OLD IDAHO PENITENTIARY OVERVIEW
“Between 1872 and 1973, this infamous prison would house over 13,000 “most wanted” inmates behind these Boise sandstone walls. Constructed in large part by inmate labor, it stood as a chilling reminder of Idaho’s “Wild West” past. The sandstone that formed its walls was a plentiful and inexpensive building material, but it also intensified the temperatures inside the cells. In the hot Boise summers, the sandstone retained the heat, creating a stifling oven effect; in winter, the walls held the bitter cold, chilling the prisoners for months.” (Travel Channel)
MY TOURIST IMPRESSIONS
Prisons typically present a relatively pleasant presence for me. I have sailed the picturesque cruise route from San Francisco Wharf and been captivated by spell-bounding stories of prisoners residing in the cold iron cells of Alcatraz Island. I’ve enjoyed hillside camping strangely abutting the heavily walled Men’s Penal Colony in San Luis Obispo, California. On our present road trip, I will soon leisurely slow my vehicle to admire the castle- like prominence of San Quentin Penitentiary overlooking beautiful San Francisco Bay.
Thus it seems apparent that I would be equally contented to complete a self guided tour of the “Old Idaho Penitentiary” in Boise, Idaho on day 27 of our road trip. Notably however, my two hour visit here would surprisingly become more than a routine tourist visit as it provided a repulsing wake up call against the arguable inhumanity of prisoner mistreatment that occurred here in the past. The photographs below thus depict an authentic look at this nightmarish legacy of “Old Idaho Penitentiary” history.
From the outside, the sturdy exterior of the prison compound seems relatively calm. It’s pastoral hillside location seemed more reminiscent of a park than a prison. As teenagers flocked innocently to the entrance, I wondered how well they would emotionally cope with the brutality of prison exposure during their visit.
Horse thieves, moonshiners, bank robbers, and assassins alike all called this penitentiary home. For the prisoners below, death row and public execution here became their ultimate fate.
Walking silently through double tiered, cell house rows, I cringed at the daily reality of oppressive rules and inmate living conditions inside these prison walls. For those fortunate inmates who obediently behaved, I observed a strictly scheduled, daily routine included work duties, mealtimes, and limited free time privileges.
The solitary confinement building known unfortunately as “Siberia” punished those for months who broke prison rules. Stepping hesitantly into one of these dark cells, I felt nervously entombed in this cramped and dirty chamber.
Heading toward the gallows room, where public hangings once took place, I noted the cold, mechanical efficiency of this trap door apparatus. How odd that prisoner executions also took place in the pleasant atmosphere of the prison rose garden.
The normalized presence of contraband weapons and freakish inmate tattoos provided an eerie atmosphere for “love of violence”that pervaded throughout my visit to this prison.