This year, my friends Amy and Diane and I decided that we were going to do a Tennessee Explorations class with our boys, who are juniors and seniors. We gave the boys the task of finding places in Tennessee that they want to visit.
Their first choice: Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. They didn't have to think twice about that one.
A couple of years ago, the boys chanced by the closed-down penitentiary on a Boy Scout camping trip. They begged Randy, who is the Scoutmaster, to let them "explore" (AKA: trespass), but of course he refused (with some reluctance, if I know my husband). :)
Imagine how thrilled they were to learn that Brushy Mountain opened for tours a couple of months ago! As Duncan said on the ride over, "This is a dream come true."
Ah, teenage boys.
I have to admit: it was a fascinating and sobering field trip. It's just been open six weeks or so, and I suspect that in a couple of years, it will lose a lot of its rough, raw quality that makes it feel so authentic and, well, alarming. Creepy. Sad. We visited on a Monday afternoon, and there were only about 25 other people there; however, the tour guide said that it is absolutely packed on weekends.
Right now, you can just wander around almost everywhere on the compound, although a few places are off limits.
The documentary in the museum is fantastic, but best of all, a former prison guard showed up and invited us to join him for a free tour. He was amazing. He took us through the compound and told all kinds of stories, pointed out where murders occurred and how prisoners escaped, and just gave life to the men who lived and worked here for decades. He related how the guards treated the prisoners with respect and dignity, regardless of what they did on the outside. It was really amazing. While we were fortunate to be there on a weekday and happened upon a free tour, I would definitely pay for one. Former inmates also give some tours.
This tour is not for everyone. It was, after all, a maximum security prison. We commented that we could feel a heaviness around us, sense a sadness and even the cold chill of evil. I think young kids would have nightmares—or at least I would have. This made me think of the "Scared Straight" movie from the late 1970s. While the boys enjoyed a sense of exploration and adventure, they also felt the danger and hopelessness that is pervasive even now at the prison.
It was not our most cheerful fall field trip ever, but it really was an enlightening experience!