Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho




I don't know why but I have always had a fascination with prisons and prison-life. I have never visited one and most of my familiarity with them comes from movies and television. Oz, Cool Hand Luke and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang are just a few of my favorites. Women's prison films? Count me in on those as well! Orange Is The New Black was a recent discovery and the 1950 camp classic Caged is probably my favorite of all.

Michael found a brochure in the hotel lobby for the Old Idaho State Penitentiary and suggested that we stop by. He was probably tired of visiting gardens! It turns out that the prison is right next door to the Idaho Botanical Gardens! So we ended up visiting both. 

The prison operated from 1872 to 1973. It consists of seven or eight buildings that served different purposes (in addition to the buildings that housed the cells, there is a laundry, library, etc.) The entire complex is surrounded by high sandstone walls. The prison was opened to tourists in the early 1990s and is overseen by the Idaho State Historical Society.

The grounds were landscaped with roses, shrubs and flowers. I thought this was strictly for enhancement but believe it or not, there was a Jackson and Perkins test rose garden in the section seen below and for several years!

The prison was fascinating but ultimately depressing and disturbing. The cells were small and cramped and I cannot imagine how someone endured being there for long. There were signs with biographies of some of the most well-known prisoners and a few of them spent their entire lives here. Not a happy though. Also disturbing was Death Row, where a few prisoners met their untimely end.

Needless to say, I was relieved to walk next door and visit the Botanical Garden. Photos of it in my next post! 

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho
The Jackson and Perkins Test Rose Garden was here.

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho



Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho



The Laundry Room where some of the prisoners worked




Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho
Outside the main prison walls and over to the side was the Women's Ward. The maximum prison population was 600 and roughly 200 of these were women. One of the most famous inmates was Lyda Southard, who was convicted of killing her fourth husband but suspected of killing four other husbands, a brother-in-law and a daughter.


Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho
A small graveyard next door, outside the borders of the Botanical Garden, was where prisoners without family were buried. If the prison was not sad enough, this little graveyard was indeed depressing.

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho



Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

7 comments:

  1. Phillip, I hope this is your first and last prison to visit! Well, there is also Alcatraz...
    The rose border in the first picture looks lovely with a stone wall as a background.

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  2. In a previous life (as a teenager dreaming of being an actor), I once participated in a shoot for a TV movie of some sort at the Eastern State Penitentiary outside of Philadelphia. Interesting / spooky place with a memorable ambience - http://www.easternstate.org/

    PS - Al Capone apparently was once a 'resident' there!

    PPS - It's fun reading about your trip. Thanks for sharing pics and impressions.

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  3. No worse place to be. Makes me unsettled just looking at those tiny cells.

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  4. Very interesting as well as depressing! Beautiful old stone but know you were glad to get to the Botanical Garden! Enjoyed!

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  5. Do you think it's haunted Phillip!!?? Can you imagine the history of that place!

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  6. I second Aaron's recommendation.

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  7. Poor Michael! He thought he was getting away from yet another garden for a while--except he wasn't!

    The graveyard--at least there is the beautiful wide open sky, and the wild hills undulating like waves.

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