This website has two purposes: first, to introduce my book, Unusual Punishment, and encourage people to buy it, and second, to provide additional photos, stories, and multimedia for people who have enjoyed the book and would like to know more.

All of the posts are from historical material I gathered over the years while doing research for the book. Many of the photos – which really do enhance the story – look fine on an electronic device, but lack the pixel density to work on a printed page. The voice recordings are from interviews I conducted – mostly in the 1990s, but a some more recently. The video clips are excerpts from a television show produced by Seattle-based KING TV in 1972.


The pages on this website are arranged more or less chronologically. For example, the superintendents are listed in the order they served; events are in the order they occurred. All posts are indexed by general topic as shown in the CATEGORIES box to the right. To limit the pages to a particular topic, simply click on the category of interest.


As the system of prison control known as super custody collapsed at the Washington State Penitentiary, there was nothing to take its place. Frustrated and afraid, many correctional officers quit. Most of those who didn’t quit, simply looked the other way.  As one inmate put it, “We were so much in control of the prison that a lot of guards didn’t have an opportunity to really do much with us…. When help was needed, that’s when they were called. I can’t even really remember them walkin’ around too much.”


Governor Dan Evans believed in prison reform

Daniel J. Evans

Daniel J. Evans (a.k.a. “Straight Arrow”) was governor of the state of Washington for three consecutive terms, beginning in 1965. From the start of his first term he was dedicated to institutional reform, including prisons. Without knowing how, he was certain that the state could improve outcomes for the people sent to prison. As prison populations fell, he was a champion of what became know as “mini-prisons,” and of tearing down “these massive old warehouses.”




Evans’s second Director of the Department of Institutions, psychiatrist William R. Conte, was also a champion of prison reform. In 1970 Conte secured private funding to sent B. J. Rhay to Europe to study prison practices there. Rhay returned with reports of small, progressive prisons with significantly enhanced prisoner rights. Before the end of the year, some of the ideas Rhay brought back were incorporated in what became known as the four reforms: ending the use of strip cells (unfurnished blackout cells where a man could be held naked for days, even weeks), end of mail censorship, introduction of telephones for prisoner use, and creation of what became known as “resident government.”

William R. Conte was the last director of the Department of Institutions

William R. Conte, MD


Washington State Penitentiary Superintendent B. J. Rhay

B. J. Rhay

Variously known as Bob, Bobby. B. J., warden, superintendent, and Mr. Rhay, B. J. Rhay has the distinction of being the longest serving superintendent of the Washington State Penitentiary in the prison’s history.

A decorated fighter pilot from World War II, Rhay returned to Walla Walla in 1945 where he got a degree in sociology from Whitman College and married the prison superintendent’s daughter. When his father-in-law joined the ranks of the unemployed due to a change in the governor’s mansion, Rhay went to work for Earle Stanley Gardner (of Perry Mason fame) on Gardner’s 1950s radio and TV show, “Court of Last Resort.”

Rhay was appointed superintendent in 1957 at the age of 35, making him the youngest prison superintendent in the country. Twenty years later, at the end of his tenure, he had been superintendent of the same maximum security prison longer than anyone else.

Rhay was the father of seven daughters, all raised in the superintendent’s residence in the shadow of the prison walls.

B. J. Rhay died in June, 2012, at the age of 91.


The Resident Government Council, or RGC, was established at the Washington State Penitentiary in April 1971. Its creation implemented one of the reforms announced the previous November by Director of the Department of Institutions William R. Conte. While the first year of the RGC was a qualified success, it quickly went downhill after that, its power and influence eclipsed by the major inmate clubs – the Lifers, Bikers, and BPFU.

The picture below, taken from a 1972 television broadcast by KING TV, shows members of the council in discussion. The first president of the RGC was Johnnie Harris, seen sitting at the head of the table.

The Resident Government Council, or RGC, was established in 1971

The Resident Government Council in action


People’s Park was created in May 1971 shortly after Superintendent B. J. Rhay allowed the lifers to take over the grassy area between Seven and Eight Wings as dedicated outdoor space just for lifers. Not everyone thought this was a good idea. Note the misspelled “CONGRADULATIONS, GOVENOR” comment typed below Rhay’s memo to his associate superintendent for custody, Bill Macklin. The memo, with the added comment, was sent anonymously to Governor Dan Evans. Click here to see a picture of People’s Park.

Memo authorizing creation of People's Park from B. J. Rhay to his associate superintendent


Shortly after allowing the creation of Lifers’ Park at the penitentiary in April 1970, Superintendent Rhay authorized the Resident Government Council (RGC) to be in charge of what he called “a People’s Park area.” Formerly off-limits (inmates were required to keep to paved pathways), People’s Park was originally a grassy area next to Seven Wing, and south of the dining halls. It was later expanded when Rhay’s successor had the Lifers’ Construction Crew tear down the wall around what had been the outdoor exercise yard for men in segregation. The picture below is likely from 1978, after the wall around the segregation yard was demolished.

Peoples Park - 1978


In the middle of People’s Park was a fish pond stocked with fish. There were also fire barrels in the park where inmates would warm their hands on a cold night, and sometimes fry a fish. As one inmate said, “It was like you’re on the streets, and you weren’t.”

The newly constructed pond is shown in the picture below. Water and fish came later.

Inmates stocked a small pond in People's Park with fish


This picture, from sometime around 1977, shows the old segregation yard in the middle of the prison. Big Red (segregation) is on the right, the dining halls are in the center, and the chapel and seven wing are on the left. The open space between seven wing and the seg yard is People’s Park.

The proximity of People’s Park to the seg yard made it easy for inmates in segregation to communicate with inmates in People’s Park or for contraband to be thrown over the wall. When Douglas Vinzant was superintendent, he gave the Lifer’s Construction Crew sledgehammers and had them tear down the seg yard. This eliminated one of the many avenues for introducing contraband into seg but it also effectively ended outdoor recreation for inmates in segregation. People’s Park became much bigger.

WSP Seg Yard c. 1977


The Lifers were the first organization at the penitentiary to be given their own turf. A grassy area between Seven Wing and Eight Wing was first called “Lifer’s Acre.” It soon became known as Lifers’ Park. A former clothing room at the north end of the park became their club area. Inmates, and only the inmates, had keys to the gate into Lifers’ Park and to the door of their club area. Officers had to request that the gate or door be open. In the pictures below, Eight Wing is on the left; Seven Wing is on the right.

Lifers' Park was a grassy area between Eight Wing and Seven Wing

Lifers’ Park

Lifers' Park in winter

Lifers’ Park in winter

Inmates hanging out in Lifers' Park

Inmates hanging out in Lifers’ Park



The B.P.F.U. was an organization for black prisoners at the penitentiary

Cover image for a B.P.F.U. pamphlet

Black prisoners began trying to organize in 1969 but their efforts landed their leaders in the hole with orders to never meet again. It wasn’t until Superintendent B. J. Rhay started a program he called “Pride in Culture” in the fall of 1970 that black inmates could officially meet. Six months later, after the start of the RGC and Lifers’ Club in the spring of 1971, Rhay sanctioned creation of the Black United Front, which later became the B.P.F.U.

A protest and sit down strike by black prisoners in the summer of 1972 led to a lockdown and negotiated settlement which gave the B.P.F.U. their own club area (see site plan). They called it Walter Carter Hall after a popular black inmate who had died in the mental health program on the third floor of the hospital.

B.P.F.U. Club

Inside Walter Carter Hall

B.P.F.U. yard

Site of B.P.F.U. banquets. Walter Carter Hall is on the left, the old gym is on the right, and the back of education is between the two.


This aerial photograph shows the location of the major inmate clubs and outdoor areas at the Washington State Penitentiary in 1978/1979. The Lifers held their banquets in Lifers’ Park; the Bikers and Confederated Indian Tribes held theirs in the Big Yard. The BPFU (Black Prisoners Forum Unlimited) held theirs in a grassy area to the west of their club. Blood Alley ran north/south next to Central Control, the BPFU, and Four/Five Wing. By 1978, the roof over Blood Alley had been removed.

Site plan of the Washington State Penitentiary in 1978 showing location of clubs and other inmate areas


In early fall, 1971, Lee Bowker, and several other professors at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, started what they called the Social Therapy Program at the penitentiary. The program was designed as a therapeutic community based on William Glasser’s hierarchy of needs. It was located on one tier in the Admissions Building (see site plan). The program continued until 1974 at the main institution, and for a while longer at the minimum security building. Apparently, quite a few needs were met. In fact, some of the college student volunteers became pregnant. The picture of the Social Therapy Program in action is from a 1972 article in LIFE magazine called “A New Way to Run the Big House.”

