eagle, Adam. Heart of the Rock. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.
Johnson, Troy. The Occupation of Alcatraz Island. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Esslinger, Michael. Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years. San Francisco, CA:
OceanView Publishing, 2003.
George, Linda. Alcatraz: Cornerstone of Freedom. Children’s Press, 1999.
Hussey, Erin. Alcatraz Native: ‘The Rock’ was Sunnyvale man’s boyhood home
Lagerson, Ernest B. Battle at Alcatraz: A Desperate Attempt to Escape the Rock. Omaha Nebraska:
Addicus Books, Inc., 1999.
Martini, John A. Fortress Alcatraz: Guardian of the Golden Gate. Kailua, Hawaii: Pacific Monograph, 1990.
Odier, Pierre. The Rock: A History of Alcatraz – The Fort, The Prison. Eagle Rock, CA: L’Image Odier, 1997.
Quillen, Jim. Alcatraz From the Inside. Golden Gate Parks Association, 1991.
Weintraub, Aileen. Alcatraz Island Light: the West Coast’s First Lighthouse. New York:
PowerKids Press, 2003.

Other media:

Alcatraz Is Not An Island, Turtle Island Productions, 2001, narrated by actor Benjamin Bratt.
Children of AlcatrazCenter for Nonprofit Media
Lonely Island: Hidden Alcatraz. KQED, 2003.
Secrets of Alcatraz, KQED, GGNRA (date not available)

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