Is it weird to describe a prison as beautiful? The ancient walls of the Menard Correctional Center stand proudly over the Mississippi River northwest of Chester.
The warden’s office looks like a plantation house, not a prison building.
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We rode our bikes through the area last Septmber and while we were stopped for lunch in Chester, one of the locals told us of a shortcut to get to the road along the river in lieu of riding on busy Illinois Route 3. Go down by the prison, he said, make a left.
So we follow the directions to Menard State Penitentiary and find the ‘shortcut’ which sure enough, looks like a bike path. We turn in and away we go, through a big grassy field down a huge hill back toward the river.
As we go on though, the “path” (actually a service road for the prison) takes us suddenly right into the middle of the whole complex. We’re riding alongside the fence of the main jail (where we’re close enough we said hi to the prisoners inside) and as we passed one of the towers, the guard up inside spins around as we go past. We then pass another guard leaning against a truck watching a crew of inmates cutting grass. We then exit through another gate, go out through a far parking lot and we’re gone.
As we make our way down the river road, a van from the pen comes roaring past us, pulls up in front of us and waves us over. A guard is inside and he is somewhat irate. Asked us where we’re from and what we were doing on prison property. We should not have been on that road, he said, and that it created quite a stir inside. After giving us a stern warning, he let us go.
I was traveling around St. Genevieve a couple years ago and decided to go to Chester to see what might be picturesque. Came upon the Menard prison, and took a few photos of the grand old building. As I was leaving, a security officer came out and blocked my vehicle from leaving. He told me I could get arrested for taking photos of the prison (there wasn’t any “no photography” signs anywhere I could see). I told him I didn’t realize that. He acted enraged so I told him I would delete the photos of the prison, to which he responded, “Don’t come back.”
Interesting…I suppose we took the pictures so quickly that they didn’t have time to notice us.
Yes, it’s an ominous site, seeing that old building for the first time, The huge blocks of stone that look like they belong in the ancient times. The senerity of the Mississippi River a rocks toss away, where you can watch the Barges slowly pushing their cargo up and down the Big Muddy.
Yes, I first seen Menard State Prison back in 1977 as a young man of 19, where I entered wearing shackles and handcuffs.
I spent my first 2 weeks on what they called a “Gallery”. Which is nothing more than a very long row of cells that are 10 feet long by 5 feet wide. There were probably about 40 cells in the long Gallery. (I’m older now and glad my memory doesn’t remember the exact count). Anyway, that was Receiving.
I spent 2 years behind those huge walls with the towers perched on the corners.
I remember once, for fun, (remember I was 19), I gathered up about 100 various bugs- in differing sizes and shapes – from along the wall and throughout the yard.
I put them in a Styrofoam Cup, with a lid… (Here’s where it gets good)…
It was Chow time!
In the Dining Hall, you broke up into two lines, along both sides of the walls, filtering down to a double steam table. On the ends of each steam table were stacks of preformed, plastic, rectangular plates that had individual spaces for each Plop of food? The server dropped onto it, as you held it out.
Well, just before I reached those stacks of upside-down dining platters, I had torn away an area from the top of that Styrofoam Cup, oh, about 1 inch long by 1 inch wide. (Enough that my fingers could cover the wriggling creatures behind them).
Once at those pink and green stacks of platters, I reached into the middle of the stacks, (maybe 6 to 8 stacks and 30 high).
I sat that Styrofoam Cup, lid side down, in the middle of them. I knew that nobody could see the cuo, and, I also knew that I had plenty of time to walk the line, get my food and filter up the middle of all the tables to sit down.
Within 3 minutes all Hell broke out. . .
Yelling, screaming, running, people scattering away from that general area like a flock of birds with a dog running at them.
“BUGS, BUGS, LOOK AT ALL THESE BUGS”
I sat at my table, with my buddy, (who knew), and we did our very best impression of, “Hey, what’s going on over there?” Trying as hard as we could to not fall on the floor from the internal laugher.
If you like this True story? I’ve got dozens more. . .
During my stay in Menard, I was the Sunday Movie Projectionist. All alone in a tiny room above the assembly hall. What could possibly happen in there?
Or, rather ask this, What could happen in the Assembly Hall?
It wasn’t me?
I was in the Projectionist Booth!
Remember. . .
Menard Prison stories? Yes, more please!