prison

La Model (La Modelo) Prison, Barcelona

La Modelo, #23. Barcelona, 2017
La Modelo, #23. Barcelona, 2017

 

I would call La Modelo sort of the Alcatraz of Barcelona, and free public visits were recently offered as it is now out-of-date, closed, empty, eerie, haunted, and scheduled for a major gutting and/or demolition. So off we went.

Both Alcatraz and La Modelo (la Model in Catalan) are islands of a sort…the first surrounded by water, the latter surrounded by city. And both are historical icons for their respective cultures.

Alcatraz, however, only lasted 29 years or so and proved to be too expensive to operate for the relatively few number of convicts. La Modelo, on the other hand, was an enlightened (for the time) attempt to treat prisioners in a way that might lead to rehabilitation (imagine that!) and it stayed in business for 113 years. Despite the intentions, the Barcelona facility was certainly not always used in the most enlightened of ways as political prisoners were frequent guests.

And then there was the one in-house execution by garrote vil with which I now have a sort of personal connection. More on that with the images that follow below the break.

 

La Modelo, #25, Barcelona, 2017 (From an early 20th century exhibit photo.)
La Modelo, #25, Barcelona, 2017 (From an early 20th century exhibit photo.)

 

But, for all that, it really was supposed to be a “model prison”, thus the name. Take a look at the design in the picture-of-a-picture above and note the six radiating wings which held prisoners, each wing dedicated to certain types of cons based on their characteristics and behavior. Especially note the tall tower in the middle. This was Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon concept (late 18th centiry) brought to life. It was all about control, observation, and subjugation of all prisoners from that one central, elevated, point–the all-seeing eye.

La Modelo ceased operations just this past June and the air was still heavy with history and tragedy.

Here are a few photographs from our visit, along with commentary–including the story of my personal connection to that execution I mentioned. For the curious photog, all of these were handheld shots captured by the small Sony RX100iv, often at ISO 1600 when indoors… Click here if you would like to read on and see the prison images.

Somewhere in the Mohave desert…

Abandoned, #15. Mohave Desert. California, 2017
Abandoned, #15. Mohave Desert. California, 2017

 

…you will find this abandoned site. It was originally an Air Force Station, operating ground-controlled intercept radars, from the 1950s into the 70s, then the place was converted into a minimum security prison (a “Club Fed”!) from the mid-70s to the year 2000 (See the end of this post for some curious factoids).

Flirting with ghosts…faint voices floating by on the dry desert winds…

I didn’t see the No Trespassing signs (8 1/2 x 11 photocopies on a wall) until I was on my way out. Regardless, I feel like it is important to document such sites and their reaction to the wind, rain, human abuse, and the passage of time. Touch nothing, take nothing but pictures, and be careful where you step…and definitely stay away from the radar dome as that is an active FAA site.

Better yet: If you see signs, comply, and don’t trespass!

With a little internet research, you can find a pile of interesting historical facts about this place.

 

The still-active FAA radar dome sits above the abandoned Air Force Station/prison site:

Abandoned, #1. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #1. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

The Bureau of Prisons seal by the main offices slowly disintegrates as the passage of time and the elements do their relentless work: 

Abandoned, #3. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #3. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

Main offices? Purpose? For visitors?

Abandoned, #4. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #4. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

I’m not sure if the “Don Vito” here refers to Don Vito Corleone of Godfather fame, and I am also not sure if any of the many Don Vito’s in history actually came up with this quote. But, it is indeed a wise quote:

Abandoned, #5. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #5. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

The visiting area as of the fall of 2017:

Abandoned, #6. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #6. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

The sunset view from one of the bedroom suites:

Abandoned, #7. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #7. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

A toilet of penal luxury in its time:

Abandoned, #8. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #8. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

I’m guessing young vandals (or, perhaps, Goths or Visigoths), threw these mattresses out of the building so they could take turns jumping onto them from the roof. Just a guess, though:

Abandoned, #9. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #9. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

The graffiti is everywhere, as it always is in such places:

Abandoned, #12. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #12. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

It appears the handball court makes a nice secluded gangland bonfire site and art studio:

Abandoned, #13. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #13. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

A basketball court with a view of the empty (yet teeming with hardy non-human life) Mohave Desert:

Abandoned, #14. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #14. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

An eerie eye peers out onto a courtyard:

Abandoned, #15. Mohave Desert. California, 2017
Abandoned, #15. Mohave Desert. California, 2017

 

This looks like it was once fairly nice family housing for the Air Force Station folks. From what I have read, the structures were converted into group housing for the low-risk inmates:

Abandoned, #17. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #17. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

This dark corner must have tremendous meaning to someone, somewhere:

Abandoned, #18. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #18. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

The slots below were telephone booths. Imagine the place full of inmates calling home to family or friends (or to their stock brokers or lawyers) far away. On the vertical posts, it said “Monitored” and “Vigilado”:

Abandoned, #19. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #19. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

This I saw on the way out, posted on a low cinder block wall. Oops:

Abandoned, #21. Mohave Desert, California, 2017
Abandoned, #21. Mohave Desert, California, 2017

 

Some interesting details about the site when it was refurbished as a prison…

 

–This “Security Level 1” facility housed some 300 to 500+ mostly white-collar-type criminals (“paper crimes” mostly).

–The prison had no walls–unless you interpret the vast desert expanses surrounding the facility as “walls”. Very few tried to escape as getting caught likely meant getting sent to a “real” prison  with all the abuse that implied. 

–The prison included dorms, classrooms (profs from Barstow Community College came calling), various workshops, a chapel, a medical clinic, a fire department, racquetball and basketball courts, two libraries (one specializing in law since many inmates worked on their own cases to some degree), and so on.

–Inmates were paid a small wage to work for Unicor’s Vehicular Component Factory, fixing up government vehicles. Rehabilitation work at its best, I’m sure.

–Some of the more interesting characters who resided here: Grant Affleck (real estate fraud–victims were primarily working class Mormons), Ivan Boesky (insider trading; he was mostly at Lompoc, but apparently served a few months here, too), Senator Joseph B. Montoya (a CA state senator convicted of corruption and misuse of funds), Michael Milken (insider trading; still alive and now worth a couple of billion dollars), Harold Rossfields Smith (embezzled over $20 million from Wells Fargo bank–money not recovered), David Jenkins (Olympic athlete convicted of distributing steroids), and Rueben “Porn King” Sturman (convicted of tax evasion and eventually of extortion, briefly escaped, then eventually died in federal prison in 1997).