Saturday, July 22, 2017

Old Idaho State Penitenitary

Not sure how I am going to bridge the gap between this posting and the previous one, except to say that back in the late 1800s there were few fool proof ways of convicting someone of a crime and human rights were not always considered.   In 1898 a Chinese gentleman, Yee Wee, was accused of murdering someone, and he denied doing the deed.  His translator said he gave an admission of guilt and Wee was sentenced to hang.  The Governor twice delayed his hanging.  In 1906 someone reviewed the court documents again and said there was no admission of guilt.  I am sure there is more to the story than that, but Wee was pardoned.
Pictured above is the prison, built in 1870 and home to a total of 13,000 convicts until 1973.  Women incarcerated here numbered 215. The jail could incarcerate a maximum of 603 people at a time.  A 10 year-old child spent one year here for murder, and a 11 year-old boy did three years for shooting his mom.  The most common crime by prisoners over the years was theft.
On entering the prison the convict was first processed in the warden's office.  Pictured above is the 1920s kodak view camera and a board to measure height.  In 1882 the Bertillon System was initiated, which included a front profile, as well as 11 body measurements.  Another method used by law enforcement was a sketch of the body with the location of all body markings.  Which brings me to the subject of tattoos.  In one of the prison buildings was a rather extensive display on the history of tattoos.  Captain James Cook's sailors return home with them after a visit to Tahiti.
  The word comes from a Tahitian word "tatau",  meaning to tap or strike.  For the sailors wearing them meant that they faced and met the challenges of the sea.  It was a symbol of an adventurous life.  Years later it was the military, gangs, and prisoners that usually wore them.  It gave them a sense of identity when that was taken away or restricted.  United States prison rules did not allow a person to get one after being incarcerated, but tattoo artists were active inside the Idaho prison.
There were many buildings to look at on our tour of the prison, and I was not sure what to show my readers next.  The above symbol of death (popular as a tattoo) brought me to the next subject and the picture above of the prison's hanging room.  The prisoner was hung from a noose on the ceiling, lever was pulled and he dropped through the door on the floor.  Ten hangings were done here, the last one in 1957.  Three cells (death row) was on this floor as well as a viewing room.
Might as well finish this on another depressive note.  Pictured above are the solitary cells, located in what prisoners referred to as "Siberia".  No windows in these cells, only a hole in the ceiling for ventilation.  But hey, it was better than what was first used, a 4x4 cage, like something an animal would be transported in.  On our tour we also saw a trapdoor which led down to a dungeon, in the 1890s that was solitary.   So the cells pictured above were possibly better.  Prisoners said that in those cells they froze in the winter and roasted in the summer.  Something close to hell.  Will conclude this prison story in my next posting.  I will work on making it a bit more upbeat!

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