Kevin Cullen

Dropping in on Whitey Bulger

United States Penitentiary, Tucson
Kevin Cullen
United States Penitentiary, Tucson

TUCSON — As he sits here in his cell, it’s got to be driving Whitey Bulger crazy knowing that he is going to die in the desert, surrounded on the outside by people who drive Toyota Priuses and voted for President Obama not once but twice.

Whitey’s a Reagan Democrat, and he doesn’t like Obama, or the president’s aunt, or any of the foreigners and Muslims who he claims have taken over the projects in Southie.

Much of Arizona is Whitey’s kind of place. They don’t like gays or immigrants and they love guns. Except he’s managed to land in the most, if not only, liberal bastion in the state. Gays, guns, and immigrants coexist peacefully.


Whitey’s in the can here, a sprawling federal penitentiary surrounded by cactus and miles of creosote bush scrub, and it was by sheer coincidence that my pal Shelley Murphy, of the Savin Hill Murphys, and I were here for a book festival in the same town that will be Whitey’s home until he croaks.

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We were on Whitey’s witness list but not his visitor’s list, so we didn’t get to see the old reprobate. The guards at the front desk said Whitey hasn’t had any visitors since arriving here a couple of months ago.

Since we couldn’t get in to visit, we had to settle for the next best thing: A briefing on Whitey’s new digs by our newest best friend in Tucson, Pima County Judge Anne Segal.

When she’s not on the bench, Segal teaches a class about sex offenders at the University of Arizona, and just by coincidence last week she took her students to the prison unit where Whitey will spend the last days of his miserable life.

Whitey is housed in a section called the Dropout Unit. It’s a collection of sex offenders, informants, and government witnesses. So Whitey is surrounded by perverts, creeps, and rats. His kind of crowd.


Among those in the north side of Whitey’s unit is Brian David Mitchell, the degenerate who abducted, raped, and held as prisoner a then-teenage Elizabeth Smart. Last summer, Mitchell got beat up by a prisoner who yelled, “This is for Elizabeth Smart.”

It was after that beating that Mitchell got moved to the Dropout Unit of assorted scumbags.

“They are, for lack of a better term, people who don’t fit in other parts of the federal prison system,” Segal said.

Think Island of Misfit Toys, in khaki jumpsuits.

A guard who works at the prison told me Whitey has been treated like a rock star by fellow dropouts, despite his history as an FBI informant. In a city that once was home to Joe Bonanno, the boss of the Bonanno crime family, Whitey is the new aristocratic crook.


“The other inmates were putting their arms around his shoulder, having their pictures taken with him,” the guard said.

Segal reports that the unit is very clean.

“It smells like baby powder,” she said. “They are treated with respect. It’s not hard time.”

She said Whitey’s in a two-man cell. She didn’t know who his cellmate is, but considering the type of inmates housed there, he’s got to be a swell guy.

Whitey living and eventually dying in Tucson has some historical resonance. This, after all, is where the notorious bank robber John Dillinger was nabbed back in 1934, after he escaped a fire at the Hotel Congress.

When Whitey and Richard Barchard, the accomplice Whitey later ratted out to the feds, robbed a bank in Indiana in 1955, Whitey invoked Dillinger. After pointing a gun and ordering bank customers to hit the floor, Whitey sought to reassure them.

“We aren’t going to hurt anyone,” he said. “But we have to make a living. Dillinger did.”

What a guy.

Whitey used to be a stool pigeon. Now he’s a snowbird.

And they even named a bar in Tucson after him. It’s called Dirtbag’s.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.