West Virginia Penitentiary

Working for the New York State Corrections Department for 13 years I am always drawn to prisons. In my tenure walking through the big ones Attica, Sing Sing, Comstock, Great Meadow, and Bedford Hills, I was always fascinated. While that sounds odd you have to walk the walk to understand. And when I heard West Virginia held a most notorious prison I was itching for a visit and was impressed.

One enters the prison through the guard house..

The lobby display was of Sparky, the electric chair, with a listing of all those who met their end there.

After paying admission the tour began and was given by a retired guard. His wit and insights were on target and enjoyed by the group. A true entertainer I was well aware his stories were not comedic, but true.

We began in the visiting area..

Here the inmate could greet short term visitors. In the following room was where inmates met with family. The walls were decorated with inmate art in an effort to make a more “homey” atmosphere for children when visiting.

Inmates have mandated exercise times. This hallway leads to the yard.

Then back to the cell.

Some interesting trivia…

The inmates who served here were often included in town events. While they may have been members of the KKK, Black Muslims, and Hells Angels, while incarcerated they gave haircuts to the community and were involved with town folk. Children were always important to the inmates and never was any harm done to anyone in the community.

A noted inmate, Billy Foster, served 28 years at the facility and was a famous artist. Upon selling his art he donated the profits to cancer research.

The facility took 37 years to build and all stone was hand cut. Often the inmate stone cutters cut their insignias or gang logos into the stone.

In 1983 Charles Manson, a West Virginia native, requested to serve his time at the prison as he was raised in West Virginia. His mother had served time for robbery in a West Virginia prison. His request was denied.

A Jimmy Stewart movie, “The Fools,” was filmed at the prison as was “Night of the Hunter,” with Shelly Winters, and a 2013 Woody Harrelson flick.

The Prison is now a massive Halloween event and an enormous fundraiser. This year 1 million dollars were invested in upgrades for this event.

The inmate community building is still used for offices and the main room is often rented out for weddings.

Next: Other Attractions in Moundsville

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