Inmates and visitors socialize on the tier

Inmates and visitors socialize on the tier

Students from nearby colleges would spend the day at the prison

Students from nearby colleges would spend the day at the prison


Invited guests to the Bikers' Banquet at the Washington State Penitentiary

Guests arriving for the Bikers’ Banquet

Starting in the summer of 1971, B. J. Rhay permitted various inmate organizations to hold banquets to which outside guests were invited. This tradition was continued and expanded both by Rhay and his successor, Douglas Vinzant. One group to hold annual banquets was the Washington State Penitentiary Motorcycle Association, better known as the Bikers.

The Bikers took over most of an old abandoned power house in the middle of the institution (see site plan). This is where they had their club area, reconditioned motorcycles, made shanks, smoked dope, and ran their heroin trade enforcement activities. Like the other major inmate clubs, the Bikers had the only keys to their building.

The Bike Shop had barrels of gasoline, acetylene torches, vices, bench grinders, and every other tool needed to work on motorcycles. One wall inside the Bike Club was decorated with an enormous swastika.

At first the Bikers tested their choppers in the northwest corner of the main institution, just to the west of their club. Later they were permitted to ride their bikes in the Big Yard where they also held their annual banquet.

Bikers 1

Chilling in the Big Yard

Entertainment at the banquet

Entertainment at the banquet

Some of the motorcycle clubs attending the banquet

Many motorcycle clubs were represented inside the prison and also came as invited guests


Trooper Frank Noble, Washington State Patrol

Trooper Frank Noble, Washington State Patrol

A furlough program created by the state legislature in 1971 allowed prison superintendents to approve furloughs of up to thirty days for inmates to live outside the prison. By February 1972, more than 2,000 furloughs had been approved across the state. A handful of inmates had failed to return, but there had been no major problems. Then, on a Saturday evening early in the month, state trooper Frank Noble made what started out as a routine traffic stop. An inmate from Walla Walla, out on his second furlough, was behind the wheel. When Noble approached the car the inmate pulled a gun and shot three times. Noble died at the scene and the inmate was arrested within the hour. Furlough requirements were tightened and the program continued.


The inmate store at the penitentiary carried a wide variety of products that could be purchased with scrip. Up until 1979, it was staffed by inmates.

A run on the store was always a bellwether for an impending incident that would cause a lockdown. Inmates would stock up on snacks, smokes, and other things so they wouldn’t have to do without during the lockdown. The store was ransacked and burned in what became known as the “Easter Riot” in April 1977.

Inmate store

Inmate store

Inmate store price list


Correctional officer Jim Hartford was assigned to the Walla Walla County Courthouse on Tuesday, April 5, 1977 during the trial of two inmates charged with assault. While on break, Hartford picked up a cigarette lighter from under the table in the law library next to the courtroom. When he tested it, it exploded. It had been packed with match heads, waiting for some unsuspecting person to pick it up to see if it worked. Hartford lost most of the fingers on his right hand that day.

Over the next four days there was documented retaliation by correctional officers in the segregation unit. On Sunday, April 10, 1977, inmates set fire to the chapel and ransacked the inmate store. Because it happened on Easter Sunday, it became known at the Easter Riot. The resulting lockdown lasted 46 days and resulted in dramatic changes at the penitentiary.

Hartford was in the hospital for 11 days and off work for three months. When he returned to work at the penitentiary, inmates would hold up their hand in grotesque contortion and catcall him “claw.” The picture below is from a newspaper article from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

Hartford in ambulance


On Easter Sunday 1977, five days after officer Jim Hartford had his hand blown apart by a booby-trapped cigarette lighter, inmates set fire to the chapel and ransacked the inmate store. The resulting 46-day lockdown was the longest and most consequential in the penitentiary’s history up to that time. Superintendent Rhay called a meeting with the inmate Resident Council where he told the inmates “I’m the one you have to deal with, baby.” It didn’t turn out that way. (Click on images to make them larger.)

Memos describing the inmates' intent at the start of the lockdown

Memos describing the inmates’ intent at the start of the lockdown


The inmates called it “the hole.” Staff called it segregation, or seg for short. Segregation was located in the south end of a long building that everyone called Big Red (see site plan). Seg had four single story tiers, also called “decks.” A and B deck were on on the first floor, C and D on the second. A-Deck included blackout strip cells used for disciplinary isolation. The strip cells had no furnishings, light, running water, or heat – just concrete walls, floor, and ceiling. A hole in the floor was used as a toilet. They were called strip cells because a man was stripped of all clothing before being locked inside. A typical sentence – handed out at a disciplinary hearing – was 10 days isolation, 20 days seg.

