Historic Jackson State Prison

Please join me in welcoming Jean Wise, author of several books including Fuel Your Faith and Whispers: Being with God in Breath Prayers, as today’s guest.

Michigan’s Jackson State Prison

Ever wonder what stories and ghosts lurk behind the walls of a prison?

You can take a tour of the old Jackson, Michigan State Prison and hear tales of former inmates and see a creative use of the space today. Besides seeing the cells and the razor-wired twenty-five-feet stone walls, part of the prison now houses thirty-six modern condos and a resident artist community.

I toured this prison two years ago and was amazed by its stories. Chills ran down my back as I stood in the cold damp solitary confinement cells deep in the dark basement. One of the current residents gave us a peek inside her apartment build from thirty-six tiny cell blocks within 19th century walls. Her home shined in an amazing modern and upbeat light–quite a contrast from just a few feet from dark history.

Jackson State Prison was Michigan’s first prison and, at one time, the largest prison in the world. By 1882, this site housed over 2,000 prisoners making Jackson home to the largest walled prison in the world. Later this prison was rebuilt and called the State Prison of Southern Michigan. It could hold more than 5,700 inmates, making Jackson the home of the largest walled prison in the world for the second time. The prison site held criminals from 1839 to 2007, including eight men of the Jackson Robber Gang who escaped the walls to rob banks for more than two years. In 1975, another prisoner escaped when friends landed a helicopter within the walls. His freedom ended two days later when he was recaptured.

On our tour, we heard the story about Sarah Haviland. Women were kept with the men in the prison until the late 1880s. Haviland was convicted of poisoning her three children because she didn’t have the means to feed and provide for them. Yet while incarcerated, she became the much-loved caretaker of the warden’s children who also lived onsite. The children called her Aunt Sarah and she was considered so trustworthy, she was allowed to leave the walls for an occasional shopping trip.

Both good and evil wardens ran the prison. From 1870-75, Warden John Morris struck terror in inmates and later prosecuted for his cruelty. It is reported he once whipped a prisoner sixty-three times. By 1880, education and rehabilitation were more emphasized.

The prison tour showcases Cell Block 7 which was constructed in 1934. At one time the prison held more than 5000 prisoners in its five floors of cement walled cells.

Is the prison haunted? We didn’t see or hear any ghosts on our tour, but we were told others have seen apparitions, seen doors open and close mysteriously, and heard repetitive tapping on the pipes. I don’t think I’d want to spend the night there.

Tours run seasonally, and you can find more information at the Historic Prison Tours website.

Jean Wise is a writer and speaker at retreats, gatherings, and seminars. She is a spiritual director and Deacon for her local church. She also serves as an executive producer of Writer’s Chat, a weekly live streaming discussion show. Jean and her husband enjoy their empty nest in northwestern Ohio. Find out more at her website or her Healthy Spirituality blog. You can find her latest books at http://healthyspirituality.org/amazon. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

2 comments on “Historic Jackson State Prison

  1. Makes me want to travel a bit. Thanks Jean but I don’t think I want to live there 😍

    • It’s worth a visit. fascinating stories too. The condos were amazing – you would never guess how they originated. Thanks for commenting, Clella

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *