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Why These Creepy Prisons Were Left To Rot | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
These institutions were built to last... but today, only empty corridors and dark cells remain. In this video, Unveiled explores the world's creepiest and most mysterious abandoned prisons. Some of these haunting jails are shrouded in myth, legend and tragedy... while some others have been used as Hollywood movie sets! What do you think... which of these abandoned prisons is creepiest?
Transcript

Why These Prisons Were Left to Rot


These institutions were built to last; but today, only empty corridors and dark cells remain. This is Unveiled, and today we're exploring the creepiest and most mysterious abandoned prisons on the planet.

Prisons differ from jails in that they're intended to hold people for longer periods of time, usually after they've been convicted of a crime. But that doesn't mean these institutions last forever. The reasons behind their abandonment vary. Sometimes, a prison can be ditched just because a better one has been built in its place.

New Jersey's Essex County Jail was actually constructed in 1837 for this purpose, replacing a smaller jail nearby. Essex designer John Haviland also constructed the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, but the intention behind his designs, which was to allow prisoners opportunities for self-improvement and reflection, wasn’t always followed by those in charge.

Considered the world’s first “penitentiary”, Eastern State Penitentiary was designed by Haviland to include rooms for exercise and even allowed pets. However, prison officials implemented rules of confinement that would be seen as inhumane by today’s standards. Hoods were placed over prisoners' heads when they were being moved by prison personnel, and officials kept them as quiet and detached from other prisoners as possible. Of course, when you're as overcrowded as Eastern State, something's bound to give, and this helped lead to its closure in 1971. In 1994 it was reopened as a public museum.

The same problem led to Essex County Jail’s abandonment in 1971. The building remained intact, and was actually entered into the National Register of Historic Places, but little has been done to maintain it since its closure. A 2003 fire brought down the jail's women's area, and today the grounds are overrun with vegetation. Drug addicts and the city's homeless often shelter in the open cells.

Wars can also be deciding factors in the fate of prisons. The Tuchthuis Prison in Belgium was used as a military hospital during the French Revolution. In World War II, it was occupied by German forces, and never recovered. It was sealed up in the 50s and totally abandoned in 1970. In contrast, France’s Prison H15, originally founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1146, managed to survive several wars, and remain operational right up until 2011. Today however, Prison H15, also known as Prison de Loos, is abandoned and dilapidated, the grounds covered in graffiti and picked clean by looters. Airsoft and paintball enthusiasts have been known to practice within the ruins, bringing a little bit of fun into what's otherwise a demolished shell of history.

Sometimes, the rundown atmosphere of an abandoned prison can actually be a good thing...that is, if you happen to work in Hollywood. Filmmakers are often searching for unique locations, and abandoned prisons can be ideal for making scenes feel authentic. The aforementioned Essex County Jail had scenes for "Malcolm X" shot there in 1991. Arthur Kill Correctional Facility in New York has seen a new lease on life as the setting for shows like "Orange is the New Black". And the Ohio State Reformatory was used as the setting for "The Shawshank Redemption" long after closing due to overcrowding and inhumane conditions.

The repurposing of old prisons is nothing new. In addition to being a location for movie shoots, Ohio State Reformatory operates as a museum. The Penitentiary of New Mexico, notorious for a brutal and deadly riot in 1980, followed a similar path; while the Penitentiary is still operational, the "Old Main" section was closed in 1998 and today houses a museum. It’s been the location of various paranormal investigations and movie shoots. Meanwhile, Civil War era prison camp Fort Delaware was turned into a state park in 1951, after over a hundred years of service.

Speaking of "service," there's a perverse irony involved when the prisoners themselves are responsible for building their prison. But this was actually the case with the Ross Island Penal Colony on the Andaman Islands. This colony was the result of British Colonialism, specifically a response to the Indian Rebellion of 1857. An entire island was designated to contain those who took part in the uprising. Prisoners here were required to clear acres of dense underbrush on this remote island, building rudimentary shelters for themselves and residences for their captors, all the while suffering brutal punishment for their trouble. Thousands died from sickness, starvation, and cruel treatment.

During the Second World War, the Japanese invaded, and in 1945 the penal colony was disbanded. Today, the forests have grown back and reclaimed the island. It's now under Indian control, but still abandoned. Many choose to visit Ross Land on tourist trips to ruminate on the atrocities and inhumanity permitted there.

Unfortunately, "inhumanity" is a word that comes up all too often when it comes to the prison system. York County Prison was built in the mid 1850s, complete with a trap door for hangings, and faced accusations of bed bugs, racial segregation, and feeding roadkill to prisoners before being closed in 1979. West Virginia's Penitentiary in Moundsville executed so many prisoners via its electric chair that the condemned nicknamed it "Old Sparky." Within the Old Main area of New Mexico Penitentiary, there are still remnants of the 1980 riot, where prisoners were dismembered and burned alive.

While many of these buildings are ruins, they remain important reminders of history: both of how much the prison system has changed, and how much has stayed the same. A room may be four walls and a floor, but many of the cells in these buildings were personal hells, rather than roads to redemption. Many of the prisons we’ve discussed may have been left to rot - but the stories they tell possess the power to teach generations.
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