Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Do Not Want to Serve Your Prison Sentence Here

Yuma Territorial Prison

If you were a murderer, cattle rustler, stage robber, or even your average convicted adulterer (boy have times ever changed);  this is not the prison you wanted to be sentenced to. Sorry about that, because it was the only “prison” in the southwestern part of the country.   If you've ever viewed even a few American Westerns or “cowboy” movies, you've probably heard this place being referenced.

I apologize about the glaring sky in this photo. I hope you brought sunglasses.


The prison was isolated in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, where blistering summertime temperatures average over 100 degrees.  Being locked in a cell with up to 5 other men, with a bucket for a toilet (changed once a day if you were lucky); is not where I would want to be when it’s blistering hot. From what we saw, the cell looked pretty good, because...

Most of them looked much more like this.

This cell was called the “snake pit” or “hell hole” and was probably the worst thing that could happen to you.  The iron grating on the floor is what is left of the ten by ten feet, iron box that was in this room. The walls and top were made of the same material.  When they really wanted to punish you, they threw you in here; unfortunately you weren't always in there alone.  Anybody else who needed “special” treatment was also in there with you and sometimes there were several men in there at once.  Stripped down to their underwear and given bread and water once a day.  The only light came from a small open vent in the ceiling. The worst thing was the fact that they didn't even have a bucket. You just did your business right there in the cage, on the floor.  Imagine the fragrance of that after a few 100 degree days!  I just triggered my own gag reflex!  Believe me, that isn't easy...

 Main guard tower

Escaping wasn't a very good option because the place was surrounded by desert. If you did happen to escape (and many tried), they were usually hunted down (for money) by the local Indian tribe.

The prison was opened in 1876 and the last prisoner was discharged in 1919. After the prison closed, the city of Yuma used it as the local High School (after their school was destroyed) for a while. That’s pretty weird, right?  Can you guess what the school’s sports teams were known as? Yep! The Yuma Criminals!  The name stuck and it is still the school mascot today!

Go Criminals!  Go Team Go!

Although the prison was a terrible place and a lot of crazy things went on there, I think the oddest thing we found that day related to the Yuma High School mascot. Seriously, isn't that odd? When combined with other things we've learned about Arizona recently, maybe it isn't really isn't all that odd...

Don't get me wrong, being different is one of the great things about this state. You never know who you are going to run into, or what you are going to see.
Speaking of the Arizona desert. We are back in Arizona again. Same state, different desert. This time the Mojave. We've put a lot of miles on the jeep since we got here a week ago and have seen some great and interesting things...



  1. That place sounds like torture all right. Hopefully there was some serious cleanup before the kids used it as a school.

  2. Great pics and boy prison sure was a bad place to be back then - not that it's any picnic now.

  3. Whew- that place would make me think twice before committing a felony. I'll bet they didn't have many repeat offenders after one stay there...

  4. Thanks for the trip to this place. Yikes. Not a good situation, especially concerning the bathrooms (or lake of) Go, Criminals!!! What are their team colors? Black and white? Striped uniforms?

  5. I cannot believe that used that as a mascot! How weird!

  6. Getting sent to my room with no dinner sounds like a walk in the park now. You triggered my gag reflex too. There goes my cheerios.

  7. Great stuff Pat, brilliant photos.

  8. You're right, I don't want to serve my sentence there! Sounds like you're having a facinating trip. I am envious. I head to Texas on Saturday...it's just a little to the lefdt of Arizona, and the food is spicier.

  9. Ohhhhh yuck!!!! And I did have to read this before coffee!!!

  10. Hi Pat, I hate to tell you what I thought about when I read this post.... (Are you ready?) I wondered if prisons were more like that these days, would there be as many criminals???? Our prisoners all over the country have it made these days--TV's, computers, AC's, etc... All I can say is GADS!!!!!

    Sounds like you all are having a great time in Arizona. Have fun --and share photos.

