McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary – January 1969
I was there. I was right there in the middle of it all.
Who I am isn’t that important. My folks saddled me with the name Alvin. Some people call me “Old Creepy,” but never to my face. Most of my friends just call me Ray. Don’t worry about that, though. This isn’t my story; it’s the Jackrabbit’s.
Back in late 1933 and ’34, the country was in the middle of a crime wave like no one had ever seen. The United States was deep in the Depression, and a lot of folks blamed rich people and the banks for screwing everything up. Gangs roamed the Midwest, robbing banks and kidnapping rich bastards, and the common folks ate it up. They saw it as just deserts for those who had taken their livelihoods, their savings, their homes.
I was in the thick of things back when it was front-page news. I got falling-down drunk with Pretty Boy Floyd. I shot the shit with Machine Gun Kelly. Bonnie and Clyde bummed cigarettes off me. God, those two stank. I don’t think they ever took a bath.
And of course, I knew the Jackrabbit. I met him shortly after he waltzed away from the lockup at Crown Point. We got along pretty well, but it’s not as if we were best friends. We would run into each other at the Green Lantern Saloon in Saint Paul from time to time. And we were both there for that horrible mess with Red Hamilton in Aurora.
By the time I met him, the Jackrabbit was already a celebrity. Everybody knew his name, had seen his picture in the papers, and followed his exploits on the radio and in the newsreels. After Crown Point, he got even more famous. Hell, there were Hollywood stars that would’ve given their right arm to get that sort of press. He was what people nowadays would call a superstar. The only person I can think of who even came close to the Jackrabbit was Jesse James. The Jackrabbit loved it when the papers started calling him “the modern-day Jesse James.” Jesse was a boyhood hero of his. In the end, I think the Jackrabbit surpassed Jesse in celebrity. Hell, how many newsreels was Jesse James ever in?
What made the Jackrabbit and Jesse James both so popular was the whole David-versus-Goliath thing. Regular people thought that by breaking the law, these outlaws were getting back at the legal robbers, the exploiters, the big-business crooks who would never be punished. Both Jesse James and the Jackrabbit had that unholy mixture of criminality and public adoration. It’s a volatile combination, and, in the end, it brought them both grief. It killed Jesse James. As for the Jackrabbit . . . well, I’ll get to that part later.
Most of the gangsters who were front-page news back in late ’33 and ’34 didn’t live to see 1935. The era of what one historian called the “Jackrabbit Days” lasted barely eighteen months. I was one of the few who managed to survive. I’d like to think it’s because I was a little bit smarter than the rest, but I know I’m just bullshitting myself. If I were so damn smart, I wouldn’t be spending my days sewing collars in a prison shirt factory.
Thirty-three goddamned years. That’s how long I’ve been behind bars. Yeah, yeah, I know—it beats the alternative, right? Still, that’s a long time to cool your heels. It gives a man a lot of time to think and to hear things.
There are a lot of forms of currency when you’re in lockup: cigarettes, skin mags, candy, and, of course, information. I’ve had over three decades to get my hands on plenty of all those things. Over this glacier-like span of time, I’ve heard a lot of stories, some true, some not. It’s actually pretty easy to pick out the grains of truth from the staggering amount of bullshit you hear in prison. You know what they say, anything that sounds too good to be true usually is.
Between what I’ve picked up in the yard and the stuff I already knew from having been in the thick of things, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the true story of the Jackrabbit. I’m not sure what compelled me to write it all down other than plain ol’ boredom. Sure, I’ve got my own story to tell, and maybe one day I will. You can bet your ass I won’t do that until I’m free and clear of this stinking pit . . . if that ever happens.
I guess I’m starting to ramble now, but no matter. There’s a guy in D Block who used to work for a big publisher in New York. For a carton of smokes and a couple of girlie mags, he says he’ll clean up my writing and make it look professional. I’ll keep some of it just the way I wrote it, though. Just to remind you that it’s authentic, and I know what the hell I’m talking about.
This is what really happened to the Jackrabbit.