Experience a Real Prison Break

Do you remember the TV show “Prison Break”?

Do you remember the comedy “The Blue Brothers”?

In both productions, there was one important location – a prison. When I was young, I really liked the TV show “Prison Break.” I hadn’t thought about it for many years. Then, I had a chance to tour this actual prison, and I couldn’t wait to explore this popular screen location.

In the TV show “Prison Break,” the facility was called Fox River State Penitentiary. The real prison name is the Joliet Correctional Center, now simply known as the “Old Joliet Prison“. It was designed by Chicago’s earliest architect, W.W. Boyington, who also designed the Chicago Water Tower. I find that the architecture of these two facilities share common characteristics.

Can you find the similarity between Chicago Water Tower and Old Joliet Prison?

When I got inside the prison fence, there was an interesting scene: the door and windows were badly broken, with many holes, a far cry from its time as a working prison. I imagine that this site experienced a lot of ups and downs.

All the doors and windows were broken. The prison looks like a ruin.
At this ruin, I can get a strong sense of a prisoner’s life.  

I saw a dark light through another old iron gate, a glimpse into a prisoner’s life. They were completed imprisoned inside these dark and cheerless rooms. Also, dark light makes me feel like the prisoners experienced tough times here.

Through these old iron gate, I can sense the prisoners’ dark sense of gloom to live in such a cheerless place.

The most impressive thing is that once I pass through the dark and cold areas, there is a large grassy area. I can feel that for the prisoners who lived here, the grassland was likely their happiest place. They perhaps could feel at least a small sense of relief from their dreary world, even see the sky. In those precious moments, the prisoners could escape their daily life and maybe feel a sense of freedom.

Most of the prison is depressing, but pass through a door and wall, and you arrive at this grassy area, perhaps the prisoners’ favorite place.

The prison held a hospital, but it is blocked off with fences with locks on the windows. Inside, a few pieces of medical equipment remain. I can almost see the prisoners experiencing bad breaks and even death here. (Maybe this abandoned hospital could be a haunted house for Halloween.)

The prison hospital was established in 1895. It held death instead of life for some prisoners.

Another remarkable fact: the tour guide told us that when the prison opened, two prisoners shared a double bed in the tiny room where they lived. Here, I saw a shocking scene: the prisoner’s room was guarded by a heavy iron gate. All the walls and ceiling were dilapidated.

Can you image that prisoners lived in this tiny place? So sad.
All the ceilings and walls were broken. Visiting the facility allowed me to understand the reality of this harsh and brutal place. It was shocking. 

Spending time in the prison shows that this was a cruel and painful place. People were imprisoned here for many years. I can feel the despair even now, and how excited a prisoner must have been to get outside for any exercise.

In the TV show “Prison Break,” the brilliant structural engineer Michael Scofield rescued his innocent brother Lincoln and formulated an escape plan, one of many stories told within the prison. When I visited the facility, I can feel that living in prison is a painful and oppressive place. The prisoners must have longed for freedom, saddened by being separated from their families, with many people dying here.   

There are other interesting places to explore in Joliet, other than the prison. I also visited the Joliet Area Historical Museum to learn about the area’s diverse history. An exhibition in the gallery showed information about the prison, with actual visuals from the prison showing its history. (On a happier note: The Blues Brothers sat outside the museum). 

Don’t forget to take a awesome photo with The Blue Brothers!

Despite the unpleasant feel of the location, this was an exciting place to visit. I walked and toured a real prison where several movies were filmed, and I saw a glimpse of those prisoners’ stories through a broken door and window. I witnessed scenes that seemed to be from another world.

Thank you for experiencing this prison “break” with me! 




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