Study Guide

Al Capone Does My Shirts Honesty

By Gennifer Choldenko


I can't stay late or they lock the cell house door. Gotta watch out for that. Nobody's home late on Alcatraz. Nobody gets bad grades either or they chain you up," I say.

"So hey." Another kid walks over. "I heard what you said in Miss Bimp's about almost getting poisoned, and I was wondering. Do you eat supper with them murderers?" (8.5-6)

Living on Alcatraz is cool, but nobody's going to stay interested unless they make up a few tall tales. The kids love hearing these stretched out (or totally fake) stories about life among prisoners from Piper and Moose. A little white lie never hurt anyone… right?

"She has to keep her feet up, otherwise the baby might slip out all of a sudden and bump his head," Theresa says. (9.40)

Who knows if Theresa is actually telling a fib or if she honestly thinks this is how the whole "having a baby" procedure works, but Theresa likes to talk the talk with confidence, and is pretty blunt about her choice of words. Her science may be off, but her story keeps her pals amused.

I jiggle his arm. "Dad," I say, "we have to go pick up Natalie. Mr. Purdy called. They don't want her at the Esther P. Marinoff. She can't stay there, not even tonight."

By the time I finish explaining the second time, he's sitting up in bed.

"Does your mom know?"

I shake my head.

He takes a deep breath and lets it out with a whistle. His eyes focus on a worn spot on the rug.

"Okay, son. I'll take it from here," he says. (10.28-32)

Moose can't bring himself to tell his mom about the phone call from Esther P. Marinoff, especially since she seemed so excited about Natalie being there. When he tells his dad, Mr. Flanagan agrees with Moose's choice to put off telling Mom.

I don't remember when my mom decided Natalie was going to stay ten. But I think it might have been then. (11.18)

This is the dangerous kind of lie: Mom pretends that Natalie is always ten because it's easier to have a ten-year-old with special needs than a teenager. She thinks that she's making her life easier, and Natalie's as well, but it's never the best choice to hide from the truth. Reality can't be avoided forever.

With Natalie, there is never a happy ending. But my mom won't ever believe that. (11.34)

Mom has a hard time dealing with Natalie. She's the kind of woman who likes to find answers, and she refuses to accept that some things won't change. Although it's a good thing to stay positive, positive thinking is best when it's rooted in reality. Otherwise you end up convincing yourself of something that's not true, and in the end, this only leads to big disappointments.

"This is the United States of America—we don't have firing squads," I explain.

"Yeah, that's not how we knock people off here. We fry 'em. I've read all about it. It's like this…" A skinny kid shakes all over to demonstrate. (12.78-79)

Here we have another example of the kids telling tales at school. The kids are really starting to buy into these stories, and they're all swapping "facts" about how America treats criminals. What a mess.

"I wasn't born yesterday, you aren't the first kids to break the rules, but you will be the last children on this island to ever do anything like this again. […] This is about greed and silliness and incredibly poor judgment. Do you have anything to say for yourself? Moose?"

"Sir, I didn't do anything. That's what I've been trying—"

"NO EXCUSES!" the warden roars so loud, even Natalie looks up. (19.69-71)

Nothing worse is someone telling you that you're being deceitful when you're actually telling the truth. The warden is accusing everyone of greed and poor judgment—and they can't even defend themselves. Ugh.

Piper's hat is tipped to the side. She's watching me out of the corners of her eyes.

"You were chewing out Natalie. You were yelling at her," Piper says.

"I wasn't!"

"Yes, you were! I heard you. You never yell at her. What's going on?" she demands. (27.12-15)

Moose is lying to Piper about what happened while he was looking for a convict baseball. But this time, it's excusable because he's hiding the truth to protect Natalie and himself. Piper is out of control when it comes to exciting news, and is all ready to walk all over the situation. Moose has every right to hold his cards close.

The thing to do is come clean. Talk to my mom. Talk to my dad. Tell them. They'll understand. It was an accident. Three minutes. Five at the most. My mom said to treat Nat like a regular sister. Well, I certainly would leave a regular sister for five minutes. My mom can't be mad. Together we'll work out the right thing to do so this will never happen again. (28.1)

When Moose finds himself in a bind, he decides to eliminate any guilt on his part by telling the truth. If he's honest with his parents about what's happened with 105, then there will be nothing to hide, and his conscience will be clear. This shows that he really does have a good conscience—enough to know that hiding a serious situation will come to no good.

"She's not going to be like everybody else, Mom. This is her only chance and it's no chance at all if you're not honest."

"Don't say it! Don't you dare say anything!" My mom's hands are pressed over her ears. (35.19-20)

Moose calls his mom out on a big lie. She's been lying about Natalie's age for so long that she's losing touch with her daughter and what's best for her. Moose sees that this is dangerous, so although he runs the risk of angering his parents, he sticks his neck out in hopes his mom will see that truth is the only way to go.

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