Yima Territorial Prison History

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Over a century ago in 1875 the construction began in what is now known as the Yuma Territorial Prison. Known to be one of many of Yuma’s historical artifacts the Territorial Prison was in operation for thirty three years, holding up to 3,069 prisoners and obtaining its first prisoner on July 1, 1876. Although the Yuma Territorial Prison was viewed as having a bad reputation, it actually treated the inmates fairly well. The prison maintained rules which were enforced and followed by the inmates. The way they lived within the prison and sadly the way some died while incarcerated there at the prison.
East of Gila River, north of the Colorado River, town of Yuma to the west, located on a top of a hill, was the prison known as The Yuma Territorial
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Some inmates called it the “ snake den “ maybe because a prisoner got bitten by a snake while in there ( Murphy 1999 ). The dark cell which was a room that was fifteen feet by fifteen feet and contained an iron cage, the only source of light they had came from a small vent in the ceiling that is a reason why it was nicknamed the dark cell. Contact with any other inmates while in the dark cell was forbidden. The longest someone spent in the “ dark cell “ was one hundred and twenty days, the inmate never spent a day in there again! Furthermore while in the cell, they were only given bread and water once a day. Inmates were sent to the Dark Cell when they disobeyed, such as if they did not go to bed when told to, were not clean in person, or their clothing and if their cell was not clean, were not quiet, orderly and decent in his/her behavior. Did not wake up when told to, did not shave once per week and did not get a haircut once per month, and many more.( Rules and Regulations for Yuma Territorial Prison 1895 ) If they did not get sent into the “ Dark Cell “, they had a chain that had a heavy ball attached to their ankles, or the chain was attached to the floor of their cell and to their ankle. In all the thirty three years of operation, only one hundred and eleven deaths occurred. Six inmates died from suicide, five from a work accident, two were murder from another inmate, and eight inmates died trying to escape and fatally shot by the guards trying to stop them from escaping. Fact about those eight people who died, they were counted as one of the one hundred and forty inmates that tried escaping and out of those one hundred and forty inmates, only twenty six were successful and escaped. Anyways, one prisoner was executed in the Yuma courtyard, and the rest were natural deaths, like disease, old age, tuberculosis, and many other reasons. ( Tuberculosis: The Real Killer
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