Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Maryland House of Correction

On Sunday morning I got up at 4:30am and met Barb to go up to the Maryland House of Corrections for the final public tour before it's demolished. It was opened in 1879 and was supposed to be a 'relief valve' for the Baltimore Prison, to take in non-violent offenders. But as in the case of many other prisons it soon held more than it was supposed to, including hard core prisoners and ultimately the increasing violence escalating into a string of murders and stabbings amongst the inmates and officers lead to its closure in 2007. The website contains a wealth of interesting information, click here.
We got there early, sat and listened to our briefing, then were led around the premises. We were only allowed in a few areas, the waiting area, the visiting area, the dining room, cell blocks, a dormitory and the central hall.
These cells were tiny, only supposed to house one inmate but as the prison filled, bunk beds were installed.
The Central Hall was our last stop. Some folks had complained that the tour was a rush and there weren't many opportunities to take creative photographs but there were a lot of people queueing up outside wanting to have a last look at an environment rarely seen by most people. The tour was about an hour long and I took many photos. I thought the staff who came round with us were incredibly patient and friendly, even willing to pose for photos. I was bending down to take a photo of a sticker on the floor by a bunk in the dormitory and when I looked over my shoulder there were two of the tour guides bent down also and craning their necks to share my perspective. We burst out laughing.
The tour finished in a foyer which housed weapons and contraband taken from prisoners that had been made inside or smuggled in by visitors. There was also some plastic jugs holding what I thought was urine until a prison guard told me it was 'Jump', a wine made by the inmates. Oranges were peeled and placed in a plastic bag until they softened, then they were beaten to a pulp. Sugar was added and bread that had been broken up into tiny pieces, this would provide the yeast. It was left in a plastic gallon container until fermentation stopped and then strained through a pillow case. Yum?
 The guides were also happy to share their tales and experiences and never stopped answering questions. There was no charge for the tour and no donations were requested. I was more than happy with this rare chance to visit the prison.
The prison was built brick by brick by prisoners and will be demolished in the same manner, giving inmates an opportunity to learn new skills for a future life and to also allow the materials salvaged to be used in new projects. An admirable end to an institution with so much history.
Click here for a newspaper report featuring the last warden of the prison, Gary Hornbaker.

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