Weird History
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Al Capone's Prison Cell Was Nicer Than A New York Studio Apartment

Updated September 15, 2017 30.6k views10 items

Who could forget that bit in 1990's Goodfellas, when the boys cook a gourmet Italian meal in their swanky prison cell... complete with wine, artisan-grown tomatoes, and hand-peeled garlic? As it turns out, Al Capone's prison cell (that is, the Al Capone cell at Eastern State Penitentiary; the mobster was imprisoned several times) was almost as swanky. And it was certainly nicer than many of the tiny, bedbug-infested holes that are increasingly going for top dollar all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the like.

What was Capone's jail cell like? Pictures of it feature luxurious oriental rugs, expensive antique armoires, exquisite lamps, and a decidedly hip decor – something akin to one of those novelty B&Bs that are built into the side of a cave. After Capone was released from Eastern State after serving a six-month sentence, he spent time in the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary, and then later in Alcatraz, where he rapidly deteriorated due to the ravages of syphilis. Nevertheless, for a while, America's most memorable mobster lived a more than charmed life – even while incarcerated.

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  • There Was A Victrola Record Player, Upon Which Capone Often Listened To Waltzes

    There Was A Victrola Record Player, Upon Which Capone Often Listened To Waltzes
    Video: YouTube

    Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Capone's cell was its beautiful antique Victrola record player, which Capone spent many happy (and, undoubtedly, escapist) hours listening to. According to sources, the mob boss was especially fond of waltzes, and their elegant and buoyant notes could often be heard drifting down the ominous halls of the penitentary like aural perfume. (Check out the above video for a virtual tour).

  • Capone Read Widely And Donated To Charity While Incarcerated

    Capone Read Widely And Donated To Charity While Incarcerated
    Photo: Miami Police Department / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Capone may have been rich enough to bribe his way into incarcerated luxury, but despite his reputation as a cold-blooded murderer, he was far from selfish. According to All That is Interesting, he was, in fact, "a model inmate." While imprisoned, he read widely and donated large sums of money to a new children’s hospital, as well as to the families of several other inmates he had befriended. Too, the prison chaplain claimed that he regularly sent money to poor families on the outside, including a woman with eight children who was about to be evicted. He also paid another woman's hospital bills and offered her husband a job ... though the latter, fearing that the position would involve "whacking" people, amusingly (if graciously) refused the post.  

  • He Bribed Prison Guards, Which Bought Him Luxury (Until It Didn't)

    Capone's swanky stint in Eastern State was, by all reliable accounts, made possible by his ability to bribe prison authorities. However, the method that had worked so seamlessly in Philadelphia ended up backfiring spectacularly in the Atlanta prison system. According to Forbes, when the powers that be there found out what Capone was doing, they promptly punished him – by sending him to Alcatraz. 

  • There Were Luxurious Oriental Rugs And Art On The Walls

    There Were Luxurious Oriental Rugs And Art On The Walls
    Photo: YouTube

    Oil paintings (undoubtedly very costly ones) were a beloved feature in Capone's private "suite" at Eastern State. The oriental rug-savvy reader will notice the Art Deco carpet on the floor of said cell, which was in all likelihood an ultra-expensive hand-woven "Manchester Kashan" (some claim that Capone had it special ordered to accommodate the size of his pod). In addition to his antique Victrola (and according to rugrags), Capone apparently had "a cabinet radio... and access to the Deputy Warden’s phone." He also had a typewriter, which may have been the best perk of all.