Touring the Slammer
By Jane Linders
25 Nov 2013
The Missouri State Penitentiary located in Jefferson City, Missouri opened in 1836. This 144 acre site sits on the bluffs of the Missouri River and is the oldest prison west of the Mississippi river. This decaying prison was 100 yrs old when Alcatraz starting taking in prisoners.
I was lucky to be able to tour this legendary prison with a group of intrepid photographers on a dreary, grey day in 2013. Our tour guide, Mark Schreiber, was a former warden of the prison before it closed in 2004 and a wealth of knowledge.
The penitentiary housed some of the most notorious criminals which included James Earl Ray, Sonny Liston and Pretty Boy Floyd. Once deemed "the bloodiest 47 acres in America" because of prison riots and inmate murders, this crumbling, rusted, mold invested prison has now opened it's doors to tourist.
Conditions in the prison were overcrowded, with as many as 6 inmates in one cell and housing over 5,000 at it's peak. Escapes were common. Pretty Boy Floyd escaped in 1967 in a bread box. James Earl Ray escaped and went on to murder Dr. Martin Luther King. Another prisoner escaped and stole the warden's car.
At the end of the tour we strolled down a cross brick path to the gas chamber where 40 people were executed by cyanide gas. Several folks on our tour sat in execution chair, but I couldn't bring myself to do so.