Juno Provincial Penitentiary
Juno Provincial Penitentiary
Plumas Provincial Historic Marker
The main entrance of the penitentiary
13 Bailey Ranch Road|
Juno, Plumas, Sierra
|Area:||53,000 sq. ft.|
|Built:||1883 (closed 1989)|
|Architectural style:||Gothic architecture|
|Visitation:||>250 (restricted access; 2015)|
|Governing body:||Royal Park Service|
|Added to NRHP:||December 16, 1965|
|Designated :||February 18, 1964|
|Designated KSRPSCP:||September 7, 1992|
|Designated PPHM:||March 13, 1975|
When the sanatorium facility moved into the East Wing of the facility in 1901 to treat patients suffering with tuberculosis and health tourists, the resident inmates of the wing were relocated to the already fully-occupied West Wing, and were housed in the underground levels of the prison, which had originally served as boiler rooms and cells for solitary confinement inmates. The prison wing of the institution was treated as maximum security, and the prisoners were completely segregated from the patients and the medical staff, with a large barricade was erected down the central tower with heavily guarded 24-hour hallways, and backup safety mechanisms to protect the sanatorium from a hypothetical prison break or disturbance. For over a century of its operation, there has never been a single case of inmates breaching the sanatorium, although there have been several notable escapes. Some of the most well-known and feared criminals including Sabi Amantea and Raging Walter were housed in the Juno Provincial Penitentiary.
Since 1989, the prison is owned and managed by the Royal Park Service as a contributing property, and is a listed site that forms a part of the Tahoe National Forest. Research and preservation of the Penitentiary is supported by the Penitentiary Preservation Society, an organization composed of independent, private historians and citizens interested in collecting and providing information on the prison's history and former tenants, as well as working towards making the Penitentiary accessible to the public year-round in the near future. Public access has always been restricted, with most non-staff guests invited on a case-by-case basis, and constituting primarily university students and faculty, and private paranormal investigators, although only during the month of October each year. While there has been a push towards opening the penitentiary year-round to the general public, the complex would require millions of dollars in asbestos removal and structural improvements to conform with current provincial building codes and safety regulations, a move that was rejected by Plumasonian taxpayers. Guests require special masks and protective gear in order to enter and move throughout the building.
Due to its longstanding history of brutality and the high incidences of deaths occurring on the site, the penitentiary has been claimed to be one of the most paranormally active places in the world, and has frequently and consistently been ranked within the top five most haunted locations in Sierra. Numerous documented cases of paranormal activity including photographs, video footage, and eyewitness accounts allegedly pointing towards such have placed the Penitentiary firmly into the national folklore in Sierra. Juno, the town the penitentiary is a part of, has also been described as haunted in its own right. Due to limited, seasonal access to the penitentiary during the month of October, opportunity to enter and explore has always been in high demand, with plans by the Royal Park Service to increase its cap of total visitor admittance. Famous paranormal investigators, ghost hunters, psychics, demonologists, and amateur enthusiasts have visited the prison over the years, and the penitentiary has also been the site of a few films and television programs, further entrenching its iconic status as a haunted location.
History[edit | edit source]
During the 1880s, Juno was officially known as "Knightston", and had already gained national recognition as a lawless mining town with rampant crime. The town was able to govern itself autonomously for decades, but federal and provincial law enforcement intermittently came to restore order and rounded up lawbreakers upon the request of the Juno police when they were unable to do so (and were led by corrupt officers). Originally, the town of Knights Camp (the anterior name of the town) had constructed a basic jailhouse on the eastern end of town. The building had four detention cells, an office, and a basement, and there was also an outdoor gallows. As the town grew, and the need to impound more criminals increased, the jailhouse was expanded with a total of 30 cells in a two-story building, and an enclosed, walled perimeter surrounding the building.
In 1874, as Sierra descended into a civil war, the town of Knights Camp came under the control of the Second California Republic, and the jailhouse continued to be used to imprison local criminals. After the war ended, many veterans who fought in the war, returned to town and drove the crime rate down as the number of families and children increased. With the Sierran government restored in the province of Plumas, the governments of Sierra and Plumas sought to establish a new high-capacity prison which would hold all prisoners of war and serious criminals in the Styxie. Surveyors from the Royal Surveyors' Corps were dispatched by the federal government to assess the potential of a suitable site for the new prison, and arrived in Juno, where they issued positive reports on the surrounding land, and noted its general geographic isolation, and harsh winter conditions which would hinder escape attempts.
With the Styxie needing much recovery and investment in the post-war economy, the construction and maintenance of a federally funded penitentiary would bring many jobs to the people of Plumas, and solve the region's crime overcrowding issues that confronted the area at the time. Both houses of the Plumas Provincial Legislature convened and approved the construction of such penitentiary, and confirmed its location to be in Juno, and received $50 million in 2016 dollars to build the prison. Rather than demolishing the existing jailhouses, the architects and construction workers followed lawmakers' demands in integrating the old structure into the new one, and as a result, the old country jailhouse would later become the reception hall of the penitentiary.
Construction of the building took approximately five years, and during that time, four wards, five towers, three stories, 1,300 cells, and an underground floor were made. An indoor gymnasium, a cafeteria, communal showers, and a library were also included in the original design, and built to accommodate both the staff and the prisoners. A large walled fortification surrounding the building, which no longer stands in the present-day, was also built, surrounding the prison and contained two of the prison yards where most prisoners did their prison labor, and good-behavior inmates were permitted to spend their free time. After the building was completed and officially commissioned, the first inmates arrived to the compound in the building's inaugural year, in 1883.
Only two years into operation, there had already been reports of prison abuse and acts of brutality, with claims of guards beating disobedient inmates with long, metal rods, and sleep depriving solitary confinement individuals. There was a weak sanitation program, and there was plumbing in some sections that was broken or even nonexistent, with prisoners forced to scoop their own excrement and tossed into rationed buckets. A clear internal hierarchy was established, with higher-ranking prisoners acting as enforcers and intermediaries between the lower ranks and the guards. These prisoners often received better treatment and benefits, and were empowered to physically discipline any inmates, particularly newer ones. One form of hazing that was actively encouraged by the guards and the enforcer prisoners was "pruning", whereby fresh new inmates were rounded up before a crowd of veteran prisons, and forced to fight one-on-one, expose their bodies, and commit humiliating acts, including drinking running bathwater on the floor.
Around the turn of the 20th century, as progressive thought and activism swept the Kingdom, the conditions at Juno came to light as former prisoners began testifying against the widespread abuses that occurred in the prison. Government inspectors began to investigate, and discovered widespread corruption among the guards and prison administration, leading to several high-profile dismissals, and imposition of a provincial supervisor. In addition, although it was discovered that despite there being a large prison population, a large section of the prison was unused, and could accommodate spaces for other purposes. With numerous viral outbreaks afflicting the nation, the demand for a health sanatorium to treat patients was high at the time, and through a deal between the provincial legislature and the prison administration, it was agreed upon that up to half of the prison's complex would be repurposed to house patients, most of whom would be terminally ill.
When the Spanish flu epidemic broke out in 1918, the Sanatorium reached full capacity, and could not house anymore patients. In order to accept more patients, the medical staff were controversially instructed to euthanize terminally ill patients without the permission of the patient or their families. Staff told families that the patients could not be saved, and the bodies were typically funneled down a chute-like tunnel where they were either cremated, or buried in a mass grave just outside the complex. Prisoners next door often complained of the stench of corpses that surfaced the soil after fresh rainfall or thawed snowpack, and it attracted various animals. "The whole damned place was a slaughterhouse," complained famous Sierran novelist T. Hershings during his visit to Juno.
Prison life[edit | edit source]
Inmates were expected to abide by very strict conditions and regulations, with new inmates being given a handbook upon arrival, which was colloquially referred to by veteran prisoners as the "Black Book". Inmates were guaranteed sufficient food, water, clothing, and access to medical attention, although in practice, sometimes prison guard and staff denied these rights under the condition of punishment. Most inmates shared a cell with another person, and some cells held up to six depending on the size of cell and the type of criminals imprisoned. Initially, inmates wore dull blue shirts and pants, but later switched to wearing bright orange in the later 20th century. Cells had to be kept tidy, and prisoners were expected to clean after themselves or risk disciplinary action. Inmates had to shave off all facial hair, and were forbidden to wear any article of clothing that would significantly obscure their head or faces. Upon arrival to prison, any clothing and personal belongings the inmates brought were examined, and if they were considered contrabands, were confiscated and stored in a holding room, where the items would be returned upon a prisoner's release. Typically, this expectation of return was not honored as guards used or even sold such items before the inmates could complete their sentences. Toiletries, blankets, and medicine was given upon request, but could be revoked and taken away at anytime, except in the case of a medical emergency where the inmate would be taken to the prison infirmary, adjacent to the sanatorium ward.
