‘Wish I was back on Alcatraz’: You & Whitey


Moundsville, W.Va.: West Virginia state prison, since 1995 only a tourist attraction 8/5/12

          You probably don’t have a lot in common with Whitey Bulger.  You may wear a Red Sox cap.  You may time your walks for early morning or twilight.  You may find Santa Monica a great get away.  But you likely share not much more.

           Or do you?

           In some court – your conscience or someone else’s mind – you’ve been indicted, if not yet convicted.  But most fundamentally, you and Whitey share a common humanity.

           You have some minimum level of human comforts without which you can’t imagine yourself.  A double hospital room with dueling televisions and you in the coffin-sized bed next to the bathroom and the door onto the busy corridor gets close to your lowest bar.

           Mitt Romney’s Golden Retriever crated on his station wagon’s roof let out for a bit of exercise, some food and water, and a potty break: that would be a bit below your minimum.

           Now think of yourself in Whitey Bulger’s living conditions at the Plymouth County (Mass.) Correctional Facility at least until his trial in June.  In letters to Richard Sunday, who served time with him in maximum security federal prisons in Atlanta and Alcatraz 55+ years ago:     

           He has complained that since his capture in June 2011, he is only let out of his cell for an hour a day five days a week, is fed cold food through a slot in the door, and has no access to television or radio. [Shelley Murphy, ‘Bulger is checked for heart issue again’, Boston Globe, Feb. 21, 2013, pp. A1, A11.]

           Plymouth County ‘has a contract … to house defendants who have been ordered held without bail while awaiting trial on federal charges.’ Reports the Globe, the US Marshals Service says the ‘jail is one of the top facilities used by the marshals and has housed hundreds of federal pretrial detainees.  [At p. A11]

           Bulger’s lawyer not only hasn’t complained about his treatment in Plymouth County, he is quoted as saying the Sheriff and Superintendent ‘have been very professional in the pretrial detention of my client, an inmate in his 80s who presents particular issues, and they have been responsive to them. [P. A11]

           You can appreciate a veteran criminal lawyer’s caution in crticising your keepers.  But in Whitey’s shoes, how would you feel for 24 months in super-max-like solitary whilst presumed innocent?  Like Mitt’s mutt, or worse? 

           Now imagine you’ve been arrested and your lawyer says in a bail hearing, you have, as the Globe reported of Alexander Hilton on Feb. 22, ‘a severe mental illness that [you] have suffered since childhood….’ [Milton J. Valencia, ‘Mass. man fights UK extradition in poisoning’, Boston Globe, Feb. 22, 2013, pp. A1, A15.]

           Suppose, as with Hilton, the Federal authorities recognized your condition.  So: ‘He has been placed on suicide watch at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, R.I., and stripped naked with only a blanket to keep him warm.’ [P. A15]

           No matter what you or Whitey Bulger or Alexander Hilton may be guilty of, nothing justifies these conditions.  They put the lie to our claim to be civilised, to be human and humane.

           From Plymouth County Whitey Bulger wrote his old prison pal, ‘Wish I was back on Alcatraz.’ [Murphy, p. A11]

           No wonder.