  11. Amazing! I guess everything changes with time! I've long heard really strange tales about Arizona, maybe they're not unusual???? Fascinating history though!!

  12. (i loved the movie 3:10 to yuma)!

    but yikes, that's some tough conditions! these days, we treat folks like they're on vacation! still, i'd not want to spend any time in prison. anywhere.

  13. I just cant get over that blue blue sky....

  14. I could imagine how it must feel under the extreme heat when someone is on solitary confinement.

  15. Well, that is a very unpleasant place. I got claustrophobia from the photos. and with another person or four? Jeez! I think I just had a panic attack.

    The high school thing is really, really weird.

  16. That is Insane. I can't even imagine...nor do I want to.
    Yes...times have changed....

  17. Oh no, I sure wouldn't want to be in jail there, yikes! I enjoyed the tour lots Pat!

  18. Pat...I loved this series of shots and read every single word of your commentary. What an interesting story you told us. No, I would NOT want to be there even as a school teacher. It would have given me the creepy-crawlies. That one "bad boy" cell has to be absolutely the worse. genie

  19. That jail looks worse than any I have seen pictures of...maybe it is your keen eye and descriptive detail. Once again you've found interesting stuff in your travels...and now you are in the Mojave??? You are not taking your retirement lying down:)

    Those photos are great, Pat...maybe another book idea Like the "Tales of The Traveling Tillet"!

  20. You prepared a great article about this prison.I like the comparison of the entrance and the vintage picture, really nice!

  21. Old prisons are always fascinating places to visit.
    This one looks like it would have been absolutely dreadful to be locked up in.
    If the walls could talk...

  22. Fascinating stuff, Pat. I wonder if the "bad boy" isolation cell was shoveled out every once in awhile, or if everything just kind of composted? Yikes!

  23. Prisons are such awful places. So much pain taking place there. I'm glad new ones are a bit better than this.

  24. Yeah, that's pretty outrageous that their mascot is the criminals. Why doom a bunch of high schoolers to a life of crime? Fascinating pictures and trivia, Pat. Thank you.


  25. Jeez ... we toured that prison and I remember those awful cells ...also ...I seem to remember that the prisoners had to build it. (Do you remember anything about that; maybe I'm hallucinating?) But I did NOT know that about the HS Team name. That is seriously weird and wrong on so many levels. Yup, AZ's a weird but beautiful state. (Sort of like the one I live in half of the year now actually).

  26. Fantastic pictures and information on this prison, Pat!

    I thought "Snake Hole" would have snakes coming up from the grate!

    What a fascinating place and its history!

  27. Wow, if there was a Hell on earth that would be it. No thank you. And being known as a criminal is hilarious and so wrong...

  28. Another epic piece of photojournalism! That place is positively medieval. I wonder what the old "inhabitants" would make of the makeover!?

  29. yikes! that is awful! thanks for the info on this prison and the pictures.
    i can't even imagine...nor do i want to what it would be like living in a prison like this. and yes, times have changed.

    fascinating pictures indeed!!

  30. Fantastic! I would love to go there. Great shots and very informative. Man, they must have suffered back then. They probably got used to the stink and didnt notice it. Horrendous conditions. These days they live in first class hotels in comparison.

    Nice to see it being preserved so well too.

  31. Fantastic! Excellent pictures of this mythical place in western movies!

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  34. Love this series...
    you find very interesting sites
    during your travels.

  35. Yuma in the summer without AC definitely falls in the category of cruel and unusual.

  36. Back in the day, when going to prison was a punishment, not a day camp with TV, vocational training and three square meals a day. hmmm.... maybe it was more of a deterrent than what we have today.

  37. The first photo looked like a theme park. The ones that followed didn't. I cannot imagine going to high school there! I will say that the architecture is more interesting than that of the schools I attended in Corona, CA. You do find the most interesting weird stuff. Long live this blog!

  38. Crazy things out in the desert!

    Interesting post.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  39. Gawwwwd, what a horrible, horrible place, it beggars belief we once treated human beings (or any other living creature, come to that)so terribly. I imagine they must have had a high suicide rate!

