Henry Cole

An Interview of Henry Cole

 by Carlyle H. Black II

Henry’s parents were Henry Samuel Cole, born in Michigan, and Wilma Alta Fitzwater, born in California. Henrys’ father ran the motor pool at the prison, including all of the ranch equipment. His mother was a schoolteacher.

Henry was born at the Cottage Hospital in San Rafael. His sister, Betty Jo, now deceased, followed six years later.

At the time he was born, Henry's family lived outside the gates of the prison. At the age of about two they moved inside the gates. Their first house was No. 28, just opposite the school. Henry went directly into the First Grade (there was no Kindergarten).

Henry’s Grandmother (his mother’s mom) stayed with them when she would come down for the winter from her home in Dana near Fall River.

Henry’s sister had cats. Henry had dogs. First was a Collie called ‘Laddie’, then a hound, Airdales and Yellow Labs. The dogs ran free.

Kids living inside the walls of San Quentin played Kick-The-Can. Henry recalls that fishing was good! Henry would hike into San Rafael to get bait (sardines) and another favorite activity was Snipe hunting. Henry was in the Cub Scouts followed by the Boy Scouts, Troop 16, which included most of the boys living inside the San Quentin walls.

Henry did not believe he excelled in anything at school. He did win a reading contest in the Upper Section for reading the most books over the summer and won a book as prize. He remembers that he tied for the prize with Thelma Rais. His opinion is that he and his peers were not the most idyllic kids to have in a classroom – he recalls lots of hi-jinks. There were thirteen kids or so in his 8th Grade graduating class in 1938. Gladys had top four grades. Alma had lower four grades.

The school had two baseball diamonds, and a basketball court. In 1933 they redid the schoolyard – repaved the playground, and built a free-standing, wood handball court. Henry went on to San Rafael High School. He and the other high school students were driven to school in a Cadillac coach. Henry graduated from San Rafael High School in 1942. On Jan. 12, 1943 Henry went into Special Services.

‘Trustees’ worked in Henry's family home. ‘Fruity’ was the man who tuned the piano. They had a trustee as a gardener. He got his Model T painted in prison shop?

“Horse Post” was the name given to the West Gate. The prison dairy was just inside the West Gate. The Cemetery was near the eucalyptus trees above the shooting range. Cons could go out there.

The Hoolihan Incident was a big thing. Henry saw the gun butt wounds on the Warden’s head. However, Henry also thought there were “Some better guys inside than outside.”

After the war Henry attended College of Marin for three years where he took architectural courses. He wasn’t initially accepted at Cal, but Lou Turino convinced Henry to pursue landscape architecture – and he was accepted.

Today, Henry is retired but remains a lifelong Marin resident whose life began at San Quentin Prison!

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