Abolition of the strip cells was one of the reforms implemented by Conte in the fall of 1970. Despite the prohibition, they were used intermittently throughout the ’70s.

The picture below is the entry to A-Deck.

Entrance to A-deck in segregation

Entrance to A-deck in segregation



The segregation unit at the Washington State Penitentiary occupied the south end of a long brick building known as Big Red. Since Big Red was in the middle of the institution and next to People’s Park (see site plan), communication between inmates in seg and inmates in the general population was easy: words could be shouted through open or broken windows, and some inmates could visit them in their segregation cells. Before the seg yard was torn down in 1978, notes, drugs, and weapons could be tossed over the seg yard wall by inmates standing in, or passing through, People’s Park. Because of it’s location, and the way it was run, segregation didn’t segregate.

To demonstrate their displeasure, inmates in seg would often thrown trash, food, and human waste onto the tier. The unfortunate officers assigned to work the unit were issued full face masks, rain slickers, and dairy boots, to prevent them from being hit by excrement or urine. If the garbage and waste were left long enough, maggots would multiply and the filth on the floor would start to move. The first picture below is from a “strike” by the segregation inmates in 1979. The second shows an officer delivering meals while wearing a rubber suit and face mask.WSP D tier seg 1979

Rubber suit in seg


The site of numerous assaults, robberies, stabbings, and murders, Blood Alley earned its name. No part of this covered breezeway was visible from the wall or any tower. Inside was little better. A hump in the middle limited visibility from either end. Furthermore, a group of inmates could easily block observation of nefarious activity.

In the picture below, the hospital and pill line are on the right; Central Control, the BPFU, and Four/Five Wing are on the left. The auditorium, also a dangerous place in the 1970s, is in the distance.


Blood Alley couldn't be viewed from the wall or any tower

Blood Alley

Inside Blood Alley

Inside Blood Alley


Capitol Center Bldg Bombed - textOn Saturday May 31, 1975, the adult corrections headquarters building in the state capital was bombed. The explosion claimed no casualties, but a hole was blown through the concrete floor two doors from Director Hal Bradley’s office. Glass was scattered over a wide area.

An anonymous caller contacted a Seattle newspaper with instructions to look for a document in a telephone booth. Among other things, the lengthy communique demanded the removal of Associate Superintendent Harvey, and a doctor and nurse at the Washington State Penitentiary.

The group claiming responsibility called themselves the George Jackson Brigade, after the author of the best seller, Soledad Brother, who was killed trying to escape from a California prison in 1971. The Daily OlympianAt the time, hardly anyone had heard of the George Jackson Brigade. The bombing raised the brigade’s profile, as did their subsequent attempts to finance their revolutionary agenda through criminal activity. This was not the only time the Brigade was to come to the attention of Washington corrections, or of the penitentiary.

The article and picture are from the June 1, 1975 edition of the The Daily Olympian.



Douglas Vinzant replaced B. J. Rhay as superintendent

Douglas Vinzant (seated) and B. J. Rhay

In late June 1977, after twenty years as superintendent of the Washington State Penitentiary, B. J. Rhay was replaced by Douglas Vinzant. Rhay was transferred to Olympia to lead an initiative called the “mini-prison” project. A few days after Rhay arrived in the state capital, the governor vetoed the appropriation for the mini-prisons. Rhay collected a few paychecks then accepted a job as commissioner of corrections in Montana.

The accompanying picture is from a scan of a print of a microfilm of a newspaper – which is why the image quality is what it is. Despite the picture quality, Rhay’s expression makes it clear this was not his best day.



Douglas Vinzant replace B. J. Rhay as superintendent in 1977

Douglas Vinzant

When he became superintendent in 1977, Douglas Vinzant was the first new superintendent the penitentiary had know in twenty years. A Methodist minister from Mississippi, Vinzant was brilliant, well-read, witty, and (when he wanted to be) charming. Vinzant came to Washington State in 1974 after short terms as warden at Concord and Walpole prisons in Massachusetts. Before his appointment as penitentiary superintendent, Vinzant was director of the state’s Bureau of Juvenile Rehabilitation.

