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Do Stone Walls Unmake a Prison?

Last weekend my daughter and I took a tour of the Lorton Prison complex. Until its closing in 2001, Lorton Prison was a prison complex of the Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections. It started its life in 1910 with a lofty purpose, an improvement over the deplorable conditions of the D.C. prison, a place of reformation of nonviolent prisoners modeled after a college campus where the inmates would work the prison farm and learn useful trades. It did not retain this positive purpose and eventually added a maximum security prison and became a warehouse for D.C. prisoners.

Its history is also marred by its treatment of 168 women suffragists arrested for picketing the White House in 1917. The suffragists were tortured, beaten, abused and force-fed after they began a hunger strike. Their incarceration lasted from June to December, 1917, and ended only when the news of their treatment reached the public.

Since 2006 part of the prison was renovated into an Arts Center and museum. And now the rest of the five campus complex is being developed into a multi-use community, with prison cells turned into apartments, buildings turned into recreation centers, and the maximum security prison ultimately developed into shops and restaurants. Open areas will have single family houses and townhouses built. The tour was offered to show off the renovation plans.

Here’s what we saw:

The apartments that used to be prison cells flank this central lawn. All the bricks in this complex were made at the prison, by the prisoners

This is the door to one of the apartments. The signage is from when this was a prison.
These archways link the buildings.

There was also a swimming pool built in what was once a building. They left the brick walls up to be privacy fencing around the pool.

My daughter and I decided that, no matter what, we would not want to live in what was once a prison, with its sad history.

Would you?



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