Inside Joliet: Behind the Bars of Hollywood's Most Famous Prison Backdrop - KMSP-TV

Inside Joliet: Behind the Bars of Hollywood's Most Famous Prison Backdrop


Since the Old Joliet Prison closed its doors in 2002, cameras crews have come to capture the compound for film, but FOX Chicago News went beyond the glamour and the wrought iron.

From supporting roles to the main attraction, Hollywood's most famous films feature the massive limestone walls as a backdrop, far from the glitz of the movie industry capitol. “The Blues Brothers,” “Natural Born Killers” and “Prison Break” exhibit the facility in its heyday.

But in 2012, it’s a different story - a different script - inside Joliet. The eleven acres abandoned and left to their own devices is deplorable.

Lester Kevin Senor has worked at the Illinois Department of Corrections for more than a decade, the Old Joliet Prison is the prime location for peeling paint, flooding and decaying debris and the new home for thieves.

“Vagrants tend to come inside and they're looking for things,” Senor said. “Like other people, they're just trying to find a place to get out of the weather. And of course there's a copper issue that's going on.”

Offenders serving two years to life stayed inside the West Cell House. Odd numbers name each cell.

“On the back side of this gallery, are the even numbers,” Senor said, “which is the South Side.”

The numbers remain in tact while the structure rots, rusts and remains unkempt.

“It's hard to see,” Senor said. “The inmates that we had here would take care for our grounds. Like for instance, this was a Japanese plant and it was manicured to the T - meaning that it would look like somebody's home hedges, the grass would be cut, it would be kept and for what an inmate would have, it would be sort of immaculate - you would walk out here and you wouldn't think that you're in a prison.”

From the toilet, to the personal items, most of the prison - even the inmates' cells - remains how it was left a decade ago, a far cry from the Hollywood sets and infamous inmates that made the Joliet Correctional Center famous.

Serial killer John Wayne Gacy convicted of 33 murders briefly called one Joliet cell home, before he was executed by lethal injection in 1994 at Statesville Correctional Center.

Built by 160 convicts in 1858, the facility's first prisoner stayed in the shoe - it remains untouched, bunk and all.

“We don't do any maintenance to the building,” Senor said. “We just come by, there's a team that comes by on each shift and does a surveillance of the outside grounds.”

At first glance, the castle-like structure nestled between barbed and Constantine wire could have monetary potential. But left unmanned there are no plans for its future.

Two years ago, the facility's parking lot was transformed into the Old Joliet Prison Park. The site is free and open to the public.

State Senator A.J. Wilhelmi has discussed converting the prison to a tourist destination, but needs funding to do so.

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