Loud and disruptive noises was strongly discouraged in the cafeteria and prison yard, and those who demonstrated themselves to be a nuisance or threat would face disciplinary action. In the basement floors however, out of earshot of the patients and staff in the sanatorium wing, inmates were encouraged to release their frustration and anger below, and at coordinated times, were allowed to enter into a special room to fight other inmates. In this controlled environment, guards stood ground, observing such fights and only intervened when it violated an informal "fighting code". Guards often participated in beating prisoners as well, and this was an open secret among the administrators who approved of such practice as disciplinary action. Gambling was permitted, although under stringent regulations, and money earned through prison labor and gambling alike contributed to a prisoner's trust account. The money could be used by prisoners to purchase luxuries and other items from the prison store, including magazines, cigarettes, or dishes not served in the cafeteria.
Administration[edit | edit source]
Life[edit | edit source]
In prison[edit | edit source]
In sanatorium[edit | edit source]
Ghosts and legends[edit | edit source]
Cited as one of the most haunted locations in the world, there have been innumerable accounts and urban legends reporting paranormal happenings on-site. Captivating public eye due to its dark history and limited access, the Penitentiary has had its fair share of ghost stories and alleged sightings. The owner, the Royal Park Service, and its partnering private organization, the Penitentiary Preservation Society, have neither confirmed or denied the claim many of the legends and stories surrounding the Penitentiary, and have openly embraced the belief that the closed prison is haunted.
Alleged ghosts[edit | edit source]
Various spirits of the dead have been purported to haunt the location. Among the most notable ghosts are the following:
Elizabeth Lyra[edit | edit source]
Elizabeth Lyra was the wife of the prison's third warden Issac Lyra. Like most families of wardens, Elizabeth and her children lived with Issac on-site in the administrative quarters. When she first arrived in 1908, she often begged her husband to quit his job and leave the prison, and complained about the staff's treatment of its prisoners. However, one day in 1910, when she was walking down a hallway along a row of cells, an inmate reached his arm out of the rails and grabbed her by the ankle, causing her to fall face flat onto the floor. She sustained a broken nose, and a bruised forehead, and suffered from frequent migraines after the incident. According to legend, she was so angered by the event that she instructed her warden to beat the assailant, and ordered him to be stricter against the patients. Issac Lyra was infamous for his treatment against the inmates, and the legend claims that Elizabeth encouraged this brutality. After several years, Elizabeth died in the warden's office from poisoning in her cream puff. Although no one was ever caught, it was believed that a disgruntled inmate on cooking duty had slipped in contraband ricin. Following her death, the warden's treatment was even more ruthless.
The Hole[edit | edit source]
The Hole is reportedly the Penitentiary's most active spot, and is located in the basement floor of the West Wing, where the worst of prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, or punished. The Hole was a special room that was at the deepest point of the structure, some 200 feet below the surface, and contained several cells with no ventilation and no lighting whatsoever. The rowdiest and most disobedient prisoners were sent to the Hole where they were kept in complete darkness and in damp, humid conditions for days, or even weeks. During its operation, as much as 50 prisoners, all incidentally, death row inmates, died in the Hole due to negligence and starvation. Food, when provided, was shared communally among the prisoners, where as much as four prisoners were crammed into a tiny cell with a single bucket to relieve themselves.
By far the most isolated part of the Penitentiary, it has been claimed by psychics, mediums, and paranormal enthusiasts as the darkest and emotionally chaotic section in the entire building. Visitors have often complained of sudden, unexplainable chills, temperature changes, nausea, headaches, and even skin abrasions (scratches or bruises) when accessing the point. The stairway towards the Hole has also been the site of several falling accidents, due to the lack of guardrails, poor lighting, and slippery conditions from the constant dripping from the ceiling, and seepage of water from the walls.
Death rate[edit | edit source]
Preservation[edit | edit source]
Although the building is owned by the Royal Park Service, maintenance and preservation of the building is handled by the Penitentiary Preservation Society (PPS), a trust organization composed of researchers, historians, and private donors. The Penitentiary receives occasional inspection to ensure that the building structure is in quality condition, and the former prison complex is slated to receive the first of several major renovations with the end goal of opening the Penitentiary to public permanently. In addition to maintaining the prison, the PPS is also responsible for maintaining all records, letters of correspondence, and artifacts received upon the closure of the facility including thousands of material documenting the lives of former prisoners and patients at the Penitentiary.