In letters, Whitey Bulger fondly recalled old days, Alcatraz

BOSTON (AP) — Locked up for life after 16 years on the run, murderous Boston gang boss James "Whitey" Bulger couldn't stand how much the world around him had changed.

Prison was nothing like his days at Alcatraz, with its "great view" and clear-cut rules, Bulger said. And the former Irish Catholic stronghold of South Boston he once terrorized was now filled with "rich college kids living in expensive condos."

"World has changed ... everything different, even the neighborhood," Bulger wrote to a friend he met in the lockup in newly public letters.

The letters, which are being auctioned Sunday, provide a glimpse into the once powerful and feared gangster's mundane life behind bars before he was beaten to death by fellow inmates last year. Bulger wrote about the little excitements of prison life — "tonight we had an ice cream cone!" — and his treatment by other inmates.

"Almost every time I'm going anywhere, guys ask "hey old timer, want a push" ... or just grab handles and start pushing," Bulger wrote in a letter postmarked in February 2015. "One advantage is we can go in the front of chow line if in wheelchair."

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BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 6: University of Massachusetts President William Bulger, brother of fugitive Boston mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger, is sworn in before a congressional committee lead by U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform probing ties between FBI agents and mob informants, at Suffolk Superior Court House December 6, 2002 in Boston, Massachusetts. Bulger refused to answer any of the committee's questions citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The panel wanted to question Bulger about his brother James 'Whitey' Bulger, a notorious gang leader wanted in connection with 21 murders. 'Whitey' Bulger was also a valued informant who provided the FBI with information about New England cells of the Italian Mafia. (Photo by Douglas McFadd/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 2: Two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) artist composite images of fugitive James 'Whitey' Bulger are shown in this handout photo released by the FBI January 2, 2003 in Washington, DC. Bulger is on the FBI's top ten most wanted fugitive list for crimes related to his involvement with the Mafia, specifically on charges of racketeering, extortion and drug trafficking. Bulger has also been charged with being involved in the murders of 21 people. (Photo by FBI/Getty Images)
View of the door of the appartment 303 of the Princess Eugenia building in Santa Monica, California, on June 23, 2011, where James 'Whitey' Bulger was arrested June 22. The FBI finally caught the 81-year-old Bulger who was living for more than 10 years, with his longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig, under the names of Charles and Carol Gasko, on the third floor of the Princess Eugenia, a three-story, 28-unit building of one- and two-bedroom apartments near the ocean in Santa Monica. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JUNE 19: Mary Bulger, wife of William Bulger, listens as her husband testifies before the House Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill June 19, 2003 in Washington, DC. Bulger is the brother of James 'Whitey' Bulger, an organized crime figure on the FBI's ten most-wanted list. The committee held the hearing to investigate the use of informants by the Justice Department. (Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 23: Mary Prang, Special Agent wit the FBI, adjusts a poster featuring fugitives Boston crime boss James 'Whitey' Bulger along with his companion Catherine Greig before a news conference by Steven Martinez, FBI assistant director in charge in Los Angeles, to discuss the arrest of Bulger and Greig at the Los Angeles Federal Building on June 23, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The FBI announced June 23, 2011 that Bulger was captured in his home in Santa Monica, California by the FBI after a 26-year manhunt when a tip lead law enforcement to the reputed mobster. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
BOSTON - JUNE 24: Reporters stand outside the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as James 'Whitey' Bulger and girlfriend Catherine Greig are arraigned June 24, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. Bulger is wanted for the alleged murders of 19 people dating back to the mid 90's and Greig is wanted for harboring a criminal. Both were arrested in Santa Monica, California on Wednesday after 16 years on the run. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
BOSTON - JUNE 24: Spectators stand outside the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as James 'Whitey' Bulger and girlfriend Catherine Greig are arraigned June 24, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. Bulger is wanted for the alleged murders of 19 people dating back to the mid 90's and Greig is wanted for harboring a criminal. Both were arrested in Santa Monica, California on Wednesday after 16 years on the run. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
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Authorities have said two Massachusetts mobsters are under investigation for 89-year-old Bulger's killing, but no one has been charged. His death hours after he was transferred to a troubled West Virginia prison has raised questions about why the known "snitch" was placed in the general population instead of more protective housing.

Bulger ratted on the New England mob to the FBI, authorities said, though he insisted throughout his trial that he wasn't an informant but was actually paying the FBI for the scoop on his enemies.

The auction house got the letters from a man who says he became friends with Bulger when the geriatric gangster was briefly held at a federal lockup in Brooklyn after being convicted in 2013 of participating in 11 murders, among other crimes.

That man, Timothy Glass, said he took Bulger under his wing, and they bonded over their criminal pasts. Glass recalled how Bulger would sign autographs for inmates who asked but had a tendency to give a "death stare" to guys he didn't like.

"I was like, 'this guy is a stone-cold killer at like 80 years old.' It was wild," Glass, 55, told The Associated Press.

Glass was locked up on robbery and other charges when he met Bulger after spending more than a decade in New York state prison for separate crimes, he said. Inmates weren't allowed to write to one another, so after Bulger was transferred to a different prison, Bulger would send the letters to a friend on the outside, who would get them to Glass, he said.

In the letters, Bulger complained about the cost of books ("$32 for the book!"), the cold weather ("All the liberals like VP Gore made a fortune with his scaring people with talk of 'planet warming''') and the media, which he called "part of and parcel of the corruption instead of society 'watchdogs.'"

He grumbled about his trial, slammed prosecutors for deals they made with his former friends and promised his appeal would "create quite a stir." He also bemoaned what he saw as the unfair treatment of his longtime girlfriend Catherine Grieg, who was sentenced to eight years for helping Bulger avoid capture.

"I played a rough game and accepted the rough treatment. But feel Catherine was treated too harshly," Bulger wrote.

He talked longingly about his time at "The Rock" — Alcatraz — where the rules were "plain and understood" and inmates were allowed at Christmastime to buy chocolate, which they would share with prisoners who weren't supposed to have candy.

"Here, 'they,' the 'inmates,' would sell you chocolate! Back then no one ever looked to make a profit on another convict," he wrote. "I look back at those years and place with nostalgia. It's all gone."

Tucked into some of the letters were pictures of Bulger as a young man or Alcatraz. On the back of one of the photo — a mugshot taken in 1965, the year Bulger was released from prison and returned to South Boston — he scribbled: "the good old days."

With another letter, Bulger included a holiday card that he apparently made in 2015 with the message in gold script: "Wishing you peace & cheer in the New Year." Next to the cheery greeting is Bulger's Alcatraz mugshot, his eyes piercing blue eyes narrowed and brows furrowed.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkinricher

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