Family Life

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Family life on Alcatraz was just like any other small neighborhood in America. We had a Post Office and a small canteen for everyday items. There were only two payphones, which a resident could call to the mainland. These two important links to the outside world were outside the Post Office and canteen on the lower balcony of 64 building and the second pay phone was in the lobby of C building, across the parade ground. Each of the apartments had a phone, which connected to every other phone on the Island but could not be used to call the mainland. The canteen, our community store, served as a source for small amounts of food and beverage purchases.   All major groceries were purchased in San Francisco where prices were much less.

We had an Officers Club, where the children could go after school, in the evenings and on the weekends. You could bowl, play pool, ping-pong and enjoy a cheeseburger with coke and chips. On Sunday nights, there were movies upstairs in the auditorium. The auditorium was used for dances, dinners, stage skits and holiday parties. The Officers Club made life on Alcatraz tolerable for the kids. It kept us out of trouble.

If you lived in 64 building, a 1800s Army barracks  with a view of Angel Island, you might feel a little envious of the “ modern apartments - A, B, & C buildings”, which overlooked San Francisco where you could see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Oakland Bay Bridge and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland  Berkeley, Emeryville and Richmond.

There was a Women’s Club and Catholic Church services in the solarium on the roof of “C “building. There was an enclosed handball court with sand box and children’s swing sets on the parade ground where softball was played and small children roller-skated. Toy knives and toy guns were not allowed, nor were pets allowed, except for the Warden's dog, but then, he was the Warden.

Fishing was one of our pass times. We fished mostly from the dock when inmates were in the Cell house and on the beach during low tide at the front end of the Island, overlooking San Francisco. Capazoini, Sand Shark and the larger Leopard shark were prevalent. When the Stripers were running, hugging the Island in the incoming and outgoing tides that lashed past the Island at breakneck speeds, Striped Bass fishing would wear you out. No sooner did you throw in your line, you got a bite and a large Bass was on the line. You kept pulling them in and it was continuous, fast, ferocious, and tiring.

We could leave the Island almost on an hourly basis until the last boat at 12:15 am. The first boat was 6:30 A.M. and the children left for school in San Francisco on the 7:30 boat. From Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, we either walked or rode a bus to the various schools in the City.   Alcohol was not allowed on the island but the clinking of bottles could sometimes be heard in the gym bags of returning older teenagers and young Correctional Officers. Most residents had no front door keys to their apartments, as there was really nothing to fear - our dads were in control. The bad guys were either locked up or across the Bay in San Francisco.