I am fascinated by the old Lorton Prison which closed in 2002 but I had driven by some of the facilities for years and always wondered what life was like behind the barbed wire. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ever want to have an up close look at a functioning prison. But when the prison converted to an Art Center plus many other things, I had the opportunity to walk around what used to be parts of the prison. The Fairfax County website says, “When Theodore Roosevelt commissioned a new prison for the District of Columbia at the beginning of the 20th century, he envisioned a place where inmates could be rehabilitated through a hard day’s work. Rehabilitation, he believed, could be facilitated if prisoners were provided with fresh air, natural light, and a place to live and work that would instill a sense of order and responsibility through the design and layout of buildings and space. So with this thinking in mind, the Lorton Reformatory became more like a campus than a traditional inner- city jail and a model for Progressive-Era correctional facilities.
Over the years, as Lorton grew to accommodate over 8,000 inmates and attitudes and challenges within the field of corrections changed, the appearance of the facility changed as well. By the mid 1980s, the Lorton complex consisted of four separate prisons and over a million square feet of space for adult male offenders and young male and women offenders as well. In addition, Lorton became the location for a premiere Nike missile site during the 1950s and the Resource Recovery Facility for the county in the late 1980s.
Today, amidst all the changes that have taken place, the colonial-style courtyards and arcades built by Lorton inmates from handmade bricks commemorate a rich and diverse history that inspires us to plan for the future of this former prison site.”
Here are some shots from the prison site now.