Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum

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Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
Thanks to Experience Jackson for arranging complimentary admission to Cell Block 7 and Jackson Historic Prison Tours (all thoughts and opinions expressed below are my own). All images in this article were photographed with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections.
I really don't want to go to prison.

Like, ever.

I know that’s a ridiculous statement. Who in their right mind would voluntarily choose to be locked up? And as your run-of-the-mill, overly-cautious girl who isn’t typically mixed up in illegal situations, why on earth would I even worry about it?

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
As it turns out, there’s a place in south-central Michigan where you can “spend some time on the inside,” and you don’t need a criminal background to get there. Welcome to Jackson’s Cell Block 7 prison museum, located on the grounds of Michigan’s current Southern Regional Prison. Until 2007, