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 in winter
Inmates hanging out in Lifers’ Park
Most lifers in the Washington State Penitentiary in the 1970s lived in Eight Wing, next to Lifers’ Park where they held their banquets. Several hundred outside guests would come to a typical banquet. This somewhat out of focus picture is from one of them.
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.
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