Originally published on Huffingtonpost.com
The Rock. Uncle Sam's Devil's Island. Hell on Earth. Alcatraz Island went by many names.
But for Darlyne Sheppeard, it only went by one: home.
Sheppeard, the daughter of an associate warden, lived on Alcatraz as a baby in 1934 and again as a teenager from 1949 to 1953. During her stay, fellow residents included Al Capone, "Machine Gun Kelly" and the "Birdman of Alcatraz"–some of the most notorious and dangerous criminals in American history.
This year, the former prison will commemorate 50 years since its closure in 1963. Sheppeard, now 79, will recognize the anniversary by traveling from her home at the Tallgrass Creek Retirement Community in Overland Park, Kan., all the way to San Francisco, for the annual Alcatraz Alumni Day, a reunion of former guards, residents and even inmates. ("The inmates get most of the attention," says Sheppeard.)
Sheppeard sat down with The Huffington Post to talk about growing up at the most infamous prison in America.
What was it like growing up on Alcatraz? It felt just like a very small town. Everybody there had to take the boat to San Francisco everywhere they went –- to school, to the grocery store, to go out to dinner. There was nothing but residents and a small store with a few essentials on the island. But because we spent so much time on the boat back and forth, it meant I spent a lot of time with my peers and we became very close.
Were you ever afraid? Actually, no. One time I had a friend in high school and I wanted her to come over and spend the night, but her father wouldn't let her. My father called hers and said, "We know who the bad people are on Alcatraz, but you don't know who they are in San Francisco."
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