The Biggest Rat – Whitey Bulger’s Decades of Deceit – Part 4 – Whitey at Alcatraz

Big RatJames Cagney - you dirty rat

When Whitey Bulger arrived at Alcatraz Prison in late 1959, escape was the last thing on his mind. In Alcatraz, unlike in Atlanta, every convict had his own five-foot by nine-foot cell. And inmates were mandated to do a full day’s work from Monday to Friday, with weekends off; unless they had been dispatched to the hole (solitary) for a disciplinary infraction. The trick for Whitey was to weasel his way into a plum assignment, where the work wasn’t too hard and the environment as enjoyable as possible .

            The prison guard who passed out the job assignments was a crabby old soul with hands the size of meat hooks. His name was Maurice Ordway, and he was an institution at Alcatraz; having been a “screw” there longer than any other guard. Ordway’s nickname was “Double Tough,” because he constantly told inmates who had an attitude, “You think you’re tough? Well I’m double-tough.”

But Whitey was the ultimate schemer. After Ordway told Whitey breaking his hump in a sweltering kitchen would be his new gig, Whitey shot Ordway his best poker face, and said, “I heard they have meat cleavers and big knives in the kitchen.”

Ordway thought it over for a moment, and he decided having a nut like Whitey loose in a room with potential murder weapons was not exactly the coolest thing to do. So, Ordway assigned Whitey a plum job working in the prison clothing room; handing out prison-issued duds to his fellow inmates. Whitey Bulger proved once more he was diabolical when it came to getting what he wanted.

Soon after Whitey arrived at Alcatraz, he was joined by his old Atlanta prison buddy Richard Sunday, who had been banished from Atlanta to Alcatraz for cracking the head of a fellow inmate.

After his release from prison, Sunday told the Boston Globe, “At Alcatraz you had to watch your back and you had to have someone watch your back. Jimmy watched my back and I watched his.”

At Alcatraz, Whitey became palsy with the aforementioned Clarence Carnes; a native American known as “The Choctaw Kid.” At the age of 16, Carnes had been sentenced to life in prison for the Oklahoma murder of a garage attendant during a botched robbery. In the 1946 “Escape from Alcatraz,” Carnes had originally been released from his cell, but when he decided the plot was doomed to failure, he willingly went back to his cell. Because of the death of the  two prison officers during the botched escape attempt, Carnes was tried for murder, along with Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson. All three men were found guilty, and although Shockley and Thompson were executed for their crimes, Carnes was let off lightly with a mere 99-year sentence; but with the possibility of parole.

By the time Whitey arrived at Alcatraz, Carnes was an Alcatraz legend, and he had the plum job of delivering library book to inmates in their cells. At Alcatraz, Whitey took up reading as a way to pass the time, and Carnes always gave Whitey books he felt would increase Whitey’s knowledge of America, and especially the plight of the Native American Indian. Carnes told Whitey when Carnes died he wanted to be buried on Choctaw land, where he had been born in Oklahoma. Unbeknownst to Whitey, in 1988, Carnes did pass away in a Missouri prison. Because Carnes had no next of kin, the prison officials buried him in a pauper’s grave. When Whitey found out the fate of his Alcatraz buddy, in early 1989, Whitey paid for Carnes’s exhumation, and he had Carnes’s body transported to Oklahoma to be buried on Choctaw ground.

Even bad men sometimes do good things.


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