Vinzant remained in Walla Walla for twelve months, during which time he also served as director of the Division of Prisons. While he wore two hats for much of his tenure in Washington adult corrections, Vinzant clearly enjoyed being superintendent more than being director. In his words, “When I was superintendent and I spent a dollar’s worth of energy, I probably got fifty, sixty cents’ worth of work done. When I spent a dollar’s worth of energy as a director, I might have got a dime’s worth of work done. At the institutional level, you’re really dealing with the problems of corrections. When you’re at the director level, you’re simply babysitting politicians and the agenda of the governor rather than the agenda of corrections.”

His tenure in both jobs was marked by controversy and ended in chaos, blood, and acrimony.



On Tuesday, May 23, 1978 Governor Dixy Lee Ray came to Walla Walla where she had a town hall meeting in the evening. In the afternoon she toured the Washington State Penitentiary. Her comments to the press after the tour were upbeat. Privately she was appalled. Despite a special housecleaning for her tour, Governor Ray thought conditions at the prison were slovenly and that the inmates had far too much freedom. It’s probably not a coincidence that Douglas Vinzant – who was simultaneously both penitentiary superintendent and state prisons director – announced the next day that he would name a successor as superintendent and move to Olympia to serve as the full-time director of the DSHS division of adult corrections.

Doug Vinzant to Governor Ray's right. Newly appointed Assoc. Superintend Larry Kincheloe in the right foreground

Doug Vinzant to the Governor’s right. Behind Vinzant (with the bold tie) is state senator Hubert Donohue. Newly appointed Associate Superintendent Larry Kincheloe is in the right foreground.

Gov Ray tour 2

Superintendent Douglas Vinzant escorting Governor Ray past the Vocational School. Walla Walla Union-Bulletin photographer Ethan Hoffman in the foreground on the right.

Gov Ray tour 3

Senator Donohue behind Governor Ray’s right shoulder. Jim Thatcher on the right behind Vinzant. The taller man in the back between Governor Ray and Vinzant is then acting Secretary of DSHS, Jerry Thomas.

Gov Ray tour 4

Governor Ray in the Washington State Penitentiary Motorcycle Association (AKA “the Bikers”) clubhouse. Governor Ray’s sister to her right. Photographer Ethan Hoffman (kneeling) in the foreground shooting a picture.

Gov Ray tour 5

Vinzant making a point with Senator Donohue while the governor looks on. Newly elected union president, Parley Edwards, behind Senator Donohue.


According to the inmate who was the “con boss” in the book Concrete Mama, Vinzant and Genakos had a “busy hands are happy hands” policy. To that end they created opportunities in both traditional and innovative ways for inmates to keep busy. While some of their innovations involved questionable financial transactions and violation of the Washington Administrative Code, Vinzant also doubled enrollment in school and presided over the largest graduating class of inmates at the penitentiary to receive GEDs, high school diplomas, and two- and four-year college degrees.

Superintendent Douglas Vinzant addresses the new graduates

Superintendent Douglas Vinzant addresses the new graduates

Graduating inmates and their guests

Graduating inmates and their guests in the outdoor visiting yard


Nicholas Genakos was superintendent of WSP for six weeks

Nicholas Genakos

Nicholas Genakos, or “Nick the Greek” as the correctional officers called him, has the distinction of being the shortest serving superintendent of WSP in its more than 100 year history. He was superintendent for all of six weeks.

Prior to taking over from Douglas Vinzant as superintendent in July 1978, Genakos had been Vinzant’s associate superintendent for custody. The two men knew each other from their days in Massachusetts, when Vinzant was warden of Walpole prison and Genakos was his deputy. After a bomb exploded in the penitentiary’s central control room in August 1978, Vinzant was fired as Director of Prisons and Genakos was asked to resign as WSP superintendent.



In 1978, journalist John McCoy and photographer Ethan Hoffman quit their paying jobs at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin to do an in-depth report on the biggest story in town: the Washington State Penitentiary. They spent four months talking with inmates, correctional officers, administrators, other prison staff, and visitors. They watched, listened, and Hoffman shot photos. Their resulting book, Concrete Mama, Prison Profiles from Walla Walla, is a snapshot in time of the Washington State Penitentiary at perhaps the lowest point in its more than 130 year history.

Concrete Mama, a book by John McCoy and Ethan HoffmanExcerpts and images from the book appeared in Life magazine in September 1979, and in several European publications a few weeks later. The book is sometimes available on Ebay, but expect to pay a pretty price for it.