    Gosh, you do get around - what an amazing journey you are having.

  40. A tourer chamber for sure Pat. You should write a book about all the desert oddities you've encountered in your travels.

  41. That is a fascinating prison, and quite the history. Going there must have been an experience for the high-schoolers - I love their mascot.

  42. Fabulous post and pictures. I'm not sure I'd appreciate having had a "Criminal" as my school mascot though.

  43. Have you heard of these rehab centers who use the "scaring straight" technique to bring teens back on the straight and narrow? You would be good at that:):)
    BTW it was good seeing you back on my blog!

  44. Great overview of this awful place. And they used it as a highschool??? Weird. And more weird is their mascot!

  45. Man, they punished you for being naughty with this hell hole? I seriously doubt if anyone who finished their sentences came out a better, reformed man.

    Yuma Criminals - what a tagline for school students! Asalways, you bring unique views of your part of the world.

  46. Alex - I hope so also! I also hope the kids didn't even use that part of the prison.

    mshatch - I agree! Not good anything, but especially back then.

    Shelly - To me, the biggest problem back then was that they stuck EVERYONE in the same prisons. No country clubs for white collar crimes.

    Bossy Betty - My pleasure! Go Criminals! That part is so funny!

    Mama Zen - I guess another high school called them and somehow it stuck!

    PTM - HA! When they weren't eating bread and water, I wonder what the did eat?

    Ricky - Thanks so much! I appreciate it...

    #1Nana - It was a good trip! There are a ton of interesting things in Texas as well. I don't think Arizona is to the left of anyone! LOL!

    TheChieftness - I hope you were able to keep it down!

    Betsy - I have a couple of opinions about that subject as well. I'm an issue specific voter. On some issues, I'm pretty liberal and some not at all. Our criminal justice system is one of them. I'm for SERIOUS punishment for violent criminals. Once a person has been found guilty of several violent crimes, it's pretty clear that they aren't going to change. I also don't want to pay for keeping them fed, clothed, housed and healthy while they're serving life sentences. Only one option let as far as I can see. I know a lot of folks don't agree with me on that one.

  47. Sylvia - Yep! Everything does change! Too bad it's not always for the better. Arizona is very different and seems to breed a very independent sort of person. One thing that surprises me a lot is how many people carry weapons. Not that they are flaunting them or anything, but it you pay attention, you see it. I spend most of my time away from the big cities and can't really attest to how it is there.

    TexWisGirl - Me too! Both of them! You are so right. I read that the citizens of Yuma thought that about this prison also. It was because the prison got electric lighting before the town did!

    Karen - It was a bit too blue for me. For photo purposes, some scattered clouds would have been nice.

    Ebie - Me too and I wouldn't like it at all...

    M Pax - Not a place I'd like to live either! Go Criminals...

    Dawn - It sure is! I have a pretty active imagination and I didn't like what I was imagining!

    Brian - Thanks Brian! My pleasure...

    Genie - Thanks so much! I'm with you, I wouldn't want to be there under any circumstances. Well, except for a tourist that is...

    Chuck - It could be those things Chuck, or maybe it's from my own brushes with the law. either way, that place is not for me. We just got back last night. Did a ton of exploring and have lots to post on that trip as well. A person could spend years in the Mojave and wouldn't run out of things to see and do. We already plan on leaving again in 2-3 weeks. Thanks Chuck!

  48. Cezar and Leia - Thanks Leia! They kept most of the place intact. Many of the outside walls collapsed though.

    Mynx - I think my wife said the exact same thing. If only these walls could talk...

    Margaret - Hi Margaret! I know! I hate to even think about that room.

    Belle - Yes they are! I suppose there were people debating even back then about prison conditions.

    Robyn - You are welcome and thank you! From what I read, the kids kind of liked it.

    Sallie - That's right! The first prisoners had to build their own prison. That's kind of ironic.

