Friday, August 8, 2008

Prison Time

We visited the Burlington County Prison today. Don't worry no one got arrested and there were no real prisoners. They prison has not been in use since November of 1965! It was built in 1811, and has changed very little since then. The stone structure, large front door, hinges, and lock are original. The cell doors inside are original and many were built into place. The prison was not fool-proof and many escapes were made over the years - mostly through the roof and over the stone wall in the yard. The prison was built to house about 40 inmates, but there were sometimes over 100 there! When there were too many prisoners for the cells, the lined the halls with bunks!

The prison had different kinds of cells and areas for the different kinds of crimes. Those that owed debts were allowed to walk around the prison and were housed in common rooms. There was a maximum security area was in the center of the top floor to prevent escape through digging. This cell had only one high, small window, no fireplace, an an iron ring in the center of the floor to chain the prisoner to. The windows varied in size depending on the crime, maximum security windows were 28 X 39, solitary confinement cells were 20 X 16, and the debtors cells were 35 X 50!

There were a few rooms where the "keeper" or warden and his family stayed. Yes, his wife and children lived in the jail! His wife was expected to care for the female inmates. There was a workshop in the basement to help reform the prisoners and teach them a trade. There was a room where the prisoners ate and through that room, there was access to the exercise yard.

The yard had a stone wall that was 20 feet high. There were shackles to detain unruly prisoners. There was an area for the inmates to grow small gardens and also a well for water because the prison originally had no running water. In the yard, there was also an area for the gallows. The gallows were taken apart and stored in between hangings.

Up until 1928, the prisoners had to prepare their own meals. They usually got one main meal a day of meat and veggies, the other two meals were cooked cereals or grains. They could drink water, cider, or milk. There was a supply storage area near the kitchen and also large tubs for washing clothes and bathing.

Graffiti lined some of the walls and has been preserved for many years. There were drawings of people, crosses, calenders with days marked off, and many different names. Prisoners sold stolen supplies on the "black market." Some hid their shoes before being arrested so that they could get new ones and then sell them when they got out.

The thing that I find most amazing is that mothers who were jailed and had young kids and even nursing mothers, were imprisoned with their children! Sometimes whole families were put in jail together!

Albert DeSalvo, the "Boston Strangler", he stayed a few nights in this prison and was later released to military authorities because he was a soldier stationed at Fort Dix in NJ.

Brian in shacklessentencing18in wallsbaby behind bars

front of prisonJustin laughing at the kids in jailcell windowone hallwayouter cell doorback of prisonJustin sneaking behind the scenesevidence safeJustin in a cell
another hallwayanother view

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