Concrete Mama – the Book

In August 1978, photographer Ethan Hoffman and his journalist friend, John McCoy, quit their paying jobs at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin to do an in-depth study of the biggest story in town, the Washington State Penitentiary. The result of their work was the iconic book, Concrete Mama, Prison Profiles from Walla Walla. In this video, Ethan Hoffman talks about making Concrete Mama against a backdrop of images from the book.


Jim Spalding inherited a prison where both the inmates and staff were out of control

Jim Spalding

James (Jim) Spalding was born in Montana, the eldest son of the Captain of the Guards at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. As a young man he came to Washington State, hoping to become a state trooper. When he discovered there was a one year residency requirement to apply for the job, he went to work at the penitentiary as a correctional officer.

Spalding quickly rose through the ranks. Every time he took a civil service exam for promotion – for sergeant, lieutenant, and captain – he was ranked number one on the state register. Spalding left the penitentiary in 1974 to become an associate superintendent at the Monroe Reformatory, the other old prison in Washington.

In August, 1978, a few weeks shy of his 38th birthday, Spalding was named superintendent of the Washington State Penitentiary. He inherited a broken and dysfunctional prison. Not only were the inmates out of control, so too were many of the correctional officers. Many officers did little or nothing; some ran in rat packs, harassing inmates, trashing their cells, and beating them.

Spalding was penitentiary superintendent until July 1981 when he became Deputy Director of the Division of Prisons for the newly created Washington State Department of Corrections. His years as superintendent coincided with some of the most difficult times at the penitentiary.

Jim Spalding died in September 2014.




At approximately seven o’clock in the evening on December 5, 1978, with a light dusting of snow on the ground, three inmates emerged from the end of a tunnel just outside the west wall of the Washington State Penitentiary. The prison administration knew that an escape was in the works, but they didn’t know exactly where or when. Extra armed officers had been posted on the west, south, and east side of the prison for about a week. On orders to halt, the first man dropped (or threw) a loaded .38 and put his hands in the air. According to official reports, the other two men ran. Seven shots were fired and both men were wounded with non-life threatening wounds.

A fourth man was seen popping out of the tunnel, but he retreated on the sound of gunfire. It was thought that as many as twelve more inmates were in the tunnel. They all scattered when the shots were fired.

Sketch of escape route

Sketch of escape route

Incident report: attempted escape on December 5, 1978

Incident Report



In May 1979, three inmates took ten staff hostage in the Classification and Parole Building (see site plan). Inmates throughout the institution were ordered to return to their cells. Most did, but about 250 men congregated in People’s Park where they shouted encouragement to the hostage takers. Before the administration could address the hostage situation, it was necessary to move the inmates out of People’s Park and into the Big Yard. A newly trained Tactical Team confronted the inmates. When orders to move to the Big Yard were ignored, the Tac Team was authorized to use tear gas.

The SWAT Team prepares to gas the inmates

The Tactical Team prepares to gas the inmates

In the image below, the last of the inmates are being moved through the gate into the Big Yard where they spent the night under the stars. The hostage situation was resolved through negotiations and no one was hurt.

The Tactical Team using tear gas to move inmates into the Big Yard

Tear gas moved the last of the inmates into the Big Yard




On June 15, 1979, Sergeant William Cross was murdered by inmates. The attack occurred in an extension of People’s Park, between the south entry to the dining hall and Big Red (see site plan). He was stabbed five times, one cutting his aorta. At the time, Sergeant Cross was the only officer in Washington State to be killed at the hands of inmates in living memory.

Cross’s death marked the beginning of the longest lockdown (nearly six months) in the history of Washington’s prisons.

Sergeant  William Cross

Sergeant William Cross


Clearing People's Park in front of the chapel

Clearing People’s Park in front of the chapel

The Washington State Penitentiary was locked down after the murder of Sergeant Cross. Superintendent Spalding had two primary goals for the lockdown. The first was to conduct a thorough search of the entire institution, confiscate contraband, and remove excess inmate property beyond a limited number of items that could fit in a foot locker under an inmate’s bed. The second was to make physical changes to the prison so that when the lockdown ended the world inside the walls would be a different place. Bulldozers were brought in. Lifers’ Park, People’s Park, and almost every grassy area inside the main compound were buried under a vast slab of concrete. In Spalding’s words, the architectural message he wanted to convey was, “this is a close custody institution, and we’re going to control it.”

