What Al Capone's Prison Life Was Really Like

When it came to crime, there was a time when Al Capone seemed every bit as bulletproof as his Cadillac. The man was comically brazen about his lawbreaking. As recounted by author Jonathan Eig, Capone matter-of-factly admitted to reporter Patricia Dougherty, "I violate the Prohibition law — sure, who doesn't?" He even acknowledged that his line of work involved murder and bribing public officials. Yet by hook and definitely by crook, when Capone fought the law, the law lost.

However, by the late 1920s, Capone began to look less bullet-proof, but even then, his wounds were self-inflicted. The Daily Times reported that in 1928, Capone accidentally shot himself in the groin while golfing. The following year, a gun led to his first stint in prison when he got arrested in Pennsylvania for possessing an unlicensed firearm. This marked Capone's "first taste of prison life," according to Eastern State Penitentiary.

Al Capone waltzed into his first prison

At Eastern State Penitentiary, prison life was pretty cozy for Capone. Per the Associated Press, media reports from the time claimed the kingpin's cell contained "richly colored oriental rugs, polished wood furniture, and other trappings," making him feel far from trapped. Eastern State Penitentiary adds that he had paintings and a radio and was known to listen to waltzes. Capone described his digs as "very comfortable."

However, a 1929 description by the Philadelphia Record paints a shabbier picture, where the most impressive element was a "smoking stand in the form of a butler" (via Smithsonian). Capone also had a cellmate — convicted embezzler Bill Coleman, who was present when Capone had to Ca-poop. The gangster finally regained his freedom in 1930 but lost it again after getting nabbed for income tax evasion.

Al Capone wound up in Alcatraz

In 1931, Al Capone began an 11-year prison sentence for tax evasion. His big house away from home was Georgia's Cook County Jail. According to the Chicago Tribune, at Cook, Capone and his bodyguard received special "VIP accommodations" and meals prepared by the mobster's wife. He slept on a box-spring mattress, enjoyed an extravagant Thanksgiving feast served by a butler, and had access to the prison telegraph system.

In 1932, Capone moved to Atlata's U.S. Penitentiary, which sounded more like a penthouse. Per Atlanta Magazine, Capone smuggled in cash and received special permission to smoke cigars, decorate his cell with rugs, and use a typewriter. Alcatraz History writes that "many of the guards would sit with Al conversing and listening to their favorite radio serials." However, in 1934, everything changed when he was relocated to Alcatraz, ominously nicknamed "the Rock." 

Capone couldn't smell the Rock cookin' fancy meals for him. As Smithsonian details, the warden refused to play nice. Instead, Capone had to earn his privileges. The gangster begged for permission to form a banjo band, which he called the "Rock Islanders. That's right. Al Capone danced to jailhouse rock before Elvis. But he probably played his fair share of the blues. He spent eight days in isolation from fighting. Plus, a prisoner stabbed him with a pair of shears. Meanwhile, syphilis was attacking him from the inside. Capone spent over four years at the Rock before his ailing health led to his release.