This wasn’t my first time to prison….
So you have probably guessed that this penitentiary was no longer in use 🙂 The Old Idaho Penitentiary was built in 1870 and received it’s first of 13,000 total inmates in 1872. The prison officially closed down in 1973. As this was not my first time to an old prison yard I knew what to expect. I was warned by people who had visited this prison that it was “scary” and “haunted”… cool – I’ll try not to get creeped out in the middle of the day.
I arrived late in the afternoon after enjoying my lunch too long and missed part of the tour. I was advised by the lady running the ticket booth to catch up as the tour as it would be much more informative than me walking around and reading the signs. I hustled out to meet up with the tour. Although it was a large group oddly enough no one even noticed I had merged in with their group. Wallflower 🙂
I joined the tour in the building named “Siberia” … or solitary confinement. Just a 3 by 8 foot cell (0.9 meters X 2.4 meters) – YIKES. After the tour I went back and stepped into one of the cells to get the full effect… it was impressively small and I definitely would have tried my hardest to avoid being put in there.
The tour continued on to the different cell houses and the guide pointed out a few interesting facts about the cells. In an attempt to recondition the inmates their cells were painted in light pastels. It was believed that the light colors would make the inmates more docile… obviously it did not work as there was a huge riot in 1973 – but it was a nice try.
We also learned that originally women were housed in with the men. Idaho don’t you know what happens when you put men and women together!?!?!? Especially men and women who are locked up… what else are they going to do?
The women were later moved to their own ward which happened to be the warden’s house (he of course moved out). After a few modifications, like a huge stone wall built by the male inmates to encompass the house, the women were moved out to their own yard.
In house 5 maximum security we found the gallows which were strategically placed near “death row”. I know that they do this even to this day but I still find it disturbing that there is a viewing window looking into the gallows room. I get the whole eye for an eye thing but I’m not sure I would want to watch someone die – even if they really pissed me off. But I guess everyone needs closure in a different way.
The tour ended and I was glad I had caught up with the group as the guide was very informative. The tour gave me a much better perspective, highlighting many things that I would have most likely overlooked if I would have toured by myself. I loved the fact that there were cells open and you could really get a sense for what it would have been like to be locked up… granted it was only momentarily instead of 25 to life… but still I got the point.