Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Pen

No, not that sort of pen. This past weekend I decided to take a day trip to Jefferson City to check out the Missouri State Penitentiary. They were having a 175th Anniversary celebration.

It closed in 2004 and has been open to the public for tours of its decaying skeleton. It used to house some of the biggest names during the Prohibition era, like "Pretty Boy" Floyd. It also was home to James Earl Ray, who managed to escape prior to events that led to his infamy. Anyways, it was kind of an eerie tour. The guide, who used to work there, took us to the cell block that was once reserved for Black prisoners prior to integration of the institution. We also meandered through Death Row, visited "the Dungeon," where prisoners were kept in complete darkness underground for weeks at a time, and finished the tour off with taking a gander at the gas chamber. It was actually created out of parts of a submarine to ensure that it was indeed airtight. You and a friend could sit in the stuffy, small space. There are seats for two. As a matter of fact, in the only execution of a female prisoner, the woman, Bonnie Brown Heady was seated right next to her partner in crime, Carl Austin Hall for the big event.

The Missouri State Penitentiary, once the largest prisoner institution west of the Mississippi, still seems to carry the ghosts of its past breathing from its dilapidated, paint-peeled walls. And for the price of $12, you too can take a 2 hour tour to listen to their stories and imagine for yourself what life was like in the Pen.

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