It’s been ten years ago, Monday, that Missouri closed down its historic state prison.
Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City had been in operation for 168 years and was the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi, when its last inmate was transported six miles down the road to the new Jefferson City Correctional Center. Some 1800 inmates had been moved out in one day.
On Sunday, the Missouri Department of Corrections invited some of the old prison’s former employees to gather and reminisce about MSP and their time there.
George Adkison was a guard there from 1977 until 1989. He says of his time in corrections, “I wish my brain could forget what my eyes have seen.”
Adkison, like the other former MSP staff that assembled, remembered good times, friends made among inmates and staff alike, and told stories about what had become of those friends. But, he and the others couldn’t help but remember the violence of the old prison, such as the day one his fellow guards, Walter Farrow, was fatally stabbed in 1979.
Adkison says that was, “the one and only time I walked up to the front door and I stopped, and I asked myself, ‘Is this something you really want to do for the rest of your life until you retire.'”
Farrow, 62, had been killed four months before he was set to retire. He had left behind a wife and nine children.
“‘Pappy’ was just an old, kindhearted guy,” says Adkison of Farrow, calling him by his nickname. “Didn’t bother anybody, came in and did his job. Everybody liked him … he didn’t deserve to die like he died.”
Adkison and others also commented on a feeling rekindled by seeing each other again on Sunday, some for the first time in many years. Sam Muir, who worked at MSP from 1995 until 2004, summed it up as comradery.
“No matter what, any kind of situation, people had your back, in a lot of dangerous situations.”
Kym Guerrero also worked at the old prison from 1995 until 2004. She says it, “will go down in history and I am very privileged and proud to say that I worked at MSP with the people that I worked with.”
The old prison was the site of executions in Missouri in its gas chamber from 1938 until 1989, with the final execution being the first lethal injection in Missouri. It housed death row until condemned inmates were moved to the Potosi Correctional Center.
Many of the 52 buildings that made up Missouri State Penitentiary when it was decommissioned have been torn down, including those on seven-and-a-half acres that was donated to the federal government to build the Christopher S. Bond U.S. Court House.
Last year the state and City of Jefferson announced a long-term lease agreement and plan to remediate mold and replace roofs on four of the old buildings, including the gas chamber where 40 inmates were executed. Those four buildings are now open for tours operated by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.