Inmate-made trinkets, prison items, on display at Jefferson City pub

Sunday, April 11, 2010 | 4:02 p.m. CDT; updated 5:11 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 11, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY Over the years, inmates at a now-closed Missouri prison spent their time crafting everything from one-of-a-kind gifts to contraband.

Their handiwork and other prison items will go on display April 18 at a Jefferson City bar called Prison Brews. It is located two blocks from the old Missouri State Penitentiary.

Dave Dormire, the superintendent of the Jefferson City Correctional Center that replaced the old prison, came up with the idea of having a memorabilia show-and-tell after hearing from current and former corrections employees and family members that they had items with stories behind them.

"We believe people all over this town have items keepsakes, mementos," Dormire told the Jefferson City News Tribune. "This is a way of generating some interest in the tours and the history of the Missouri State Penitentiary."

Organizers hope to see all kinds of items — from badges and photos to handmade items.

People might want to bring goods made with inmate labor and sold commercially. Over the years, inmates made furniture, saddles, clothing, footwear and brooms.

Organizers say some items may have a darker allure, such as contraband or makeshift weapons. Other items might be sentimental, such as gifts made for family.

Mark Schreiber, a collector and historian who used to be an assistant warden at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, said it's novelty items that really show the craftsmanship and skills of the inmates.

"We want to bring people together, so they get an idea of the ingenuity of these men," Schreiber said. "Some of this work is unbelievably unique."

The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836. When it closed in 2004, it was the oldest continuously operated prison west of the Mississippi River.

Schreiber said that as the area around the old prison is redeveloped, the hope is that a museum will be created to retain artifacts not just as part of the institution's history, but also to preserve the memory of those who spent time there.

He said the upcoming event "will give more emphasis to the history and sociological significance of the old Missouri State Penitentiary."

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