    Icy BC - Thanks for the nice words! I think the "snake hole" description was folk lore about the guards dropping snakes through the vent hole in the ceiling. Maybe true, maybe not! Interesting either way...

    Baby Sister - I'm with you on both counts!

    Stickup Artist - Why thank you! Most definitely medieval. There are plenty of the old "inhabitants" buried on the property.

    Betty - My pleasure! Even if it was a half way decent place, just the fact that there is only a cell door between you and the elements in bad enough. It gets VERY hot there.

  49. Anthony - Thanks Anthony! I'm sure it was no piece of cake there, even for the people NOT in prison. Yes, it's all changed today for prisoners. I'm sure it still sucks, but there is no comparison...

    Leovi - Thanks Leovi! No myth for the prisoners there...

    Magia - Thanks Magia! Very terrible!

    Anonymous - How did you get in here, dirt bag?

    faye - Thanks Faye! We do our homework, that's for sure. We also don't usually end up in very many spots where most tourists would go.

    sage - I'm with you! Even for the normal, law-abiding people...

    Rosemary - I'd say that's exactly right Rosemary. Prison doesn't seem to much of a deterrent at all now. It is for me though!

    tapirgal - Thanks! We sure do hunt for that stuff. We found a lot more during the past couple of weeks. I'm so behind on my posting, still working on things from our last trip. I didn't know you lived in Corona. I remember Corona (the circle city) before the 91 fwy went by there. It was just a town back then. I also used to live pretty close to Corona in a town called Wildomar.

    Stewart - Crazy things in the desert is something that we will never run out of. Cheers back at you!

  50. Shrinky - I'm not sure about the suicides, but over a hundred prisoners died there. I think that only 3 or 4 thousand prisoners ever did time there. So over 3% of them died there. I remember that almost 30 died trying to escape but the only mention of suicide was "a couple." I'm sure most of the prisoners who died, contracted some type of disease relating the living conditions.

    Pam - For sure it was Pam! Write? Oh yeah, that's that thing I used to do before I got so hung up on photography and exploring. One thing for sure though, there is no shortage of desert oddities out there.

    Al - It was fascinating Al. I'm sure the kids liked the name and I'm double sure that most of the parents didn't...

    Sally - Thanks Sally! Speaking only for my own HS mascot. Criminals would be far more appropriate than the mascot name at one of the high schools I went to. There were far more "Criminals" there than "Panthers."

    Jesh - I've seen a couple of TV documentaries about that. As to your blog, my pleasure!

    missing moments - Thanks! It appears that they only used it as a HS for a few years, but the mascot name stuck!

    Rehka - They sure did! I'm not sure anybody comes out of prison a "better" person. I'd like to think so... Thanks Rek!

  51. Have I told you that you have the best life?? I am so jealous!!!

    It is so cool that were there and took pictures of that...such a cool adventure!!

  52. I would say "great tour," but that doesn't sound appropriate. In Alcatraz, different temperature, but same desperation. Many prisoners dived into the bay, braved the sharks, took their chances. And lost.

  53. I did not know the school was the Yuma Criminals, the I do know that the prison leaves an impression...
    Thanks for sharing!

  54. Pat, I remember the name of Wildomar, I'll have to look it up. My ancestors were Corona founders in 1886. It was a great place to grow up, but I was thrilled to leave when I was 18. I still have family there, and I hate what Urban Renewal and now population have done to it. My book of old letters (Hudson and Joy) is a biography of two of the founding families. "All Eight Went" is the 1910 trip story of some of the founders (younger generation) and their children.

  55. Heehee. The Corona Mascot was also a panther. Not that I cared :-p

  56. In a different vein of insanity found in the desert, I have to share this from a friend's blog:


  57. I swear there are ghosts in this prison.

    I had some pretty odd experiences the times we've visited here.

  58. It is understandable, but such cruelty still comes as quite a shock to me. I hope I never get over that.


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