Barbara Shadie Bates, Mary Ann Murry McReynolds and Dave McLeod

An interview with Barbara Shadle Bates, Mary Ann Murry McReynolds and Dave McLeod

By Jana McPherson Black

Barbara Shadle and her brother Sid were the children of Horace and Gladys Shadle. Horace was an Accountning Officer at San Quentin Prison. The family lived on prison grounds form September 1945 until 1962 (though Horace continued to work at the prison until the early 70s).

Mary Ann Murry and her brother Thomas were the children of Peter and Cleo Murry. Peter was a Records Officer and the family lived at the prison form 1948-1961.

Barbara recalls life at San Quentin including lots and lots of pets. She was known personally as the child who adopted all the strays. Her motto was, "If it was not on a door step, I though they were mine!" She and Mary Ann both remember Rocky the dog, who would chase Bunky the rabbit. The rabbit came to the family via the Silver Nail. Rocky would meet Barbara at school to skip her home.

Dave McLeod was born at San Quentin to Allen and Vera McLeod. His father came to work at the prison before 1945 and continued on until 1953. Dave and his family lived down at the Pump House.

These three childhood pals had a variety of memories of life at San Quentin including:

  • one Halloween when the Price brothers made a dummy and hung it from a tree
  • Sid Shadle (Barbara's brother) stole all the water faucet handles off all the neighbors houses then tried to sell them water service that he would supply with the "right tool."
  • the white cat who was known to spend all its days trying to catch and kill the mud hens down at the beach
  • swimming in Tag Lake
  • roaming the grounds until 9 PM at night knowing they were safe as the patrol cars (prowl cars) passed them by hourly
  • playing One Foot off the Gutter until the search light went on
  • everyone gathering to watch as the Jute Mill burned
  • Christmas parties where all the kids got stockings filled up full
  • homemade candy apples made by the Bartlett family
  • covering a porch with manure when the lights went out as a joke
  • the "Stick of Gum " lady who made the children sign for the gum to insure they did not come back for a second stick

Barbara Graham was the convict made famous in the Susan Hayward movie "I want to Live." All the kids went to see the movie and came away feeling shocked by what Hollywood had done to the true story by glorifying their view of real life. Mary reported that she was in the movie credits as one of the children shown riding bikes. Barbara recalled how the picture of the Front Gates at the end of the film showed that this story really was supposed to be about their home. Both women agreed they learned an important lesson after seeing the false information in the film despite the fact that Uncle Joe Farretti had been hired as the technical consultant to the movie and had actually been Barbara Graham's death watch officer.

In their lives, it seemed there was an execution every Friday and they thought nothing of it. They did think it was "fun" when movie stars would show up to protest the death penalty, but they themselves were all in favor of the death penalty becasue they lived on the grounds.

They remembered Blackie Blackwell, the Finger Print Man, as a fellow worker. Where gray condos sit today used to be a Boarding House run by Walter Maehl who rented rooms with shared bathrooms to new families until on-site housing was available. The children would go down to play at the Point where they rode rafts built by Tom Murry. The guards kept a keen eye on them and if they got too far out, someone would go out and get them, put them in a prowl car and take them home after calling their parents.

So long as the light was green on the Main Building, the children were pretty free to roam and they could even play in the street until the lights came on in the summer. The Warden would turn the lights on at the Tennis Court that went with his house in the Summer so that the kids could paly tennis in the cool of the evening.

One year, Halloween was cancelled for all the children when the Prison count did not add up right. 

Mary Ann's father had had Carl Chessman as his Office Boy as Folsom Prison. They all recalled that San Quentin had housed the Red Light Bandit. These were considered to be people who would "just as soon kill you as look at you."  According to the trio, Carl Chessman fulfilled his life dreams and was proud of it. He had his story written, filed and inventoried and got terrific attention when it was published.

Barbara recalls feeling quite scared after she moved off the Prison grounds. Outside life was not nearly as simple. The difference was clear and she recalls feeling scared at night outside the grounds where the doors were never locked even at night. The feeling of "safe and secure" when the green light was on has never left her.

San Rafael High School friends would come to their houses and for community functions. They did not like having their trunks searched as they left the grounds. Though no alcohol was allowed on the grounds, Barbara, Mary Ann and Dave were all aware that plenty of cocktails were had even so.

Flowers form the Prison hothouse were donated to St. Rafael's Church for many years. The gardens were beautiful and the children could remember getting huge bouquets of flowers from inmates any time they asked. Every house was assigned an inmate gardener who was also available upon request to make swing sets and other items for outside living.

Dave put it this way, "Our waorld was San Quentin. We didn;t really go any other place. Our childhood had no worries, good times and lots of places to play. All the children recall learnig to ride their bikes at the end of the Main Gate. Mary Ann truly believed that the San Quentin swings went higher than the swings anywhere else! They recall gravel roads, ice boxes in their homes and going to the store for treats. In the summer they would follow the water truck to cool off.

All three recall the hullabaloo the time an earthquake struck and no one could find little Cindy Russell. Cindy was supposed to be staying with Mrs. Small. The earthquake struck and Cindy's mother went and picked her up and Mrs. Small didn't know it. Mrs. Small had all the police, parents and children scouring the grounds looking for Cindy, who was at home the whole time. It turned out that Mrs. Small had not received Mrs. Russell's call to her because she was in the bath tub when the phone rang and did not hear it. Still the fright of a missing child is a lasting memory.

Another time, a family that was known to allow its children to run free - the mother was a missionary and if she wasn't home the children had been known to be out all night - could not find one child. It turned out the child was at home hiding under the bed.

Christy Nordstrom was a San Quentin child who contracted Polio during the epidemic in the 50s when her parents were afraid of the vaccine. She became a Poster Child for the Easter Seal Society and everyone felt very proud.

All three had fond memories of Warden Duffy as a man who was kind to all. At the Warden's house, the children could always count on cookies and punch from the houseboy. One day Barbara's mother's car broke down. Warden Duffy saw her plight and pushed her car down the hill for her. That night the Warden died.

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