And I really mean the Big House. The Maryland House of Correction.
Eleven years after I first set foot inside the Maryland House of Correction as a reporter, I visited again over the weekend as a civilian.
Opened in 1879, the House of Correction is like something out of “The Shawshank Redemption.” Brick walls. Thick layers of flaking paint. Bars, bars and more bars.
As a cub reporter in 2002, I teamed up with photographer Paul W. Gillespie for a series on the House and the other prisons in the state complex in Jessup, which was part of my beat at the time.
Each Friday, Paul and I toured a different prison. We interviewed inmates, saw how they lived and worked and even how they raised future guide dogs. And yes, they make license plates in prison. They also sew American flags and print brochures and other materials.
The most depressing part, by far, was the basement medical unit in the House of Correction. There, we saw older inmates undergoing dialysis treatment in windowless rooms. I remember sitting on a chair that was held together with duct tape.
I’m convinced it was the saddest place imaginable.
I also knocked on doors to talk to neighbors and interviewed community leaders. I scoured old newspaper clips to read up on past escapes, riots and other problems. I did a sit-down interview with the big bosses from the state, too.
It was a rather ambitious project for such a young reporter. I wish I had easy access to it now to re-read it. (I’m sure I’d find tons of flaws!) But I think it’s stored up in my attic.
Anyway, the old, old, old House of Correction turned violent a few years later after I was off the beat, including the killing of correctional officer David McGuinn in 2006. (The inmate who was convicted of the killing was sentenced to life in prison. He was eligible for the death penalty.)
In a surprise move, Gov. Martin O’Malley closed the prison in 2007, moving the inmates to other facilities.
The prison is now being torn down, picked apart brick-by-brick using prison labor. The prison folks call it “deconstruction.” They say it saves money because some of the materials can be repurposed.
Before they get too far into deconstruction, the prison was opened up for tours — first, for former employees and last weekend for the general public. I didn’t want to miss the chance to revisit a place that holds such interesting reporting memories for me.