Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jail Time

Can you imagine going to high school in a building that once served as a prison? That’s exactly what happened in Yuma, Arizona. After Yuma Territorial State prison ceased to house criminals, it was converted into a high school. Apparently, the high school sports teams are still known as “The Criminals.” That’s one way to intimidate the opposing teams.

We stopped by earlier this week to check out what remains of the prison. Built in the late 1800’s by its own first prisoners, it was actually considered an innovative centre for its time.

The prison offered an extensive rehabilitation program, including skills training in the prison bakery, workshop and library. Prisoners were also encouraged to work on arts and crafts for the popular monthly craft sale that the whole city would come to shop at. Any money earned was put into an account for the prisoners that they would receive when they were released to help them get a start on a new life.

The prison also had better food and medical services than most at the time. In fact, it was common for sick prisoners from other centres to be transferred to Yuma to recover.

Yet despite these forward-thinking ideas, the facilities themselves looked horrible. A small cell housed two bunk beds, each stacked three beds high. I doubt there was enough room for all six of the roommates to stand up at the same time. The dank, cold stone walls made for bone-chilling years and the Dark Cell, where delinquent inmates spent time in solitary confinement, looked like it would drive anyone mad.

However, the building was also considered progressive and innovative for its time, which got me thinking—what were the other prisons like?

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