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Winter 1877, Alcatraz Prison
I’m still shaking. I can hardly write straight. That Tom Malloy is a worthless fellow. Today he proved it. All I can do is write it all down and thank the good Lord above that He heard me crying out to Him. It was that scary. I’m not a sissy, and I’m not afraid to beat up Tom. And sure as shootin’, I’ll clobber him if he ever tries to pull one over on me again.
It all started Saturday afternoon. Tom, Richard Moss, and a couple of their pals talked me into a game of hide and go seek. It was raining cats and dogs on the island (again) so there weren’t too many places to hide outside.
“Let’s go inside,” Tom suggested. I should have run home, but the other fellas nodded too quick, and we split into teams. Tom and I were on a team, Richard and an older boy I don’t know were a team, and Jerry and Mack. Tom and I got stuck being “it.”
Well, we headed indoors, into the prison compound. First mistake. Pa has told me to stay away from the actual prison cells. “It’s not the place for you, son.” I knew this, but Tom led me around the back of the building and insisted that this part of Alcatraz is deserted. “No desperadoes housed in this half,” he assured me. “And Richard and Jerry love to find the best hiding places.”
So, like a ninny, I believed him, and off we went to find the others. After ten minutes of no success, Tom led me down some stairs. Then past an iron staircase and around a corner. Then up another staircase.
Tom was right. There were no inmates in this part of the prison. No boys hiding, either. “They’re not here,” Tom admitted. He pointed down another stairway. “You go that way, and I’ll go this way.” He pointed up. “We’ll meet back here. If you find anybody, holler.” I nodded.
Down I went. The hall stretched on forever. Cell after empty cell. It was downright spooky. Long story mercifully short. I got lost. I wandered around in circles. “Tom!” I hollered. I don’t cry easy, but tears pooled in my eyes, I was that scared. I started running. I ran until I couldn’t breathe. Up and down, across the iron catwalks. Why, this Alcatraz was huge! I peeked into a cell. Not even a cot. Just a bench and a bucket. And a dead rat. I ran faster.
Then I heard voices. Moaning and sobbing. My heart turned over, and I felt like butter melting. Please, God, get me out of here! I prayed over and over. Soon, there were more voices. Prisoners screaming and swearing and banging their tin cups against the bars. I covered my ears. I stopped short. Right across from me–behind bars–a criminal was staring at me. He clutched the bars and yelled. “Hey, boy! What are–”
I shrieked and ran, right into one of the prison guards. He grabbed me by the collar and dragged me behind him. Up three flights of iron stairs, across landings in front of cells, and down another two flights. Each cell held a prisoner, and they were laughing at me. I didn’t care. Somebody had found me.
The guard cuffed me. I deserved it. “You scamp! How many times have you boys been told to stay out of here? One of these days I’ll lock you in a cell and keep you there. See how you like it!” I already knew I wouldn’t like it.
The guard dragged me down to the main floor, opened one of the office doors, and threw me in. “Another one, Captain. Found him in cell block seven.” Then the guard turned and stomped away.
I looked up, straight into Pa’s eyes. Never was I so glad to see my father. I flung myself into his arms and blubbered. I told him over and over I was sorry. When I told the whole story, he looked angry. Angry at those boys who had lured me into such a horrible place. And sure enough. When Pa took me back to the house, Tom and Richard and Jerry and the others were tossing a ball around in the rain. When they saw me they smirked and slunk away. Mean, worthless fellows!
I heard Pa tell Mama tonight, “I’m putting in for a transfer. We can’t raise Riley in a place like this. And you’re sure to come down sick again if I don’t get us out of here.” I heard Mama cough and knew this never-ending rain couldn’t be good for her. I sure don’t want Mama to get sick again. When Pa said, “We need a drier climate. Maybe Arizona or New Mexico,” my heart leaped for joy.
The only trouble is, how long will it take the army to get around to honoring Pa’s request for a transfer?