Explore the Unexplained
 

The Old Joliet Prison

The Old Joliet Prison
by Barek Halfhand

 

It’s been over a decade since I worked at the Joliet Correctional Center and just returning to the empty main lot reminded me of the dread, insecurity and very real sense of mortal vulnerability that only those that have worked in such an institution can truly relate to… I found the 2009 announcement that the old prison was slated for conversion to a tourist attraction paradoxical as the concept of incarceration itself is antithetical to recreation…I felt less than nostalgic returning to that lot I did so may times over a 2 year stint to complete a project concurrent with the remodel undertaking …Still no word on the ribbon cutting ceremonies for the “Joliet Prison Park” as of the 08/2011 writing of this article, but I plan on including an inside view update to this topic once it does in fact open those massive iron gates to the public …

The Annex was originally constructed as a women’s prison and ultimately ended it’s tenure housing sex offenders that have completed their DOC sentence but have been deemed to still be a public threat by the Illinois Department of Human Services… I was working in the basement of The Annex where the most intense negative presence I have ever encountered near the small square barred doors of the Segregation Cells or ‘Seg“ used to hold the more unruly female inmates to serve a punitive penance for whatever transgression or policy violation they perpetrated …and as my original narrative (below) outlines, rumors of alleged abuse of these women by the “guards” of that period was related to me by a Correctional Officer that served as an escort that particular day …the assignment of one “escort” to a lone contractor was not unusual and at times they were female officers that wouldn’t done me much good had the inmates of this Super Max correctional facility decided to stomp us…There is a certain cold emptiness about the eyes of a sociopath…a complete lack of empathy for others, a remorseless pathology devoid of emotions, a lack of a moral compass and an innate sense of right and wrong that most of us possess even if it is crippled or arrested developmentally …once you look into those eyes you wont ever forget it, the absence of the radiant essence that makes us human is tangible even to those lacking this sensitivity and very obvious when it is missing…

Construction began on the medieval style castle prison complete with turrets and crenelated topped walls of the admin building in 1858 and a workforce of inmates and contractors shared the task …this site housed civil war POWs and criminals by 1860, even though the building wasn’t retrofitted with the basic amenity of running water in the cells until as late as the 1940′s the civil war prisoners were probably better off there than Chicago’s notoriously cruel and unsanitary; Camp Douglas that claimed so many lives…

There have been riots, the murder of a Warden’s wife, rumors of a singing ghost in the prison cemetery that drew thousand of curiosity seekers until the ghost was discovered to be a certain night guard that had a penchant for crooning to himself to stave off the lonely quietude of his post …

The woman’s prison was built in the 1890′s before the inmates were transferred to a new facility in Dwight Illinois and the Annex was converted to a male R & C (Receiving and Classification) then finally in the late 90′s (when I worked there) the annex was transformed into the Department of Human Services sex offender residency…incidentally (and ironically) the new R & C moved back across the street to the main complex and into a small buildings on the north side of the yard where they filmed John Belushi reclaiming his belongings that were cataloged and stored upon his incarceration…that famous scene with Frank Oz was actually shot in a mattress factory and I could still see the silver painted ceiling the director decided was necessary to brighten up the background for the shoot during the remodel …

Over the years the site has housed some famous inmates from celebrated cases, one such case was heralded as the Trial Of The (previous) Century; that being the trial of chilling child murderers Leopold and Loeb…

The famous opening gate scene from The Blues Brothers where “Joliet Jake” and Elwood are reunited on the Collins Street side of the prison wall was sealed shut during my tenure working there …

I didn’t watch too many episodes the Fox series “Prison Break” but I was in fact inside of that tunnel that was an integral part of the escape plot…this tunnel actually served as access to the yard guard tower and a service conduit for plumbing, electrical, voice and data …It is covered by a sidewalk and vents that runs the length of the yard that is digitally removed from most of the yard scenes ….

