Inside Century Correctional Institution

July 15, 2013

Today, we begin our  look inside the Century Correctional Institution with a trip through security and a look at what’s behind the fence and razor wire. Our series will continue this week inside the medical unit, the chapel, the prison’s most secure housing unit and more.

No weapons, no drugs. Must have a picture ID. Subject to search. No cell phones, no cameras. No smartphones.

No smartphone? That one seemed a little harsh and hard to swallow. I live with my smartphone in running — I always figured the paramedics would pry it from my hands one day.

Otherwise the briefing on entering the Century Correctional Institution seemed simple enough. The same rules apply to family visiting prisoners on the weekends, but we were getting the all-access pass, far beyond the visitation room and yard.

We were told the no camera and no phone rules did not apply to us — Tallahassee had pre-approved for the tour. But no photos of locks, guard control rooms or anything else related to security. And no photos that showed the identifiable faces of a prisoner. Seems that the state’s rules say prisoners have a right to privacy behind bars unless they sign a photo release.

Col. Joseph Schwarz is in charge of keeping the prisoners in and the rest of the world out as security boss. A commanding voice, with a bit of an accent, he seemed fit to play himself in a movie giving orders and watching over a Southern prison chain gang.

Standing under the razor wire that surrounds the 40-acre CCI campus, the barbs look like enough deterrent to keep one on the proper side of the fence.

Then it was through the gate, five people at a time on a Community Partnership Tour. Gates and doors must close behind those  entering the facility before the one in front opens. There was no slamming sound like the movies. If you are headed into CCI to begin your life sentence, you’ll miss the gate slamming closed sound that momma warned you about. Just the sound of a chain link fence gate closing. And an electrical hum as a lock is opened and closed from a control room. Still, it’s hard to imagine what the feeling would be like headed in for 10, 20 years or even life.

In the guard tower, those watching over Century Correctional from above are armed with different weapons. One of the weapons is a shotgun. Aim is not terribly important with a shotgun…it’s not terribly hard to hit the guy trying to get over the fence.

Just inside the first fence, still surrounded by more fence and razor wire, it very much feels and looks looks the typical preconceived idea of a prison. And then there’s the thought of the guy up in the tower with the shotgun.

Stepping through the second gate is a bit of a surprise. A two-lane road, bright painted yellow lines in the middle and sides. Staff walks down the middle, while prisoners must walk outside the yellow lines on the “shoulder”. The grass is freshly trimmed, flowers beds are neat and plentiful around the buildings lining the road.

The flower beds — filled with fresh mulch, pansies, petunias and other little flowering plants like grandma would plant — are everywhere around the sidewalks and along neatly painted buildings.

Library. Chapel. Security. — neat, hand lettered signs are above the doors of each building. A “Town of Century” water tower close behind the buildings. It really looks more like small town USA than a prison…if you overlook the bars on the windows. Somehow the bars look very out of place on the Chapel.

But at the far end of CCI small town, USA, there’s another fence, razor wire and another guard tower. Beyond those are the dorms — the home of  over 1,400 inmates. Some will spend their final days and last breaths here.

Our series “Inside Century Correctional Institution” continues this week on photos, click to enlarge.


8 Responses to “Inside Century Correctional Institution”

  1. Richard Szudlo on June 23rd, 2015 5:01 pm

    I’m spent a few years at century, in the late 90s until 2001 in did not enjoy my time. The place looks different now. So glad i learned from my experience.

  2. Yepp on July 20th, 2013 4:13 am

    Dianne, our jobs are a lot easier when people, unlike W.D., keeps their hands clean and don’t get too involved with inmates. That makes a dangerous job even more dangerous.

  3. Yeppp on July 20th, 2013 3:56 am

    It should be noted all flowers and landscaping decor is donated, not bought by the state.

  4. Leavis on July 16th, 2013 9:08 pm

    I have the privilege of knowing Col. Joseph Schwarz and he is definitely a “character” worthy of a movie.

  5. Dianne Johnson on July 15th, 2013 4:24 pm

    The people in this facility are there because they did the crime,I have worked in a correction facility- not a fun place but you know you always have a job-not an easy job either. Yes they do have programs to help those who want to be helped.

  6. Rick on July 15th, 2013 1:46 pm

    The “Throw-them-in-prison-and-lose-the-key” crowd forgets who bears the burden. this is why rehabilitation efforts are worthwhile.

  7. Randy on July 15th, 2013 11:59 am

    1. Would you rather we just release them..??

  8. mick on July 15th, 2013 11:19 am

    Tax dollars at work, law abiding society bears the burden…

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