We’re in Arizona for 2 weeks, visiting Hubs brother Les and sister-in-law Mary Jane. They bought a place in Yuma 9 years ago and have been spending several months a year in this nice warm climate. For those of you who don’t know what an Iowa winter is like, don’t ask. Or worse yet, try one to see how much you enjoy it. Trust me when I say about 99% of Iowans are fiercely loyal to their beloved Hawkeye state, but in order to maintain sanity, keep your fingers and toes intact, most would leave that state in a heartbeat for anywhere warm during their endless winter. We’ve been invited to visit, and decided the time was right. But I’m missing 2 of Landon’s basketball games, and yes I’m feeling the guilt. Counting on Shannon and Tracey to message me through the game.
|The Yuma Territorial Prison, 1876. The stone work is beautiful…|
Let me get our first day here out of the way. It was long for all of us. It all started with this dang tooth of mine nearly 2 years ago. I don’t have good teeth. If I were a horse, I’d have been put down decades ago. Nobody’s fault. Mom always sent me to my favorite dentist, Doc Schroeder. And I’m a faithful with my brushing, and flossing to the point I drive my family nuts. Every time I eat anything, I have to bush my teeth. Mouth is full of bridges where little particles get stuck and drive my tongue and head to distraction. I faithfully carry toothpaste, brush, dental pick and floss in my purse and lunch bag at work.
|The guards tower. There were several escapes, botched and successful…|
I had this root canal tooth that broke off at my gum line. Went to the dentist with the idea I’d probably have to sink a couple grand in a new bridge. Not so fast Neese. Bridges are a thing of the past. Not hip or cool. They hurt the integrity of the teeth on either side. (I guess I’m rather short on integrity with my mouth and teeth). Now we do implants. No, not the boob kind, the toothy kind. They did their hard sell this way. You get the tooth pulled and have a bone graft which takes a few months to heal (so you can keep paying). Then they start the implant which takes several months (so you can keep paying). By the time 18 months have passed, you have a beautiful permanent tooth for $4,600.00. (But that’s ok because you’ve had so many months to pay).
|The Dark Hole. Solitary was horrible in this cage…|
There’s just no way I can spend $4,600.00. ON ONE TOOTH. Enter Mary Jane. Since residing in Yuma part time for the last few years, she got acquainted with a fabulous dentist in Mexico, about 20 miles away. A mere pittance compared to American dentistry. And he went to school in Michigan. Well hook me up, Sista. Which is exactly what she did after she heard what I needed done. We crossed the border by 8:30 and I was getting the prep work for a couple of crowns and new bridge by 10. Temporaries are in place until next week. Thanks MJ. Now back to my jail house story.
|Room without a view. Each cell housed 6 men in this tiny room…|
We started off our second day by meeting a large group for breakfast at a local senior resort park Clubhouse. Those in attendance? All Iowans. What a hoot! About 40 folks showed up. Right here in Yuma. One lady I’ve thought about several times over the years, but hadn’t seen for a half century. She was an elementary grade school teacher of mine when I was very young. Her name is Myrna Ver Hoef.
|The crimes they committed. Some were such minor infractions…|
Now most of my teachers were never of great importance to me. I was a lazy, do-as-little-as-possible student during my reign of terror school days. The social aspect was vitally important to me, the study part, not so much. One of my many regrets. But Mrs. Ver Hoef played a very important role in my life. She happened to be my second grade teacher, which is the year I lost my 12 year old brother, Larry. Myrna showed me so much love and compassion that year. Way beyond necessary and far above her piddly pay grade I’m sure. It was lovely to see her and we hope to get together again before I leave.
|The Yuma Territorial Prison Band. Unbelievable…|
After meeting scads of people, enjoying food and fellowship, Les suggested we tour a rather famous prison. The Yuma Territorial Prison is right off the interstate. It looks as though it was carved right out of the rocky hillside. It was. The prison opened in 1876, before Arizona was even a state, thus the Territorial part. The charter members of this exclusive club were especially lucky. They were selected to build the prison that would house themselves. Fun. During the 33 years this facility remained open, about 3,000 men and 29 women would spend some serious time in Yuma Territorial Prison. Although primitive, the prison had many modern conveniences not yet available to the general public, including electricity and forced ventilation system with running fans! The library boasted 2,000 books. There were 2 bathtubs and 3 showers. Everyone got a shower once a week whether they needed it or not. All the modern conveniences. Until you noticed the actual prison part, which was known as the Hell Hole.
|Interesting stats they kept…|
There was one cell in the side of the rocky hill for serious offenders. Maybe the first solitary confinement. Called the ‘dark cell,’ it was more like a cave. The only light it offered was through a small vent hole in the roof. Unless you well were under 5 feet tall, standing upright was impossible. The occupants (sometimes more than one offender) were fed only bread and water once a day. No bathroom facilities of any kind, the place smelled absolutely horrible. The guards would regularly toss snakes and scorpions down the vent hole for laughs. The prison on a whole was insufferable. The desert heat made it feel like an inferno. The prison was surrounded by rivers, quick sand and the endless desert. Ball and chains were attached to many legs.
|Ball and chain, no joke…|
The cells were minuscule, and housed 6 guys per unit. The metal bunks looked about 30 inches wide, 3 to a stack. No mattress, just a hard board with about 2 feet in between the other stack of 3. Gravel floor, one little piss pot to do your business. We had to duck to get into the women’s section, which I think housed only 2 gals to a room. The warden and guards seemed quite ill-at-ease with the women prisoners. Like they didn’t quite know what to do with them. One of the ladies, Pearl Hart wound up pregnant during her stint in Yuma and gave birth to a darling baby boy who remained with his mommy for 2 years. I believe the governor pardoned her just to be rid of her. The guards wrote how relieved they were when mom and toddler was released because she was such a trouble maker. Nobody missed Pearl, but everyone missed her little boy!
|Pearl Hart looks innocent enough, but she was a piece of work…|
Some of the crimes and misdemeanors were almost laughable, unless you’d already been convicted and sentenced for it. One guy was sentenced because he refused to marry the judge’s homely daughter. Adultery, seduction, selling booze to Indians, prize fighting, polygamy. Crazy stuff. The youngest inmate was 14, the oldest 88.
|One male lifer, when not visiting The Dark Cell, knit these beauties…|
The Yuma Territorial Prison closed in 1909 when a new state prison was erected in Florence, Arizona. Yuma then used the prison from 1910-1914, wait for it-as their local High School. Story goes that Phoenix High School meandered down for a football game during Yuma’s stint of prison turned high school. Yuma was teased unmercifully, especially when Yuma score and went ahead. Phoenix started taunting Yuma, yelling, “Criminals, Criminals! ” Over and over. Well, the joke was on Phoenix. Yuma loved the name and adopted it as their team motto. Kept it over a hundred years now, though usually shortened to just “The Crims!” The high school’s merchandise shop is aptly named, “The Cell Block.” Clever. Go Crims!!
|The name stuck since 1910. Love it. Yuma High Criminals…|
Who knew all this history lurking near the hi way in Yuma? Certainly not this Iowa/Michigan grandma. I was truly fascinated by our little one hour stop at Yuma’s Territorial Prison. Consider this your history lesson for the day. Next up, a lesson concerning deserts. You’re welcome…
|Ha-ha! The Yuma High School 2016 Wrestling Team. Go Crims…|