Walkin' The Line

I had more time to kill by myself again this weekend, so I filled it with some photography.   Last weekend I toured the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  This weekend, I toured the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville WV.   This retired, gothic style prison operated from 1876 to 1995.  This prison had a number of deadly riots and escapes through the years.  At its peak it held around 2,300 men, which like many prisons was more then it was designed to hold.  That meant three men to a 5-foot by 7-foot cell.  One guy had to sleep on the floor.  A 1986 ruling by the State’s Supreme Court sealed the fate of the prison when the court ruled the small cells were cruel and unusual punishment.          

This picture was taken in the maximum-security area of the prison for the most dangerous prisoners.  Notice the steel cell doors are even covered with mesh to prevent the prisoners from throwing options and/or assaulting the guards from within their cells.  Only a small slot was open to pass food trays inside to the convicts.  These men saw less then 30 minutes of daylight per day.  But compared to the “Hole”, these cells were like living in luxury.

 Maximum Security Area - To purchase a print or view the entire gallery, please click the photo above.

Maximum Security Area - To purchase a print or view the entire gallery, please click the photo above.

Death Came In Many Ways

Although from what I learned, the size of the cells was the least of the prisoners concerns.  They had no heat in winter and no air conditioning in the summer.  The food was so contaminated with rats and cockroaches that inmates rioted in 1986.

 This 5' x 7' cell belonged to Red, who was stabbed over 30 times within this space.  Prior to his murder here, he was known as the worst prisoner within the facility.

This 5' x 7' cell belonged to Red, who was stabbed over 30 times within this space.  Prior to his murder here, he was known as the worst prisoner within the facility.

There were 94 men legally executed by hanging and electrocution.  In the early years, legal execution was done by hanging and the public could buy a ticket to watch.  This was big business/money for the prison.  Electrocution was added in 1951 and was used until the State outlawed execution entirely in 1965.  Paul Glenn who was an inmate himself built old Sparky, the nickname of the electric chair.  Many of the prisoners didn’t like the fact that he built the chair, so the State was forced to transfer him to another prison. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, murder within the facility was an on going problem with an estimated 1,000 lives lost within the walls.  It was known as a “cons prison”, which meant that they had control and power of the facility.  Gang violence was common in the later years, along with torture and murder by guards in the early years.  It was weird standing in a number of the spots where the tour guide would describe a violent murder or murders that took place in that specific location as if it was nothing.  I wouldn’t call it spooky…more like a sense of being uncomfortable.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the tour guides all believe the place is haunted and have all experienced super natural events.  It was as if you could feel the pain, evil, and torture that seeped out of the place.  It wasn’t as interesting as Eastern State Penitentiary from an architectural perspective, but it felt more evil.

  "Old Sparky"

 "Old Sparky"