Most of the “Natural Born killers” prison sequences were filmed at Stateville on the other side of the river and although a large portion was shot at the JCC Annex, most of it was not used save for (I believe) the sequence where Mallory (Juliette Lewis) kills Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) in solitary confinement …

There have been numerous movies and television filmed at the Joliet Correctional Center including “Red Heat”, “Derailed”, “Let’s Go To Jail”, the shows “Bones”, “Breakout Kings” among others …

I wrote up my experience, working in the basement of the Annex in late 2006, and you will probably notice my penchant for run on sentences is not a recent cultivation…

Quote me: (*edited for spelling, execrable grammar, run on sentences and inadvertent malapropisms )…

January 2007:
I have had some instances of an uneasy “bad vibe” sort of feeling in certain places one of which could be easily dismissed just based on the creepy nature of the location but it is the most pronounced to date I can recall. For those of you in the USA you are probably familiar with the Fox series “Prison Break”, this show was filmed in the Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet Illinois (now closed) where I spent a considerable amount of time working as a technician during some of its remodeling . The nature of the work sent me to all areas of the prison (including ones occupied by real inmates not actors!) as well as a satellite building across the street called The Annex that was originally constructed around the turn of the century to serve as a women’s prison …well in the basement of this building there is a row of very small cells with tiny barred doors about waist high that was used as isolation or “seg” (segregation) for the female prisoners that misbehaved (I later found out that there were rumors of these ladies being the victims of regular abuse by the guards of the era) anyway, one day my task at hand led me to this notorious area with a coworker and we noticed one of the small cell doors…
As I moved in for a closer look I got this overwhelming feeling of dread or like a “bad energy” is the best I can describe it …it was almost like years of psychic trauma had been hewn into the stone wall of the structure that comprised the building material used to fashion the medieval castle style prison this one was designed to resemble (the beginning of “The Blues Brothers” has a good shot of the main building)…The only way I can describe it is just a negative energy…I looked at my coworker; a very Joe Six-Pack kind guy and said “do you feel that ?” and his response was “yeah I do!”…we didn’t discuss it immediately afterwards and he didn’t bring it up again. It wasn’t until weeks later that I leaned about the lore surrounding that basement being the site of abuse…I have felt this sensation in other environments as well, some of which were simple empty rooms or basements that weren’t aesthetically “creepy” at all and there were many times that I was alone in super creepy places and felt nothing at all…I am especially interested in the stone style bricks in the prison as I believe there may be something to the residual haunting theory, much the way an audio impression can be played back in the case of a phonograph, perhaps psychic impressions can be left on certain materials and all of the construction and electrical work being done (a lot of new electrical conduit nears basement cell area) could have released this “imprint” even louder. Now, have I considered that I may have been feeling an EM field in the proximity of the new electrical work?…yes I have, but I also know that there was something ominous about this sensation, the same as the presence I have felt in the recurring sleep paralysis dreams I have (dark, foggy presence etc.) …

January 2007:
“I touched on my theory that certain stone or rock based building materials may harbor the psychic impressions perceived by many of us …I have heard from friends that have visited the Viet Nam Memorial wall in Washington DC have felt something unusual and considering how many grief stricken people have visited this site it may be prime example …I am not sure but think it is made of a type of granite (will Google and report back later) taking this into consideration wouldn’t it also be reasonable to conjecture that graveyards loaded with assorted granite tombstones have been exposed to countless grieving visitors …I kinda of consider this my “Sci-Fi” explanation to some aspects of hauntings but it doesn’t necessarily dismiss the possibility of a spiritual activity…”

January 2007:
“Maybe the (Viet Nam) Memorial is a bad example of this idea (I haven’t paid my respects as of yet) nor do I know if my friend has lost someone to that war, but i think maybe when all those names come into focus the sheer volume of them may evoke this as a sort of shock…Also in the case of the tombstone comment I made I didn’t mean the stone was imbued with the spirit of it’s dead sub-dweller but maybe exposed to the psychic trauma of a visiting grieving relative/friend and somehow released by weather, tremors, tidal forces, etc. …”

January 2007:
“My theory is; it my be anything from the earths’ own EM field to mild tremors to a nearby train passing, traffic, weather, or even power tools used in construction (as was the case for me in the basement of the Joliet Correctional Center)…”

January 2007:
“There’s no disputing it was a stressful work environment but I did spend alot of time in this place (Joliet correctional center) and would often have to walk among killers and other assorted baddies so when I got across the street to the basement of this “annex” building where the old seg (punishment) cells are, with other contractors nearby and with no inmates (at the time) even in the building, I was much more at ease than usual and I was not at all creeped out by the basemen. Lets take a moment to consider the composition of the base structure of the building and the large scale construction taking place. There were alot of additional electrical conduits installed overhead and powers tools humming everywhere, may have been enough to shake the bad energy out of anything even the contemptuous bad energy I felt out of nowhere within the proximity to the tiny cells where I first perceived it…”

