I would call La Modelo sort of the Alcatraz of Barcelona, and free public visits were recently offered as it is now out-of-date, closed, empty, eerie, haunted, and scheduled for a major gutting and/or demolition.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.
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.
…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!
The still-active FAA radar dome sits above the abandoned Air Force Station/prison site:
The Bureau of Prisons seal by the main offices slowly disintegrates as the passage of time and the elements do their relentless work:
Main offices? Purpose? For visitors?
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:
The visiting area as of the fall of 2017:
The sunset view from one of the bedroom suites:
A toilet of penal luxury in its time:
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:
The graffiti is everywhere, as it always is in such places:
It appears the handball court makes a nice secluded gangland bonfire site and art studio:
A basketball court with a view of the empty (yet teeming with hardy non-human life) Mohave Desert:
An eerie eye peers out onto a courtyard:
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:
This dark corner must have tremendous meaning to someone, somewhere:
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”:
This I saw on the way out, posted on a low cinder block wall. Oops:
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).
2016 Black & White Magazine, Spotlight Award Winner! (Issue: June, 2017, #121)
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