|The Old Joliet Prison|
Growing up just a few miles from it’s thick limestone walls we pretty much took it for granted. But even so, for most of the inhabitants of this town there has always been a certain fascination. Perhaps because it’s architecture looks more like a castle than a prison. Perhaps because of some of the stories and legends. Perhaps because of some of it’s former inhabitants.
Many buildings in this area are made from
limestone, which we have in abundance. The prison walls and buildings were made
from stone quarried right on prison property and built with convict labor. The
location of the prison was also a deterrent to escape attempts. It was not so
easy to tunnel through limestone.
|Mike Johnson, former Joliet Prison Guard. Now - and then.|
That quarry is now filled with water and the prison cemetery, nicknamed Monkey Hill, has all but disappeared. Upwards of 500 prisoners were interred there, their wooden markers disintegrating over time.
I was never aware that there was a women’s prison there too. Originally, women prisoners were housed on the top floor, and reportedly let out in the exercise yard once a year, during which time the men were locked up. Later, a separate building was built just across the street to be a separate women’s prison (1896 – 1932) where they hopefully were allowed fresh air a little more often.
|This building was originally the women's prison|
|an unsolved murder - and a ghost?|
As a young girl my grandmother lived in a house across the road from the field where the prisoners grew their own produce. One of them gave her a small wooden box that he had made in the prison shop. There are similar stories from others who have similar boxes.
|Box given to my grandmother by an inmate. The inset shows the side detail.|
|Similar box in the Joliet Historical Museum display.|
Prisoners worked during their time incarcerated. The Joliet prisoners, besides cultivating their own gardens and having a woodshop, operated a pillow and mattress factory, made shoes, soap, and crafted wicker furniture that was then sold. One of the odder jobs to be offered to prisoners was data entry. For a time data entry was done for the Secretary of State’s office until someone figured out it might not be a good idea for convicted felons to be accessing that type of information.
|Signs outside the walls detail some of the prison history|
|Broken windows add to the spooky atmosphere|
Today, the old prison, opened in 1858, is sadly in disrepair and has been closed since 2002. There is hope that it will somehow be rejuvenated in some fashion, perhaps as a museum or a tourist attraction. Currently, the parking lot contains several informational signs and is already a stop for occasional tour buses, tourists and residents who just want to see what has happened to the place. It’s worth the stop. And so is a trip to the
|My cousin Michal, from Slovakia, a big fan of 'Prison Break' enjoyed seeing the actual Prison on a visit to the States|
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