‘If you look at the white floor and the end of the hallways, you may see the shadow.’ Then much louder, ‘Hello! Can you let us know you are here? Can you hit a cell door? We won’t hurt you, but want to know if you are with us tonight.’
The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836 in Jefferson City, Missouri along the banks of the Missouri River as the only prison west of the Mississippi. After 168 years of housing prisoners, the prison was decommissioned in 2004. Today, the prison provides a variety of tourist attractions including the ghost tour I took Saturday night as a part of my mom’s 60th birthday party.
Maybe it was our glow bracelets or maybe we were too loud or maybe we are just too positive, but whatever it was, we did not have any ghosts come to visit . . . that we are aware of! Even though we did not have a visit that night, I can’t help but think about all the souls that once walked those halls and how their stories may still haunt us today.
As a part of the Ghost Tour, the guide shared many stories and accounts of the true history of the MSP. The accounts of the women who came or ended up pregnant while serving their sentence (many were allowed to work at various homes in the area). Many of these women delivered their babies at MSP, and these children grew up in the prison. Even though babies today are put into protective services, many will have residual challenges – physically and emotionally – for the state their mother was in at their births.
Our guide also shared the history of some infamous prisoners like James Earl Ray. Working in the prison bakery, Ray removed the baked goods from a large wooden crate and went out in the bakery delivery truck. Only a few months later, he shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How different could our history be if this man had a different job while at MSP – a job which did not allow for his escape?
You may wonder if the ghost tour is the real deal or some act. What I can tell you is I have had a lingering feeling since Saturday night. As I continue to reflect, I realize that there were a few ghosts that visited me. I have truly been haunted by the condition of this prison and that it was only decommissioned in 2004. It really made me think about prison reform and question if we have really come that far in this area of our ‘civilization’?
This tour also makes me fear the ghosts of future students. These are the ones that I interact with each day that struggle in many ways. These are the students that I know need me or one of my staff or their other teachers to reach them. If not, I fear these students are destined to be contained in horrible places like MSP for most of their lives due to poor decision making or the lack of impulse control or an anger that never completely leaves them. These ghosts are very real, but I also know many trying to eliminate any future prison spirits – I walk beside these Ghostbusters in the halls of our school each day.
If you are interested in a ghost tour or a history tour of MSP, check out https://www.missouripentours.com/