We often don't think of the Christmas when it comes to the now infamous Alcatraz, or that the warden and prison guards lived on Alcatraz along with their families. The staff's children took a ferry to school in San Francisco daily, played outside the barbed wire fences of the prison, and, yes, even welcomed Santa Claus each year. Every Christmas Eve, the children would sing Christmas carols at the warden’s house – and then to the prisoners outside the prison fence. Areas near the fence were strictly off-limits, except for Christmas. In fact, in memoirs some inmates admitted that they wept when they heard the children’s voices singing carols.
Alcatraz Staff & Family During The Christmas Holidays
The third warden, Paul Madigan, served from 1955 to 1961, and was credited with adding cigars to the inmates’ Christmas gift bags, and creating special holiday meals for the general population. (On a side note, Warden Madigan would pass away Christmas 1974). The ‘Holiday Meal’, was proudly served by the kitchen crew on each year. The meal included roast turkey, whipped potatoes, raisin-nut dressing, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce and for dessert . . . hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
Alcatraz Christmas Menu & Kitchen Crew during the holidays.
This lone special holiday also meant that prisoners would receive an array of hard candies, several candy bars and two packs of much cherished ‘Camel’ brand, non-filter cigarettes. The cigarettes had to be smoked by the end of the year though, after that, it was considered contraband by the prison staff. These packs of ‘smokes’, provided a rare taste of the outside world – and would become high-value ‘currency’ in the prison’s underground commerce system.
The “Rock Islanders” prison band during Christmas Holiday 1940's
During the holidays prisoners were also allowed to mail four Christmas Cards to family or friends. Inmates were only allowed to receive greeting cards on the following occasions: Christmas, Easter, Father's Day and your birthday. They were also allowed to watch movies and could attend religious services of their choosing.
All in all the "Rock", seemed like a very charming and unique place to spend Christmas & the holidays...Maybe.