Tag Archives: prison

“The Lady In Black” Ghost Story

Main Piece

Informant CH recalls hearing a story from her Mom about “The Lady in Black,” a ghost who dwells on George’s Island in the Boston Harbor.

As told by CH, the Lady in Black was wrongfully convicted for a murder she didn’t commit, and hung on prison grounds. She now haunts these grounds, wailing. Prisoners have heard a woman’s cries in the prison, but there wasn’t anyone there.

The Lady in Black was “not a real person” (in terms of corporealness), and “couldn’t physically interact with anything,” and seemed “bound” to the site of the prison. Hearing her cries startled prisoners, and CH recalls that the legend of the Lady in Black is well-recorded and published in regional folklore. While discussing it, CH was unsure of more specific details and mentioned that I should look up further details, as she’s uncertain if her memory of the story aligns with the published materials.


Informant’s Interpretation: CH sees the story of the Lady in Black as a reminder of the wartime history of Boston Harbor. She also believes that the abundance of stories about Boston Harbor–particularly pertaining to ghosts–has to do with a permeating regional desire to “figure out what happened” and have an accurate understanding of history that’s still so well represented and physically present.

Personal Interpretation: I drew similarities between CH’s story of the Lady in Black to the Irish banshee, a wailing woman who acts as a harbinger of death. Being that the Lady in Black was particularly noted to be heard by prisoners and a victim of a wrongful hanging, I felt her association with death was particularly strong. This seems representative of a place (particularly a prison with heavily militaristic history) that has a great deal of death associated with it. Thus, I felt the haunting and its nature to be deeply tied to the literal and physical history of the island.


Informant CH is a current student at USC pursuing a degree in Theatre. She grew up in Hull, Massachusetts, and noted that her Mom grew up in the same town and the “islands have been her life.” CH heard this story from her, and thinks it likely came up because she mentioned thinking she’d seen a ghost when she was young (elementary to early middle school), and her parents responded by telling her about the Lady in Black. CH notes that due to this story and other personal experiences, she believes in ghosts, as do her parents.

CH is white and of European descent (primarily Irish), and is female-presenting.

The Fort Point Ghost Walk

Text: “I think like 3 years or so ago I went on a tour of Fort Point underneath the golden gate bridge and there was like this scary tour pertaining to the ghosts of soldiers who served in the fort in the past. Part of the tour contained people in ghost costumes but it also included explanations of supernatural events and examples of the tour guides communicating with ghosts in the rooms or sites where they are believed to be.

Context: CH is a resident of Mill Valley in Orange County where he claims to be an hour or so away from the fort where he went on this tour. The scariest part according to him was the setting of the tour, the dark and twisting corridors of the old fort, which added to the overall sense of unease and tension. He also remembered a point where his tour guide tried to talk to the ghost of a soldier who passed away in the room he was in which was very scary. CH said this was a Halloween tradition that people could experience annually around that time of year but that the tour would likely lose its charm after going again.

Analysis: While there have been reports of supernatural activity at the fort over the years, including sightings of ghostly apparitions and unexplained sounds and movements, these claims have not been scientifically verified. It is important to note that many of the stories and legends surrounding Fort Point are based on historical events, such as the fort’s use as a military prison during the Civil War, and the deaths and tragedies that occurred there over the years. These stories have been passed down through the years and have become part of the folklore and mythology surrounding the fort. The people dressing up as these ghosts and telling scary stories of ghosts believed to be inhabiting the fort are ways of perpetuating this belief and are not only a way to attract tourists and visitors, but also a way to keep the rich history of the fort alive and well. The way CH described it the tour he went on seemed to involve some examples of ritual where the guides tried to communicate or interact with apparitions.

The Ghosts of Alcatraz

Main Piece

Informant: “My class always talks about how Alcatraz is haunted.”

Collector: “Really? Are there any specific ghosts that people mention?”

Informant: “Yeah! Al Capone is one of the most common ones I hear, and then the people who tried escaping the island when they were prisoners. A lot of my classmates say that they are stuck at sea, and that on the boat ride over there that the ghosts try to get help from the passengers.”

Collector: “Do they know that Al Capone didn’t die on Alcatraz?”

Informant: “I think so…they say that the reason his ghost stays there is because that is where he suffered the most during his life.”

Collector: “Has your class been there together or have they just hear about it in the city?”

Informant: “We went on a field trip and people working there even mentioned it. They sell some stuff in the gift shop that has to do with it! I think they might give tours about the ghosts.” 


