SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Whitey Bulger, the alleged crime boss who is now on trial in Boston for 19 grisly murders, was once an inmate at Alcatraz, and he took time recently to share his memories of life on “The Rock.”
Bulger was shipped to Alcatraz from a federal prison in Atlanta, where he was doing time for bank robbery, when he refused to snitch on a guard who was helping him in 1959. (Editor’s note: Ironically, it turns out that Bulger visited Alcatraz many years later as tourist while he was on the run as a fugitive – see photo on left.)
“He arrived here basically in November of 1959 and he stayed here until April of 1962,” said Alcatraz historian Michael Esslinger, who has written two books about the most notorious American prison.
Two years ago, Esslinger wrote Bulger asking him to share his memories of Alcatraz. By then, Bulger was back in jail facing the murder trial. Bulger’s response was more than he had hoped for.
“I probably have well over a thousand pages,” Esslinger told CBS News, before reading excerpts from the letters.
“I came over to Alcatraz on the Warden Johnston boat and was bolted in for security purposes,” read one letter. “While I didn’t know some of the earlier residents like Al Capone…I have a good idea of what thoughts he had while serving time on Alcatraz. We read from the same library, we worked some of the same jobs, and we were counted by some of the same guards…We were all part of a unique band of brothers.”
Bulger used to enjoy taking in the San Francisco skyline from the steps of the prison yard.
“I’d stand there and look out at the sail boats on the Bay, and at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was such a wonderful full view of the Bay from Alcatraz…It was the best view from any prison in the world.”
Once his sentence was up, he returned to Boston in 1965, where he allegedly worked his way up the notorious Winter Hill gang.
But as Bulger faces a life spent behind bars, he still has memories of his time on The Rock.
“If I could choose my epitaph on my tombstone, it would be ‘I’d rather be in Alcatraz…1428-AZ,’” reads one of the letters. “All that remains on Alcatraz today are our ghosts.”
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