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The Forgotten Prison on Kennison Mountain - Part 4 of 4
March 11, 2012 - Jodi Burnsworth
(Previous Post: see link at right)
Mill Point may have enjoyed the cream of federal prisoners, but there were still problems. The camp’s Inmate Advisory Council handled many themselves. In 1944 the Council made 75 good proposals to the administration, who accepted the ideas because they developed trust and respect between inmate and officer. The men elected their own council, which took care of petty squabbles.
How did an inmate get into trouble? By refusing to work, making moonshine, fighting, malingering, extreme cursing, stealing, bringing a snake into the dorm, or smoking after lights out. Punishments included being excluded from the weekly movie, or being forbidden to write anyone except his mother. If an inmate stayed outside prison boundaries, he lost the privilege of Sunday hikes in the back country with the prison group. However, rule infringement was never a serious problem at Mill Point; in the first six years, there were only 150 violations in a population of 250 men. Alcatraz it wasn’t.
As ideal as it seemed for inmates and prison personnel, Mill Point was closed in 1959, and the area is now part of the Cranberry Wilderness. All the buildings have been torn down, even the foundations are gone. In the fall before writing this article, Maureen walked the beautiful valley with Doug Chadwick. She recalls, “The only sounds were our infrequent voices, the wind in the spruces, and the caw of distant crows. One cement step, a row of iris descended from those Sally Thieman planted 35 years ago, a gravel road grown up with goldenrod and ironweed – not much remains of the bustling area. Doug bounded through golden, knee-high grasses, searching for elusive bits of metal or concrete. Now the backpackers walk by to Cranberry trailheads and never dream that just 25 years ago this wide, empty valley was the site of a thriving federal prison.”
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Winter view of the former Mill Point Federal Prison area. Photo courtesy of Zachary D. Swick.