Alcatraz offers a prime example of how folklore can be used in a marketable way with a great deal of the tourism to the spot inspired by famous ghost stories. Although the informant is younger and did not have any detailed examples of haunting stories on the island, she probably has a greater idea of it being a haunted spot than some older people she knows. The amount of time that has passed since the prison was actively in use and not just a National Park designated land has allowed it to become further associated with the past identities that it has held, with particular attention to the era in which it held its prison.


What to do if you go to jail

Information about the Informant

My informant is a university professor of English and American literature. He grew up in Chicago during the 1950s, and fought in the latter half of the Vietnam War. After that, he returned and received his degree in English Literature at UC Irvine. He has worked on many textbooks and movies that deal with the Vietnam War.


“I was once taught, at the age of twelve, what I should do if, if I went to jail. And the man gave me three pieces of advice. One, keep your mouth shut. Two, keep your eyes and ears open. Three, find the toughest guy in your cell block, and start a fight with him. ‘Cause even if you lose, he’s gonna respect you and nobody else is gonna fuck with you.”


I believe, although I could be wrong, that this advice has become widespread or a bearer of the advice has become a published author or told it to someone who then published it, because I believe I have seen this piece of advice in a book once. While not fixed enough (and probably too long to ever be fixed), to be considered a proverb, the advice is still worded memorably enough that it is easily remembered and passed along. There is almost a certain lyrical quality to it. The concept of keeping one’s mouth shut is offset by the second part of the advice which involves keeping two other orifices open, and there is the implication that this is a balance, where one shuts one’s mouth and, to compensate for that, one also keeps one’s ears and eyes open. The third part of the advice then comes as a disruption to the balance of this advice, especially the way it was worded by my informant. Whereas the first two parts are standard pieces that could be told to more than just people going to jail, told by mothers to their children, told by bosses to their workers, the third part really establishes the context and the brutality of the environment in which the complete advice is applicable.

Style of Dress – American

Some American men wear very baggy pants and let them sag to show their boxers. The informant learned the following folk explanation as to the origin of the style “maybe right around high school, or, um, when [she] was just past high school and [her] little brother was doing it when he was in high school. She doesn’t remember from whom she first heard the explanation, but she recalls first seeing the style in high school: “Um, it seemed to be something that, uh, a lot of the African-American guys would do in high school. Uh, but now I see a lot of people do it and it’s just . . . it’s not good [laughter].”

The informant heard that the style originated in prison, where the low man on the sexual totem pole would wear saggy pants: “Basically, uh, young boys and even grown men tend to wear baggy pants or pants that they sag down past their boxer shorts, showing almost all of their boxer shorts, wearing pants that are, you know, a good ten sizes too bit for them. What they don’t realize is the true meaning of the sagging jeans, sagging pants. Uh, it actually stems from prison. Uh, the man who would wear the saggy pants, um, that were sagging past his butt actually indicated that he was the man that men would go to, uh, for, uh, for intercourse. And it showed that he was basically the bitch of the cellblock. So, uh, basically indicated that he was the one who would, uh, take it in the rear, for lack of better terms.”

The informant regards the style itself with a mixture of rue and amusement: “This nugget of knowledge is something that I wish more younger men would understand . . . Um . . . but I don’t think most men get that today who sag their pants. They think it looks cool but they don’t really see that is indicated that they are the, the prison bitch. So I think that that’s interesting. Um, if they do know this they don’t seem to care. Uh, but I think it’s just something that most people who sag their pants aren’t familiar with. So they are, um, unassumingly, uh, displaying their wares, as it were.

The informant shared the explanation with her nephew, “who actually seemed to have gotten the hint once it was explained to him.” She says that she would share it with anyone she felt comfortable with and wanted to have more respect for him- or herself: “If I was comfortable with approaching the individual, egh, like if it was my nephew. Or my brother, or somebody who, um, who is younger than me who I would be an authority—kind of an authority figure to, who would respect my, uh, input. I’m not just going to stop a random guy on the street and say, ‘Hey, you know that means you’re a prison bitch?’ ’cause that’s just not cool. But I think I would if it was somebody that I cared about, like a relative or a workmate or somebody that I, y’know, had a little bit more respect for and wanted them to respect themselves more, I would share that information with them.”

The folk explanation could be true, although it does seem like a story that might be dispensed by parents and other adults to discourage children from wearing a style their relatives find distasteful, as the informant used it on her nephew. It would be effective for that purpose because prison inmates are looked down upon and anal sex is still somewhat taboo, so impressionable boys might not wish to associate themselves with the former or symbolically invite the latter. Saggy pants could be considered an American folk costume, since the style has not been much endorsed by authorities—the folk group being, if this story is true, prison inmates and their imitators.