Jefferson City inmates design penitentiary Web site

Monday, September 7, 2009 | 10:30 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Several Jefferson City inmates have helped create a Web site promoting tours of a former prison, Missouri State Penitentiary.

A dozen inmates at the Jefferson City Correctional Center helped create the site for what was considered the largest prisons in the world during the 1880s.


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Kenneth Gilbert and Dennis Powell led the project despite very limited access to the Internet in their lifetimes.

Warden David Dormire said the efforts were an example of the talent inside the prison.

The inmates logged more than 1,400 hours on the project.

Gilbert had about a week of experience tinkering with his father's Commodore 64 prior to working with the computerized graphic arts machines in 1997 to make license plate stickers.

"As soon as I started working on a computer, I was on it all the time," Gilbert said.

Gilbert taught himself the code and programming and Powell focused on the creative opportunities computers offer.

"That's amazing, that they could create a site like this," said Steve Picker, executive director of Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It makes the site special to have someone who was housed here who created this. They had firsthand knowledge."

Since they had not seen other Web sites, they had to depend on their own imaginations, skills and research.

"We tried to do some things that were not predictable," Powell said.

The site gets information from Mark Schreiber's "Somewhere in Time: 170 Years of Missouri Corrections" and video clips dating back to the 1930s. The site has photos, escapes, executions, infamous inmates and recaps of the 1954 riot. Bank robber "Pretty Boy" Floyd and boxer Sonny Liston spent time there, as did James Earl Ray, who escaped and later was convicted of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Before Missouri State Penitentiary was decommissioned in 2004, Powell and staff had started collecting photos and history from the prison site.

"Within this setting, we have few opportunities to do much of significance," Powell said. "Before we were us, we were you. We didn't cease to be intelligent or caring. This for me was an opportunity to rise above the stereotypes and negativity, to say I'm not worthless."

When the inmates handed off the final disc to Picker recently, they held a ceremony to commend the hard work and generosity of those who helped the project come to fruition.

"Thanks for trusting us to do this," Powell said.

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Karen Wood March 11, 2010 | 4:40 p.m.

My grandfather served time there in 1930-1931. Do you have any lists of the inmates during that time? Is there any way to see their records?

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joeanne Matthews January 21, 2011 | 3:49 p.m.

I trying to found out information on Thomas Moore who was executed in 1957, any information would be helpful.


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