Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Old Idaho Penitentiary
On a recent swing through Idaho with my good friend Pam Scott, we stopped for a tour of the Old Idaho Penitentiary near Boise.
Built in 1870, using inmate labor to haul the massive sandstone blocks from a local quarry, the prison housed more than 13,000 inmates in its 101-year history.
Today, the Gothic architecture and stark landscape combine to create a vibe than stays with you as you read the signs and study the photos.
A small building on the grounds housed the 222 female inmates, many jailed for stigmatizing crimes of adultery and abortion. The women lived in close quarters and the photographs paint a picture of long boring days with little privacy.
Now, after a fire gutted many of the old buildings in the late 1990s, the compound stands like a ghost town under the wide Idaho sky.
Take the tour. See if you don't shiver as you walk the paths and through the buildings, some with cells still furnished as they were when the prison closed in 1973. It's worth a visit. When you walk back to your car you'll take a deep breath, grateful to be on the outside of all that stone and iron.