The Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City is as formidable as ever, but the purpose of the 150-year-old building has changed. No longer a place to house prisoners, it has become one of the most in-demand destinations at the state capital.

The penitentiary now offers tours called, "Do Some Time." Several types are available:

• Public tours — A three-hour mystery tour with a former inmate as your guide; a two-hour general history tour; and a three-hour in-depth history tour (with a minimum age of 10).

• Ghost tours — Two and a three-hour ghost tours; a three-hour ghost hunt class (with a minimum age of 14); and an overnight investigation (with a minimum age of 18).

• Private tours — For groups of 20 or more, there are private history and ghost tours. Visitors can also sign up for a three-hour photo tour with access to photograph the penitentiary alongside other photographers.

The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836 and closed in 2004. It is the oldest prison west of the Mississippi river and housed 4,500 inmates at its peak.

The tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable about the prison's history. One tour guide worked as a maintenance worker in the penitentiary, for example. His personal stories brought the tour to life as visitors moved past the cell blocks.

Over the years, a number of infamous people were housed in the state penitentiary, at least for a while. They include Katie Richards O'Hare, head of the Socialist Labor Party who was convicted of espionage in 1918; Emma Goldman, another activist who influenced the development of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU; and "Pretty Boy" Floyd, an outlaw who robbed banks and murdered several police officers.

More recently, boxer Charles "Sonny" Liston served time for robbery there, and James Earl Ray was sentenced to 20 years in the penitentiary after robbing a Kroger store in St. Louis. He would later assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Purchasing a ticket for a tour also gives you admission to the museum with old photos and items from the time when the penitentiary was in operation. Or you can purchase a $2 ticket for just the museum.

Reservations are suggested and tickets range from $15 to $26, depending on the tour you choose.

  • Community Reporter, Spring 2019 Studying Photojournalism Reach me at or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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