Doing Time In Laramie

As I mentioned in my post yesterday The Alibi, Laramie, WY is only a couple of hours north of us. So it is a very easy and pleasant day trip for us. The terrain for Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming are very similar, although Larry and I both agree that Colorado is prettier. Both are very dry, arid states located in the Rocky Mountains with high altitudes. We both get the Chinook winds, though Wyoming is even windier than Colorado. And we are both known for our sunshine and blue, blue skies. Are we in Colorado or are we in Wyoming?

We had a good time up Laramie. We took in the sights of the town, ate lunch at Alibi, and after lunch we decided to “do some time” at the Wyoming Territorial Prison. Our time was voluntary, unlike the prisoners who actually did time there for real. The Wyoming Territorial Prison is now a state park.

At the time the prison was built, it was the tallest and one of the most elaborate structures in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Territorial Prison is one of the oldest buildings in the whole state of Wyoming. It opened its gates in 1872 and was both a state and Federal prison for about 30 years. It closed down as a prison in 1903. To some, it was known as “the Big House across the river”, since it is located in Western Laramie, across the river.

During its time as a prison, over 1000 prisoners were locked up between these walls for crimes such as grand larceny, cattle rustling, murder and other various crimes as well. It housed about 150 prisoners at maximum capacity. It started as a maximum security prison, but due to a very high escape rate of about 25% within the first few years of operation, it was lessoned to a lowered security prison. It was completely built by the prisoners themselves. One of the harshest punishments for the prisoners was that they were meant to keep completely silent throughout their tenure. This however, proved impossible to maintain, and was changed, however, speaking was still supposed to be kept to a minimum.

The prisoners were brought to the prison in this wagon that was drawn by the big Percheron horses.

Percherons were used because of their great size, strength and stamina. Percherons were also the horses most often used in war, to carry the heavy artillery and equipment.

The prisoners were brought in bound and shackled.

As soon as they were brought inside, they were processed, given their prison clothes, and had their heads shaved.

The Warden’s office was located directly acorss the hall.

When the Warden was not in his office, he and his family were in their home, just outside the prison walls. Their life was fairly luxurious, especially compared to the prisoners.

As luxurious as the Warden’s life seemed, he and his family shared these small quarters with the guards and often their families as well. So quarters were still very cramped.

The most famous inmate at the prison was Butch Cassidy, born as Robert LeRoy Parker. He served there for about 2 years. Ironically, he was let out for good behavior, but it was after his release that his life really turned to crime. He and his gang, the Wild Bunch Gang, were notorious and dangerous criminals. They were loved by the pubic though, because they were thought of as “the Robin Hoods” of the west, stealing from the rich and giving back to the poor.

Larry was an honorary gang member for the day, but thankfully after being “locked up”, he realized a life of crime was not for him.

I too was “locked up”, and realized a life of crime is not for me either.

Inside the prison.

The cells were very small – 6x8x8 or in some cells, 5x7x7. There were at least two, and often times three prisoners per cell. Conditions were tough. There were only chamber pots, with no running water in the cells. Needless to say, the prison and its cells were a bit ripe.

Life was lived by the bell. This bell is VERY loud and very SHRILL. It was rung in a series of different amounts to determine what time of day it was, and what was the next “activity”, whether it was time to get up, or eat, or go to work, or go to bed.

Each prisoner was responsible for doing his or her own laundry. Most of the prisoners were men, however, there were seven women who also did time, and even one married couple, though they never saw each other. The women were kept completely separate from the men.

The prisoners were also responsible for cooking the meals. It was only the most trusted of prisoners who were allowed to work in the kitchen.

This room served double duty. It was used as a resting room for the guards, but was also used as a room of restraint for the worst of the worst.

The prisoners were allowed to take a bath once a week. But the water was not changed in between bathers. Once again, the prisoners who were well behaved had the privilege of having the first baths, and everyone else had the sloppy and dirty seconds and thirds and so on, until everyone was “clean”.

The infirmary. I wouldn’t want to get sick or injured here. The treatments were pretty rudmentary at best.

The prisoners were also expected to work. The coveted jobs within the prison walls were the jobs in either the broom making section or in the carpentry section, which were housed in the same building. Once again, only the well behaved prisoners were allowed to work in these sections.

Broom making was a booming business, but no one wanted to really know their brooms were made by prisoners, so the prison was contracted out by the Laramie Broom Company.

The brooms were made from the “broom corn”, which is actually more like a sorghum. The city of Broomfield here in Colorado, just a hop, skip and a jump away from us, actually got its name for this very same broom corn.

There were some very skilled craftsman and furniture makers within the prison as well. This was made entirely by prisoners and was a piece of furniture that was in the Warden’s house. It was exquisite and beautifully crafted.

This was a very informative and historic tour. At first Larry wasn’t interested in doing it, but once he found out that it was actually part of the state park system, he changed his mind. I am really glad we took the tour. Seeing how hard life was, not only for the prisoners, but life in general, it really makes me appreciate the good life we have even more.

Have a great day and make everyday great (try your best to stay out of prison). Stay safe and stay well. ‘Til next time.


Author: ajeanneinthekitchen

I have worked in the restaurant and catering industry for over 35 years. I attended 2 culinary schools in Southern California, and have a degree in culinary arts from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, as well as a few other degrees in other areas. I love to cook and I love to feed people.

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