Closing ceremonies draw over 500 to historic prison

More than 500 people turned out for the formal decommissioning of the historic Nevada State Prison on Friday.

Many of those in the crowd were former guards, officers and wardens who worked there - some coming from as far as the East Coast. But the crowd also included numerous people, many of them women who live in the capital but never had the opportunity to tour the prison.

One former warden said there were even a few former inmates in the audience.

"I've got connections to this prison," said Phil Earl of the Nevada Historical Society in Reno. "My grandfather did about four and a half years."

He said his grandfather "got talked into taking part in a train robbery."

"There were seven of them. Two died of their wounds and five went to prison and they only got $10 in the robbery," he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval praised current Director of Corrections Greg Cox for handling the shutdown of the prison. Out of more than 170 employees who worked at NSP, Cox managed to reduce layoffs to 29.

"Director Cox is to be commended for mitigating the impact on staff," he said.

Retired state Archivist Guy Rocha told the crowd the only prison west of the Mississippi older than NSP, which opened in 1862, is California's San Quentin, founded in 1852.

"Today recognizes 150 years of the good, the bad and the ugly," he said.

He also pointed out that the prison was home to a casino - unique in the U.S. - for inmates from 1932 when casino gambling was legalized until 1967 when the state shut it down.

Former Director of Corrections Bob Bayer said one thing many people don't know about NSP is that, until the first women's prison was built in 1964, it housed female inmates as well as men in a section above the administrative offices.

Former NSP warden and retired director of corrections Glen Whorton said he isn't nostalgic about the collection of buildings - some more than 100 years old.

"This is not exactly a monument to success," he said.

He said it's "an old, tired facility" that has been replaced by much more efficient, safer prisons.

"I'm nostalgic about the people who were here," he said.

Whorton said when he started in 1973, most of the guards were veterans, many of them combat veterans.

"They were hard people but that's what they needed to be," he said. "It was back in the day when there was no corrections. It was a prison. It was to contain and control."

In addition to Whorton and Bayer, former Corrections Directors Ron Angelone and Howard Skolnick turned out for the event along with former wardens including John Ignacio, Mike Budge, Ed Pogue and Greg Smith.

Bayer said seeing all those people brought back 'an awful lot of memories."

"I'm seeing people I haven't seen for years," he said.

He said he hopes some how the money to turn it into a museum can be found.

Budge said he was pleased such a large number of former co-workers and friends turned out. He said his goal even when he was warden 20 years ago was to eventually turn the prison into a museum.

"Seeing everybody that worked this place is great," he said.

"I hate to see the place close," said Jerry Adamson who worked as a correctional officer there from 1985 until retiring in 2008. But he said it was great so see so many former staff.

Robert Love, who retired after 33 years at NSP, said he is hopeful the state can do something like that.

"It's amazing to think this thing is closed," he said.

Jim McHugh, who worked at NSP nine years before retiring in 2006, said the closure was "kind of like losing a lady."

McHugh also helped open Ely State Prison, which replaced NSP as the maximum security prison in 1989, and, later, Lovelock, which has become home to most of the sex offenders in the system.

Only one part of the old prison will still be maintained in operating condition - the execution chamber - until a budget to build a new chamber is approved.


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