Dick Mack

An Interview with Dick Mack

by Jana McPherson Black

Dick Mack was the son of Richard D. Mack Senior and Florence E.  Mack. His Father was Sergeant of the Guards. Richard D. Mack Senior was born 1891 and died 1956. Florence E. Mack was born 1900 and died 1982.

Where did you grow up on the grounds?

I was born at Ross Hospital and lived in cottage #23 on the grounds of San Quentin from 1937-1954. I went into the Air force in 1954 after High School as an airborne radio/radar repairman. I retired from Santa Rosa Junior College after 28 yrs. I was a computer repairman there.

He recalls being brought up in a "proper way" with tight old-fashioned values. Respect for others, do not judge someone until you know them and your word is your contract, are all values with which he was instilled.

What are the memories of your home?  What color was it, how many rooms, what was the garden like?

I liked the kitchen because it had a little seating area looking out over the porch to the front of the house. The stove was a Wedgwood gas stove with a wood burner in it and it stood on legs. My dog would lie down under the stove when we ate since it was warm. You could burn wood in the stove to keep the kitchen warm.

I think our house was white. Our house had six rooms including the bathroom. The basement ran under the whole house and had a space for one automobile. The porch was the locked tool room. The garden had tiered back yard with vegetables and flowers in it.

Who were your pals? What did you do together?

Dick calls himself a prankster who was not afraid to cause commotion. For example, he admits responsibility in a prank where he and Sid Shaddle interrupted the singing with a battery and buzzer hooked up under his clothes. Sid knew I had this setup and started  pressing the button and caused all hell to break lose! But the teacher knew who it was and sent Dick home! Augustine Hall was a very strict teacher for grads 1-8 while Dick lived at San Quentin. Our teacher was still the BEST though and I would not trade that experience for anything!  

Dick drove a Powell motor scooter with a sidecar and delivered newspapers on the grounds then went to the ferry pier to sell papers. He loved to get Sid Shaddle and go down to the school grounds when it had rained beforehand and get the scooter to slide sideways in the mud. Gasoline cost about 25 cents a gallon then.

Dick had a dog named Abe who was born on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, February 12. Abe always came running when he heard Dick's scooter start up and jumped in for a ride. He was the king of the road when he rode with Dick. He had 4 white feet and Dick also called him boots.

Any interesting stories about anyone in your family?

Well, none of the kids of San Quentin could get away with anything do to the fact the guards were tested by the inmates every day and knew all the tricks ahead of time, darn! Sid and I would take my Dad's 1940 Ford to San Rafael while my dad was working and return it before he got off work. We thought we were smart, we disconnected the speedometer and put the same amount of gas back in and thought we could get away with it! But when he came home, boy oh boy, were we surprised that he knew all about it! You see, living in a small community does not help matters.

What do you recall about events or other special occasions?

The inmates had a special band, and on Sundays they would play music on the cement gazebo bandstand as visitors passed by. The music was great to listen to.

What years did you attend the school?

I attended San Quentin Grammar School from 1942-1950 and San Rafael from 1951-1954. The students at the high school were all curious about life at San Quentin and asked, was it dangerous to live there? I never had any problems with anyone about were I lived though. But, there was a time in the air force when they checked my records as to where I lived for top security reasons. It all worked out O.K. though. When asked were I lived, the person asking looked at me somewhat surprised when I answered I was at San Quentin for 17 years!

Did I befriend any inmates?  There was an inmate when he left after serving his time gave my dad a round table roller costar type train track he made himself by hand for me to use with my Lionel train. I had more fun with this item and was very proud to have had it.

Were there any escapes while you lived there?

There was several times the red light and siren would come on and they would call the Golden Gate Bridge and the highway patrol to tell them there was someone missing. We were not afraid because the inmates wanted out. The people on the outside were in more danger then us! One time Alcatraz Prison had a big riot and they had San Quentin guards, highway patrol, and National guard there to stop the riot. My Dad went and that was the one time I was afraid for him.

How did growing up at the prison affect your life?

Growing up on the prison grounds brought me closer to people due to a small community atmosphere. We had better values in those days in the forty's and fifty's.

People respected each other more and helped others when they needed it. I miss the close knit family atmosphere and trustworthiness of people of days past.

What do you feel about the death penalty based upon your total experience living at San Quentin?

I feel if you break the law, you knew better before you broke the law and you should pay the piper. If you take a life, that life is gone forever from that family and can not be brought back. If you are a danger to society, then I certainly do not want you back on the streets to commit another crime.

What do you think of the Law and order in today's world?  

I feel in today's world, no one thinks he is responsible for anything! This is crazy thinking! We need to be responsible for are own actions, and serve our time for what ever that turns out to be.

Living on the Grounds:

Children were not allowed to wear Levis as they were the dress of the Prisoners. No toy guns or liquor of any kind were allowed on the grounds.

At one time Trustees mowed the lawns and maintained the homes. Dick especially remembers the work of Al, the gardener at San Quentin Grammar School. The grounds were always kept beautifully and Al, commanded the respect of all the children. After he finished his time at San Quentin, Al went on to become a professional gardener.

Life in the village was very close knit, no one ever had to ask if they had problems, whatever was needed was simply provided.

My Dad came to work here about 1928 when prison life for prisoners was very tough and strict. Since then, prison officials started teaching prisoners career skills plus grammar and high school curriculum so they could get their diplomas for their new life outside the prison. The prison has changed a lot since 1928. The inmates had no life but to just hang out and do nothing in the old days. Today, they can make a go of it with their diplomas and new careers with help from employers on the outside willing to give them a chance.

I feel very fortunate to have had such a wonderful experience in my life to have lived at San Quentin Prison. Not very many people get such a chance as this.

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