The late August noon-ish visit to the aptly renamed: “Old Joliet Prison” was nothing short of splendid weather-wise …the sun was bight, the skies were a deep blue with a few
billowy white clouds, the temperatures moderate and breezy and the preseason September scents of the approaching Indian Summer reminded me of the anticipatory excitement and apprehension of a new school year this season represented in childhood… the drive there took me through a surreal city of silos, smokestacks and an elaborate oil refinery network of pipes that transformed the suburban outback into a postcard from the Persian Gulf …I’m not sure if the Joliet Park District, Visitors Bureau or Historical/Preservation Society is responsible for the new gate, information kiosks and primary parking lot upgrade including park benches, but this seems to be as far as the “Prison Park” project has proceeded thus far…the buildings appear to be
in a growing state of disrepair with broken windows, tall weeds growing through cracks in the concrete beyond the razor wire topped fence and even visible tree saplings sprouting from roof top crevices and crannies peeking over the ledges…the main admin building has several broken windows…I look forward to getting shots inside if the chance arises, the warden’s office is opulent in its ornate woodworking but again I don’t particularly relish the notion of walking that yard or the cellblocks again …the smell is a stale, sour odor that I will never forget …

There was a fairly steady stream of families in cars and couples on motorcycles pulling to the lot for a look, some of which parked and walked around while others were content with a slow drive-by viewing …One particularly imperturbable father repeatedly admonished his son of about 5 or 6 from attempting to scale the fence…one gentleman I noticed walking the north perimeter taking photos as I arrived inquired about the opening of “Prison Park” for inside tours when we crossed paths at the south end near the entrance…I informed him I knew as much as he did and after he shared that he drove from Ohio via Indiana for this visit, I regaled him with my experiences working there and knowledge of it’s history …he rolled his eyes when I brought up the ghost lore associated with the facility and fondly admitted his friends in Ohio have explored The Mansfield Reformatory under pretense of a ghost tour/paranormal investigation but was himself a skeptic albeit an ardent history enthusiast…I elected to forgo intimating my own supernatural experiences there in favor of a more cerebral discussion of the prison based on his reaction and wished him a safe journey home … More often than not I have had to shift gears when I am at a site like this and engage others present for any personal insight or information I can glean by such mild interrogative probing and find myself laughing off such superstitions nonsense right along with them citing it as a necessary aspect of the historic research I was conducting …

The Annex looked the same as it did over a decade ago from the outside …the paint on the bright red fire escape along the west wall was chipping away surrendering to the orange rust beneath, its’ bottom most section still cranked up perpendicular to the base…As I rounded the sentinel Lion statue on the left of the main entrance I realized that the small, wire mesh fortified windows would grant me a look inside the front doors where a double iron gate buffer space separated the outside world from “inside” …knowing that those small isolation cells where almost directly below the armory box to the left, I braced myself for a blast of that searing, soul swallowing negative energy I encountered over 12 years back…I was not disappointed in the least by it’s anticlimactic absence and fired off a couple shots through the windows before turning back to the sun soaked euphoria of the early afternoon and started down the small staircase when the unmistakable muffled SLAM of a cell door rang out from within the cold stone walls of the building …

I wandered around back down a gravel driveway between the Annex and another building that used to be a State Police forensic lab which still looked to be occupied and even had a few civilian (looking) vehicles in the lot …the weeds are rapidly overtaking the exercise yard but the basketball net and rusting weight bench are clearly visible through the double fence line..

I opted to save exploring the quarry for another time (predawn-sunrise) …the rear of the Annex revealed a few old maintenance or storage buildings, a radio repair shop for the entire correctional complex and trailers that looked to serve as additional DHS office space …the field to the east is reverting to a prairie state and at the bottom of a steep summit; a freight train clamored by a rectangular, white track-side edifice with JCC (Joliet Correctional Center) boldly effaced on the front and a newer looking large water tower labeled “Joliet” in a more contemporary italic font…

The empty Supermax facility seemed infinitely more peaceful albeit the indeterminate levels of lingering residual or sentient supernatural activity that may still dwell within …

Here are the (compressed to 1MB) photos…some have been slightly sharpened or color enhanced (09-2011) 92 total….b
http://s1082.photobucket.com/albums/j367/HalfhandFiles3/The%20Old%20Joliet%20Prison/

Here’s the YouTube video: The Old Joliet Prison

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVQwFEk2Wcw

 

—————————-

Comments (1)
  1. Dina Rae / Reply May 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Hi-Great article! I live an hour away and heard they use it as a haunted house attraction in October. Dina Rae




Leave a Comment