Everyone's heard of the Dwight correctional facility just outside Dwight, IL. It housed prisoners there for years and was shut down just a few years ago. It was part of a grinding penal system and no one who came out of there did so without a few scars and bad memories. But it wasn't always that way.
In the early 1930's Illinois prisons were dank, overcrowded, and sanitary conditions were fair at best. Dismal at worst. The Women's Clubs of Illinois undertook a project to build an institution strictly for incarcerated women and in 1931 at a cost of $850,000.00 a state of the art facility was built in the farmlands outside Dwight. The location was chosen for it's pleasant countryside, flora and fauna because it was believed that "Beautiful surroundings, orderly training and kindliness would overcome the effects of bad breeding, environment, and adverse mental conditions".
Here are a few lines from the dedication brochure that was given out on opening day: "Believing idleness is a contributing cause for the unrest and discontent so prevalent in institutions the policy that has been approved allows for 8 hours of work or school 6 days a week", "The commercial laundry offers an excellent opportunity for those adapted to this work-hand laundry being part of the training. The industrial building includes space for power sewing machines, with opportunity for hand sewing, mending, fancy work and the factory type of sewing. The garden of 12 acres, the care of the flowers and shrubs, 130 sheep and 2000 chickens and the farm work provide the outdoor work so beneficial to certain groups. Home economics and canning form part of the work"
Recreation at the reformatory included community singing, dancing,movies, and in the summer months there was baseball, volleyball, croquet, and horseshoe pitching. Each inmate had her own closet, a bed, a dresser and a rocking chair! Inmates ate in a spacious dining room with tables and chairs and even had a sun porch to spend cool evenings on.
The facility is state owned property and is strictly off limits but if you ever get down that way it's worth a moment to pulls off the road and snap a picture of the stately castle like towers and turrets of this dream that ultimately failed.
I'd like to give a big shout out to the Dwight Historical Society for graciously allowing me to post several of their photo's of the interior of the reformatory. It's much appreciated!