If you ever get a chance to drive by or view USP Leavenworth via programs like Google Earth, do it! This place is quite nostalgic, and if the collection of structures that make up USP Leavenworth stands, for it is in a shocking state of disrepair, I believe it will be turned into a museum. Its construction was an amazing feat in itself that took an exhaustive two and a half decades to consummate and involved hundreds of prisoners.
These prisoners who occupied the original United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB), marched two and a half miles every morning to construct the civilian penitentiary. Quick side note, although it is often confused with USP Leavenworth, USDB operates separately and independently as the United States Military’s sole maximum-security penal facility, located just north on the adjacent Ft. Leavenworth.
Anyway, USP Leavenworth was designed like a Washington D.C. monument by the architecture firm of Eames and Young in St. Louis, Missouri. Prior to its construction, federal prisoners were held at state prisons; so when the federal prison system was authorized by congress in 1895, three first generation federal prisons were put into the works. USP Leavenworth being the first, was followed by USP Atlanta and McNeil Island (despite McNeil Island dating back to the 1870s, the major expansion didn’t occur until the early 1900s.)
Furthermore, it is important to discern the momentous size of construction that took to build USP Leavenworth in the early 1900s. Think about this: USP Leavenworth’s walls are 40ft high, reach 40ft below the ground, are 3,030ft long, enclose 22.8 acres and are made entirely of bricks. In addition, it features a 150ft tall dome in the main building, nicknames the “Big Top” or “Big House.”
In fact, USP Leavenworth was the largest maximum-security federal prison in the United States from 1903 until 2005 when it was downgraded to a medium-security facility. As you can imagine, a lot changed when this happened. Not only did they ship and swap out a majority of the inmates, there were dozens of institutional changes made. Of which, effected a majority of the gun towers surrounding the compound.
Essentially, medium-security facilities don’t require gun towers, so USP Leavenworth staffed a majority of them with cardboard guards. Seriously. You see, you can only view the towers from a distance, so at first, second or third glance, it’s hard to tell. When I first got here, I didn’t believe it when I was first told about it. However, after staring at one for 30min, and witnessing it never move, i believed it.
Not until I got a closer glimpse at another cardboard guard in a different tower from the psychology building did it fully cement the belief. Now a fact. These flat cardboard guards are just like the cardboard cutouts of Justin Beiber or The Terminator. Adding to the hilarity of it all. Maybe they think that they’re tricking us. ‘reGuardless’, for the time being, the cardboard guards of Leavenworth are on duty and here to stay.