Yuma Territorial Prison

I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight (I love cheap thrills) – Sia

Who says you need a lot of cash to have a good time? Not this Grandma.  With my Arizona State Park pass in hand, the hubby and I took a little road trip to Yuma to relive the past within the walls of the Yuma Territorial Prison.

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An annual state park pass is a good investment for folks who enjoy camping, boating, hiking, or just day tripping to historical sites. The cost is low and the pass pays for itself quickly. All you need is a tank of gas, some change for lunch, and you’re on your way.

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The last remaining original cell blocks  – 1875

We started in the court-yard with a friendly docent with a head full of prison knowledge.  I recommend taking advantage of a docent, they know some interesting history about the prison. There’s plenty of time to wander afterwards on your own.

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1930s taggers

After it closed in 1909, the prison became Yuma High School, the County Hospital, and in the 1930s, squatters from the Depression made the prison home. Seems graffiti and tagging were even popular back then. Who knew?

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Six to a cell

The original interior wall stopped at the end of the three-story bunks. Although you’d never imagine it, the prison was referred to as the country club of the Colorado because of its many modern amenities (i.e., electricity, a library, sanitation, and a prison band).

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The Dark Cell

If you were really bad, you were sent to the Dark Cell – stripped, chained, and fed bread and water. No lights, no sanitation, and for fun the guards would drop scorpions and snakes on you through the ventilation hole in the ceiling. Oh, and the occupancy rate capped at 12.

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Prisoner’s cemetery

Very few of those incarcerated in Yuma died violently – about 50% died of TB and 33% of natural causes. Seems prisoners weren’t worthy of a headstone; a plaque added later list the names of the deceased.

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I didn’t do it!

The only thing I’m guilty of is having fun! The mirror is an original and was used to take mug shots. The striped shirt is a replica of the 1870s prison attire. Women weren’t imprisoned in Yuma until 1878, and even then it was common to use your “feminine wiles” to obtain parole or reduced sentence.

Well thank goodness in 1941 the city turned the site into a museum and saved the remaining sections of the prison. Nearby is another state historic park, the Quartermaster Depot, which we’ll visit another time. We had an interesting day and enjoyed learning about the Wild West and the history of the Yuma Territorial Prison.

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