Maryland House of Correction in Jessup set to be torn down

For almost 20 years, Reginald Walton could judge the tenor of his day at Maryland House of Correction by the deafening sound of inmates as he climbed the stairs into one of the country's oldest and most storied prisons.

The former correctional officer returned Saturday to take a last look at the sprawling, brick-and-stone Italianate structure that for 128 years housed some of Maryland's most violent predators. The state is preparing to tear down the antiquated facility, closed in 2007.

As he examined the 6-by-9-foot cinder block cells and walked through the dining hall where the inmates once protested their prison work wages, Walton said his memories were still vivid.

Hundreds of current and former corrections workers came to tour the Jessup prison, which was shut down in March 2007 by Gov. Martin O'Malley after an especially violent year, in which two correctional officers had been stabbed. One, Officer David McGuinn, was killed.

The prison will be open for a public tour on Aug. 4 and 5, before its deconstruction reaches full swing. Inmates are taking the prison apart piece by piece to recover artifacts and materials that can be repurposed.

"When I got home, most days my wife would ask me, 'How was your day?'" said Walton of Chase, who retired from the prison in 2003. "I could not tell her I saw someone get stabbed in the neck. I could not tell her I saw someone get stabbed in the eye. I could not tell her I broke somebody's rib.

"I'd just tell her, 'It was just another Cut day.'"

"The Cut" is an old nickname for the prison, a term originally used because of the prison's proximity to the B&O; Railroad's path, or cut, through the woods. Old-timers say the nickname took on a different meaning as violence in the prison persisted, including riots in 1945, 1964 and 1972.

Gary N. Hornbaker, the last warden to oversee the prison, is in charge of its deconstruction. He said the prison has a reputation for its violence, but the facility was also a place where thousands of men and women chose to change their lives.

"There are a lot of individuals out in society now that benefited from their incarceration here and are better people for it," Hornbaker said.

Following the violent streaks in summer of 2006 and spring of 2007, O'Malley, along with Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard, ordered the 842 inmates of the maximum-security House of Correction to new facilities within a matter of days. The 19th-century prison was considered unsafe by many because it lacks some modern-day safety features.

The inmates who are taking the prison apart will learn skills during the process, such as asbestos abatement, said Mark A. Vernarelli, spokesman for the prison system. The method of deconstruction is expected to save the state millions of dollars. To date, inmates have recovered $80,000 worth of materials, including furniture.

Bob Allen of Timonium brought his wife and three children to visit the prison, where he worked for about two years as a corrections officer.

"I'm kind of sad they're tearing this place down," Allen said.

If you go

The Maryland House of Correction, on House of Correction Drive in Jessup, will open Aug. 4 and 5 from 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. for public tours.

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