Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rawlins State Penitentiary Museum Tour

Perhaps the part of my Wyoming Trip I am most excited about is my visit to the Rawlins State Penitentiary.  A friend of mine at work told me I should check it out.  I figured it would probably be extremely hokey: after all there were billboards for it on the freeway and Rawlins is a pretty small map dot with about 9000 people located roughly half way through the state on I-80.

Once I drove up to the mammoth building I was in for an awesome experience.

Rawlins State Penitentiary Museum Front Entrance

Some of the crude weapons used in the prison

I arrived at about 12:45, about 15 minutes past the 12:30 tour.  I decided to kill 15 minutes in the free museum looking at police stuff and reading about some of the vicious criminals that called Rawlins home. I learned that the jail was built around 1901 and was closed sometime during the 80's, being cited as unfit to house humanity.

After a tour I was about ready to agree with that sentiment.

Either way, I still had about 30 minutes to kill and you can't go onto the prison grounds without paying the $8 for the tour.  So I decided to walk around the neighborhood and managed to get some nice aerial shots of the grounds.  By the time I made it back, it was just me and another guy who took the tour.

Our tour guide was Trevor, an exuberant young man who gave us the royal treatment.  I was totally expecting a 20 - 30 minute tour.  Instead, I got to see just about every nook and cranny of the place and learned about the lore and what conditions were like.

The pole above was not only a support beam, but also a place to restrain prisoners and beat them with rubber clubs.  The next picture shows a window that the guards could open that would allow the prisoners to hear the wails of the tortured prisoner.

 The pictures above cell block A where the prisoners were held.  Two men to a cell and the cells weren't big.  Also cell block A didn't have heat, so you can imagine what it must've been like during those cold Wyoming winters.

The Indian artwork above was done by a prisoner and is the original.  It is one of the better pieces of artwork.  Other pictures / language on the upper floors were unsuitable for viewing.

The prison library

The shower area -- no hot water

Prisoner's liked their rooms dark

Solitary Confinement Area

Newer Section of the Pen
Trevor took us through the other areas including the library, the shower room where many a fight broke out.  I kept trying to imagine what it would've been like to have a shower without hot water and without any heat in the building during the cold winters.  Apparently many a fight broke out in the prison area and there were plenty of samples of weapons used in the museum.

Original food trays

The next area was the jail's kitchen.  Those trays above were the original ones used.  Also, one of the prisoners was very good at doing artwork.  One of the paintings was very cool in the fact that the big horn sheep's eyes followed you where ever you were in the room.  Also of note the movie Prison (1988) was filmed here and there was fake blood still on the kitchen's ceiling.

If you look closely at the above lock, you will see the repair welding done.  This was done after a prisoner used a string from his cot and coated it with crusty toothpaste.  The hardened cast made a crude saw that he eventually used to saw himself free.  Unbelievable!  He used his freedom to steal from the commissary until he was discovered.

 We took a tour of the outside grounds.  Apparently there was a baseball field here and that the Rawlins inmates were a good team -- until the catcher was executed.  In later years they also had a basketball team and had local community plays.  The hole in the wall on the last picture was made by the Prison movie and was never repaired.

How the gallows were sprung

Death row room

Hook on ceiling shows where prisoners were hung from

Dossiers of killed prisoners

Gas Chamber

Cold hard slab for death row inmates

Perhaps one of the more sobering parts of the trip was learning about how inmates were put to death.  At first hanging was used and we got a demonstration on how it worked and a story about a very light weight prisoner who took a very long time to kill (he only weighed approximately 110 pounds).  You can see the ring where the prisoner was tied to.

In addition, in later years, the prisoners eventually were put to death using lethal gas.  There are pictures of all the inmates who were killed as well.

Finally, here are some pictures I took while I was waiting for the tour to begin.  I wound up climbing a hill and managed to get a bird's eye view of the jail.

This was the highlight of my trip in terms of sight seeing.  If they had charged me double, I still would've happily received my money's worth.  If you are passing through Rawlins this trip is DEFINITELY worth it.  There are so many incredible stories of what went on there that it could probably fill a book.  Thanks again to Trevor for an awesome tour.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What an awesome tour. I bet there are so many interesting stories and facts.