Are you fascinated by movies about prisons and escape attempts? Have you researched Alcatraz one too many times, or found yourself stuck hard in “The Shawshank Redemption?” Then it’s about time you learned about the two famous prisons that lie within Tennessee state lines. Their stories are hard, the people held behind their walls harder, but fascinating nonetheless.
Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary - est. 1896
First called Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex, this huge maximum security prison housed inmates until it closed in 2009. The Barkley Marathon now uses the property as a part of its course, and the heap of stone buildings continues to pique curiosity today.
The prison was opened after the Coal Creek War in 1896. It was originally built of wood by the hands of the future prisoners themselves, and it wasn't until the 1920s that the actual stone buildings were drawn up and built. There were few to no escape attempts.
Except for one. James Earl Ray, infamous for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., led six inmates over a fence in the summer of 1977. He was caught a couple of days later not even five miles from the prison. Many believe this is due to its location on the Cumberland Plateau.
Although the prison started to accept inmates that did not require maximum security in the 1980s, it still retained its title and housed Tennessee's most troublesome inmates. This was done in addition to housing convicts at all custody levels.
All prisoners were transferred to the Morgan County Correctional Complex in 2009. There is still a small museum that lies on the old prison property, so you can take a look at the miscellaneous paraphernalia that has been kept and collected over the years.
Tennessee State Prison - est. 1898
There actually is a reason behind the scary thick walls and intense presence of this prison: it was built to instill fear in people. The builders were originally given a budget of $25,000 to build on what is now Church Street in 1831. It quickly became overcrowded so construction began on the formidable stone prison to the far west of the city. The wings were segregated according to color, and there were 800 beds split between two blocks.
In 1902, a group of prisoners blew out the end of a prison wing, there were multiple fires - one that completely demolished the mess hall - and a couple of riots. There were also severe overcrowding issues, which most definitely played a starring role in the prison's problems.
Every inmate had to perform laborious physical tasks on a daily basis to take care of a bit of the prison cost. With labor hours reaching sixteen hours a day, the lack of heat as well as food started to rile the convicts into a wildly unhappy pool of people. The electric chair was also housed here until the prison closed in 1992.
There was no one wildly famous housed behind these walls, but the prison is said to be haunted. It lies on private property on the west side of the city with a security guard at the gate. With almost 1500 inmates stuffed into an 800 convict facility, the deaths and horrendous heartache behind these walls has since been lost to history. It's a popular spot for photographers and videographers if they are granted the correct privileges to shoot on site.
The movie "The Green Mile" used the Tennessee State Prison for all exterior shots. It's a little bit eerie, knowing that Ol' Sparky was housed here as well. Does this give anyone else goosebumps...? The property has also been used for multiple music videos and tv shows, including the wildly popular hit show "Nashville."
Have you visited, or do you know an interesting fact? Let us know in the comments below!