JACKSON, MI – To coincide with the opening of the new Cell Block 7 Prison Museum at the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Blackman Township, the Citizen Patriot interviewed several people who spent time at the facility when it was fully functional.
They included former corrections officer Don Brown, nurse Kathy Johns and former inmate Michael Humphreys, all of Jackson.
Here are their stories:
By his own account, 33-year-old Michael Humphreys "became a man" while in prison.
At age 18, the Pontiac native was sentenced to serve six months at the Hillsdale County Jail on fraudulent check charges. Humphreys' idea of what prison life was supposed to be like led to a much longer stint, however.
"While I was in the Hillsdale County Jail, I assaulted a guy who was there for being a pedophile," Humphreys said. "I have a cousin who is in prison doing a life sentence, and I've always known that's what happens in there.
"I kind of thought, 'That's what should happen – this guy deserves extra punishment.'"
The assault, coupled with the violation of Humphreys' probation, led to a five-year sentence to be served in state prison. Humphreys' first year was served at the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility, now called the Parnall Correctional Facility.
Humphreys vividly remembers entering Egeler Reception and Guidance Center, where inmates were checked in at the massive facility, which was at one time the largest walled prison in the world.
"I was freshly 18 years old, and I still remember taking my stuff and the door closing," Humphreys said. "I thought, 'Man, this is it. This is prison.'"
Doing time was tough, Humphreys said, but it was more because of mental anguish than a vicious atmosphere, but Parnall was "dirty and the food was terrible." Still, elements filmmakers tend to focus on were very real.
"There were gangs and segregation," Humphreys said. "There was some homosexuality, there were prison tattoos. There were drugs and knives and women (correctional officers) messing around with inmates."
Humphreys also described the in-house bartering system, which at the time was based on postage stamps as currency.
"Stamps could be used for snack cakes, cigarettes," he said. "Heck, even an adult magazine could be rented for a couple of stamps."
Humphreys feels the prison experience, for guards as well as inmates, has a lot to do with the attitude of the individual. Those who are honest and respectful typically have an easier time.
Following Humphreys' assault of the inmate in Hillsdale, which he says he deeply regrets because of the emotional hurt he caused the man and his family, Humphreys tried to be a model inmate during the remainder of his incarceration. That included time at the Baraga, Newberry, Macomb, Marquette and Pugsley facilities, among others.
He completed a required year-long anger management course, which he feels did him a lot of good, earned his GED and often volunteered for extra work. Therefore, he was treated well by guards, especially at facilities in Baraga and Traverse City, which he described as much being tamer than Parnall.
"Baraga and Pugsley (in Traverse City) were two of the best places to do time," he said. "I mean, if you had to do time."
As hard as prison was, Humphreys feels he became a better person while inside.
"Parnall was the place that made me change my view on a lot of things," he said. "I'm not a super spiritual person, but I had something like an out-of-body experience while I was sitting on a park bench.
"Everything got really loud and I could see everybody, but they were like in slow motion. I was looking at those people and thought, 'This is not me. This is not what I want to be like.'"
Humphreys was released in 2003 after serving three years. He was on parole for two years and "hasn't had any problems since." ..Source..w/33 more pics of RGC.. by Zeke Jennings