Lois Duffy McCarthy & Beverly Arndt Dalquist

Interview with Lois Duffy McCarthy & Beverly Arndt Dalquist

By Jana McPherson Black

Lois and Bev were bosom buddies who wanted to be interviewed together.

Lois was the daughter of Ray Duffy, the Warden’s brother, and Edna. They divorced, so Lois lived with her Aunt Grace Zubler on the Prison grounds. Ray was also brother to Clint Duffy and eventually he married Mabel, Lois’ stepmother. Lois proudly reported that she had turned 83 in 2001. Bev Arndt Dalquist was the daughter of Walter and Lydia Arndt, but she is also the mother of Pam Dalquist Flanagan, creating a second generation of San Quentin life. Bev's parents ran the Kitchen and Mail Departments on the Prison grounds.

Lois moved to San Quentin at the age of 6, living on top of the hill. In 1932, she graduated from 8th grade at San Quentin and has fond memories of the occasion where she wore an organdy dress with a floral pattern and puffed sleeves and carried sweet peas. In the ceremony, she graduated in a class of nine that included seven cousins, 2 girls and 7 boys. After graduation, Lois joined the other students going to San Rafael High daily on the little white San Quentin bus. She graduated from San Rafael High in the Class of 1936.

Bev came to live at San Quentin at the age of 2 in 1925. She lived "out in the valley "  - about a mile from the Prison and near the school. She graduated from San Quentin Elementary School in 1937 in a class of 4 girls and 6 boys. In 1940, she graduated from San Rafael High School and immediately married, continuing to live at the Prison.

Lois’ memories of life at San Quentin are filled with recollections of playing “One foot off the Gutter,” “Follow the Arrow,” and “Kick the Can.” It was great fun to gather with friends and listen to “The Green Door” on the radio and to have taffy-pulling parties. At Jack Duffy's house, the girls made up fudge and if they did not watch closely, the boys would sneak in and add tobasco to the mixture. Children would create shingle sailboats to set off in the direction of Richmond with their names on them, hoping someone would find them and send them back. She recalls dogs and cats on the grounds but did not think many families had pets. On the other hand, all families had cooks and gardeners.

Mr. Dietz protected the Main Gate and was known to be tough. One Halloween a batch of fudge made up with a double dose of salt ended up “in house” for Dietz compliments of some of the children. Kids involved themselves in typical pranks on Halloween especially. Lois recalls one year where they cut the fence at the postmistresses’ house to gain access to the beach…. She put it back up the next day. On other Halloweens, a big wagon from the Prison garage that looked like a rickshaw took the children to the ferries where they had free rides around the bay.

Lois used to love to go to the gazebo and bandstand where prisoners in band uniforms played for one and all every Sunday and the men marched to the gate and back singing “Time on my Hands.” Lois’ Uncle Clint ran the band. Gladys Duffy acted as Director for plays and the inmates made all the props. Lois remembered well the time they put on “Don’t Give Up the Ship!” Bev recalls plays put on to entertain the Adult Authority Board (Parole) every 6-7 weeks. Grace Hunt made original costumes for things like Plum Pudding. Both girls recalled the chorus of "I'm only a bird in a gilded cage."

The girls had fond memories of grass sleds used to careen down the hillsides and dog carts… all made by the inmates. Bev recalls that the girls could not wear shorts to play at the tennis courts until after the 4 o'clock bell had rung meaning the prisoners were "in" for the night.

Life included movies every Wednesday and Sunday. Father Galore (a prisoner) was the Catholic Priest and other inmate trustees held respectful positions within the community. Lois played the piano. Bev recalls feeling very safe knowing there were guards all around. These guards had the dubious reputation of not only protecting the children but yelling at them oidf they got out of line and the children knew it was not worth it to challenge their authority.

The San Quentin Elementary School teachers during Lois’ childhood were Alma Leathers Sheffelton and Gladys Carpenter Duffy – Lois' aunts. The Palmer Method was used to teach proper penmanship. Class size was about 6-8 per class.

San Quentin graduates rated the highest academic scores upon entering San Rafael High. While outside kids could be invited back to San Quentin for dances on the grounds, San Rafael parents wouldn’t allow their kids to spend overnight on the grounds of the Prison. Lois always found this mystifying, as it was well known that on the grounds of the Prison, life was so safe that no one ever locked their doors. San Quentin kids were, of course allowed to spend overnights outside the grounds with friends. 

The best meats were delivered to the families from the Prison Ranch; and were dirt-cheap. Laundry service cost one penny per white shirt. Wednesday night, fresh brown and white bread was delivered to each house and on Saturday, a fresh loaf of French bread and fresh vegetables would arrive. Lois remembers that commonly the families feasted on steak and roasts – rarely hamburger.

Father Galore made spaghetti for the children and insisted they eat it without cutting it up; twisting the strands round and round. Sour French toast and hot chocolate was available for the children before school.

Lois recalls climbing Boot Hill, behind the back road to the cemetery where the kids would play and hide. The Prison grounds felt very safe. If ever there was a break out, the children did not learn of it until the next day in school. The children were raised in a true community. Babysitters were unnecessary as children were simply told to go over to someone’s house if the parents had to be otherwise occupied. Children of the grounds were all welcome in each other’s homes.

The children saw the trustee prisoners as friends who were included in the community. If a child was hurt, it was not unheard of for a trustee to be the one to take the child to the hospital. Shoes were shined and hair was cut by the trustees.

All in all, life was very good. At the very end of the interview, we were joined by another good friend, Bernice Richardson Oliver. She had come late to life at San Quentin and only got through grades K-1-2 & 3 in the last years of the school in the early 70s. She was the daughter of Peter Elias Richardson a Lieutenant Guard. When asked if she wanted to add anything to round our the interview of Lois and Bev, she said, "All I can say is that Lois was known to be a little devil...." to which Lois herself quickly added, "And I learned everything I knew from Bev!"

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