Old Idaho Penitentiary
The Old Idaho Penitentiary is one of four Territorial Prisons open in the U.S. today. Located in Boise Idaho, it received its first 11 prisoners in 1872 and closed down after a prison riot, that destroyed two buildings by fire, in 1973. You can read more about its history at the Idaho Stake Historical Society website HERE.
My husband and I toured the prison July 5th. It may seem odd to tour a prison the day after Independence Day but this was a poignant remainder of just how precious freedom is.
The oldest of the prison buildings, that one is able to tour, was built in 1889.
To say the building is dreary and depressing is a huge understatement. On this particular July day, it was incredibly hot and I can't even imagine how cold it must have been in the winter. Certainly it's dreariness is enhanced by the peeling paint and it's overall deterioration but I can hardly imagine that a fresh coat of paint would make this building feel any less depressing.
One of the obvious and yet shocking realities was the reminder that indoor plumbing was unavailable in 1889. That reminder came in the form of a small hole with a door, in the wall near the floor, that was used to house a bucket for sanitation purposes. I could not fathom what that might have smelled like on a hot day - or any day.
When you think about what life outside the prison might have been like in 1889, I wondered if the prison seemed as bad as it does now. Reading some of the statements from prisoners of that time seemed to indicate that it was a horrific place to be even then.
The newest of the buildings is only slightly less depressing and dreary as the oldest. After all, this was a place to house criminals so certainly it wouldn't have been nor should it have been a pleasant place to live. Still It was nauseating to think about the riots that occurred there, the loss of life, the abuses, and the waste of one's time on earth. And what of those who may have been wrongly or mistakenly incarcerated?
I couldn't bring myself to photograph some places in the prison: the solitary confinement cells, the death row cells, or the gallows rooms. And although the women's building had cells surrounding a common area room which allowed the women prisoners more room to move around and socialize, I couldn't seem to photograph that either. Except for the bars on the door, it looked almost like a college dorm area - except for bars.
Overall this was a riveting place to visit. The architecture is actually quite interesting and adding to its historical uniqueness is that the older buildings were built with the help of prisoners. The prison is a humble reminder of the consequences that follow our choices. Poor choices can rob us of so many freedoms and some choices can even come with bars. But all poor choices infringe on our agency and ability to live this life to its fullest. A prison visit can certainly heighten our senses to all things free and remind us to be vigilant about making the kinds of decisions to keep us free and keep our agency intact.
In the end this was a wonderful place to leave!
You can view more photos of the prison in the gallery "Old Idaho Penitentiary".