Paving Peoples Park 2


On Saturday, July 7, 1979, the inmates in Eight Wing rioted. The institution had been in lockdown for 21 days following the murder of Sergeant William Cross. It all started when the inmates began chanting “Showers! Showers! Showers!” The chant then changed to “Kill, Kill, Kill,” with “Kill the pigs” and other phrases interspersed now and then. This was followed by a long chant of “Tear your shitter off the wall.” Soon most of the inmates were smashing their toilets and sinks. Water poured out of the cells and cascaded off the tiers to the floor below. Because the riot occurred on a Saturday evening, the officers called it “Saturday Night Live.”

Seventy-four of the 102 four-man cells in Eight Wing were destroyed that night. With nowhere else to put them, the inmates were herded into the Big Yard where they spent the next 42 days living in makeshift tents.

Trashed cell

Debris from the riot in Eight Wing on July 7, 1979

After the riot in 8 wing (1)


The last inmates from the Eight Wing riot were moved to the Big Yard as the sun was coming up Sunday morning, July 8, 1979. The inmates were told to sit in rows and remain silent. When one man stood, an officer fired a single shot in the air and yelled, “Sit Down!” The inmate sat and no one moved for another 40 minutes. When someone else got up and nothing happened, the rest of the inmates began to slowly mill about.

Inmates who had not destroyed their cell were identified and moved to other cell blocks in the penitentiary. The remainder – about 250 inmates – spent the next 42 days living in makeshift tents under the hot Walla Walla sun, eating TV dinners, and using porta-potties and makeshift outdoor showers.

Inmates in the Big Yard after the riot in Eight Wing

Early morning in the Big Yard – July 8, 1979


With their cell block destroyed, inmates from the Eight Wing riot spent the summer of 1979 in the Big Yard. Emergency contracts were let and Eight Wing was not only repaired, it was totally rebuilt. Gone were the old porcelain sinks and toilets that could be easily broken. It their place were high security stainless steel prison combo fixtures. Bunks were bolted to the wall. There was new wiring, new lighting, improved ventilation, shatterproof windows, metal detectors, and fresh paint. Living conditions in the Big Yard were more primitive.

The date on the picture below is European style: day, month, year. In this case, the 16th day of July, 1979 – nine days after the riot in Eight Wing.

Inmates spent the summer of 1979 living in tents in the Big Yard

Living in the Big Yard

State Patrol troopers manning the wall

State Patrol troopers manning the wall

Weapons found in the Big Yard after the inmates returned to their cells

Weapons found in the Big Yard after the inmates returned to their cells


Bob Kastama was the first superintendent of the penitentiary under the newly created Department of Corrections

Bob Kastama

Clarence Robert Melvin Kastama was born and raised on a farm in Northern Minnesota by bilingual parents of Finnish decent. While successful farmers – at one time farming 1,200 acres – neither parent had more than a sixth grade education. Their son, who for perhaps obvious reasons shortened his name to Bob, would ultimately earn a Ph.D.

Bob Kastama followed Jim Spalding as penitentiary superintendent on July 1, 1981 – the first day of the newly created Washington State Department of Corrections. While Kastama’s tenure as superintendent lasted only ten months, there were significant accomplishments during that brief period. Work was completed on what was known as “the quadrant system,” which broke the walled institution into four parts separated by state-of-the-art movement controls. A gate/pass system was implemented. The last remnants of the Biker’s club – their bikes – were removed. Unit team management was implemented.

Bob Kastama, a participatory management sort of guy, was not a good fit for the top-down, quasi-military, management style of his superiors, Walter (Kip) Kautzky, and Amos Reed. He also had what he called “a rigid set of ethics.” Speaking his mind, and asserting his independence, got Kastama into hot water more than once. In May 1978, Kastama elected to resign rather than be fired.




The original concept – conceived in the fall of 1979 – was to divide the main compound of the prison into four more or less equal quadrants: two for housing, and two for inmate services and programs. A new movement control room and gate was constructed at the center of the main compound. The basic plan was substantially completed during Kastama’s relatively brief term as superintendent. The architectural scheme facilitated implementation of unit team management and a gate/pass system to control inmate movement, two things which greatly improved inmate and staff safety.

The main compound was divided into four quadrants with a central movement control room and gate.

The main compound was divided into four quadrants with a central movement control room and gate

26 Movement Control