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Old Penitentiary ... Boise, Idaho

Member Since Jan 3, 2007
2691 Images, Last upload Mar 24, 2015

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Three shots of the interior of what they called "2 House" at the old Idaho Penitentiary. It was built in 1899. The building contains four tiers of two-man cells.

The image on the left is a composite of three photographs I shot with my iphone. The volume of space in that place is incredible, but I couldn't get far enough back with my regular camera to catch the whole thing. Each tier had ten cells, and each cell held two men.

The middle image shows the other end of the inside of the building. That barred wall separated the inmates from the front lobby of the building. There was one door in the barred wall at the end of each level by which the prisoners could exit and enter. That door, along with every other door in the older buildings, is narrower than standard width. Only one person at a time can pass through any given doorway.

The image on the right is a two-shot composite of one of the cells. In order to show the entire cell I had to move from one side of the door to the other, which makes the doorway look wider than it is. See at the bottom where the pictures don't join up properly? That shows the actual width of the door. The cubby in the back right-hand corner held a bucket that was used as a lavatory.

This building has no plumbing, and no system for heating or cooling. Winter lows can reach into the mid-20s (that's something near minus 4 degrees C). Summer highs get up to about 90F (about 28C). See how much light streams in through those windows? They face west ... imagine the heat in that place on a summer afternoon. No plumbing means no toilets, no sinks ... nothing but that bucket.

Well, you say, 1899. That was a long time ago. They must have stopped using the building ages ago.


They stopped housing prisoners in that building in 1973 when the inmates set it on fire, along with the dining hall and the chapel.

I remember hearing about the prison riots on the news when I was a teenager, and a lot of people said, "well, it's prison ... what do they expect ... it isn't supposed to be a palace!" After seeing the place in person, I can understand why the prisoners set it on fire.

What crime do you think would warrant being locked up under those conditions? This building was used to house part of the general population. Prisoners in maximum security and on death row had better accommodations than this in 1973.

To the best of my knowledge, this style of incarceration is no longer used in the United States. The prison riots of the 1970s (at Idaho and a few other facilities) were an agent for change.

I know the composition of these images is a bit jarring, what with the incomplete corners and the odd points of view, but that's okay. It's not a comfortable place to be, even as a visitor.

I left the images large ... zoom for more detail.

April 5, 2013
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Image Comments

Apr 5, 2013 9:19:17 pm
Inteesting bit of history.

by pimanjc Online Now!   Homepage »

Apr 5, 2013 9:54:22 pm
Very interesting and stark images as well as the descriptions

by Faemike55 Homepage »

Apr 5, 2013 9:54:31 pm
Excellent photos and very interesting (if disturbing!) history! Thanks for sharing.

by rachris480907 Homepage »

Apr 5, 2013 10:38:09 pm
What a sad, sorry place; I can almost feel the spirits of the people who were there. Very thought provoking images.

by beachzz Homepage »

Apr 5, 2013 11:09:30 pm
Edifying photos of a certain human condition. To show to a certain youth. Bravo Tara!

by PHELINAS Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 12:05:27 am
Very interesting.

by mbz2662 Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 1:05:37 am
Great Scott! No wonder they set fire to it! It bears a strong resemblance to a battery farm for hens, which most people find totally unacceptable.
What sort of mind designs accommodation like this, I wonder.
As I remarked on Bills image yesterday, British jails are like hotels in comparison to US ones, though very overcrowded.

by durleybeachbum Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 1:46:24 am
Pretty grim digs. I wonder if the recidivism rate was lower then than now? And this was considered an improvement over older forms of incarceration. The limitations you mentioned have the effect of enhancing the mood of the place.

by wysiwig Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 2:17:46 am
Really not the sort of place that I would ever want to be - I will stay law abiding!!

by jayfar Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 3:59:43 am
Superb captures and collage Tara.
God bless.

by kgb224 Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 9:15:02 am
Yes, this is pure horror to imagine to live in for years. No wonder they put it on fire.

by helanker Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 10:10:27 am
How would you like to be one of the people locked up here for 20 years for a crime you didn't commit before DNA testing exonerated you?
There are some people who are not receptive rehabilitation and maybe they do not deserve any more mercy than they had for their victims.
Anyway, you know where I rather be than here either as a tourist of a resident!

by abreojos Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 11:10:24 am
I can't believe peoples humanitarianism or PC here, this is perfect for those who wish to commit a crime, what do they want 5 stars and room service? I say bring this style of imprisonment back and cut all the nanny state crap, they should be told shut your filthy sewers and do your time. Oh well gripe over LOL

Excellent reportage on this ideal residence for pond scum.

by Adobe_One_Kenobi Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 12:21:08 pm
It looks a lot different inside than out; what a hideously frightening place to be stuck away. They should take lawbreakers on tours of these places...

Excellent reportage, Tara!

by MrsRatbag Homepage »

Apr 6, 2013 2:01:32 pm
Great scott !!!!
Those beds look terribly uncomfortable..for someone with a bad back it would of been hell to pay when they got up in the morning................I zoomed in and I wish I could of read what was on that little iron plaque near that little hole in the wall................No I can't imagine the not having any the winter..........or being cool in summer..........that would of been plain old cruel and horrible torture for one would (or I hope treat a dog that bad) & like someone else said no wonder they sit it afire...........I would of joined right in me thinks..& it's a wonder no one committed suicide in those horrid cell blocks.......I imagine a few angry ghosts/spirits still linger around looking for vengeance or those who have the ability to see things like that..........If i had that talent a prison would be a place to get vibes from.........that is for sure and I am also sure none are happy....I can imagine a small thin like bedspread for a mattress.............and even thinner home comfort for these guys........and I am sure the women's cells aren't much better...........and how degrading to use a pot in front of your roomate..........and then the smell..........& what if they got sick and had to upchuck how long did it stay in that pot..and how did they wash it out if no plumbling...I am glad you posted what you learned with us...just utterly degrading to treat a human this way.......I am sure some of the gaurds got a kick out of it...........and egged it on...taunting and teasing.....I watch Lock Up on MSNBC sometimes...........amazing to watch...........but on tv the place where they film looks like a hotel next to this.......they don't realize how lucky they are......well they aren't lucky being there but I mean comparing this to the facilities now days....Just can't imagine.......but they did the for their time.........Don't think I would want to venture around nighttime.........but I bet lots of paranormal groups go there...just out of curiousity alone.........What a dark,bleak, dismal place.........Interesting pic and info as well........Thanks for sharing and the post....sorry I just got on a rant.......this was in human.....and someone will have to answer for the way these prisoners were treated at the pearly gates.......that is if they get their........Pure evil..............but a great pic and info.........

by Blush Homepage »

Apr 10, 2013 2:43:47 pm
Interesting to see that old Boise prison.

by moochagoo Online Now!   Homepage »

Apr 12, 2013 7:52:38 am
wonderful trio, Tara!

by nikolais Homepage »

Apr 16, 2013 8:54:28 am
Very cool shots! Reminds me of the movie 'Shawshank Redemption'.. Nice one Tara!

by debbielove Homepage »


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