Before it closed in 2004, the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) was the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi River. Ten years after becoming a state, then-governor John Miller proposed a prison, and two years later funding was approved. Construction began in 1834; in 1836 the first prisoner arrived.
At its peak, the MSP contained* 5200 prisoners.
The prison has a long and torrid history; once called the “bloodiest 47 acres in America” by TIME magazine for the assaults and murders inside the prison walls. Famous and infamous prisoners passed through the gates–some to remain, others to escape. Perhaps the most famous escapee is James Earl Ray. Sentenced to 20-years for robbery, he escaped the MSP in 1967. He remained in hiding until 1968 when he surfaced to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. Though caught, convicted, and sent to prison for the murder of MLK, he was sent to a Tennessee prison and not returned to the MSP, and so he remains on the escape list of the Missouri Department of Corrections.
The penitentiary also housed women prisoners, the first arriving in 1842. By the 1860s there was a separate housing unit for women prisoners. Two notable women imprisoned at the MSP were Katie Richards O’Hare and Emma Goldman. In 1918, Katie Richards O’Hare was convicted of espionage under the Federal Espionage Act and served two years. The treatment she endured led her to change her advocacy efforts from social to prison reform. She was later hired by the California Department of Corrections to implement changes, which eventually spread across the United States. At the same, Emma Goldman, considered the “‘ablest and most dangerous’ anarchist in the country”, was detained for, among other things, promoting birth control. She was targeted relentlessly throughout her life by J. Edgar Hoover, and is considered an influence on the founders of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.
*Contain: have or hold (someone or something) within.
Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers – “Boxes, tanks, wrappers: for this week’s Photo Challenge, show us something that contains something else.”
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*Featured and Post Image are mine: Missouri State Penitentiary, 10 July 2014
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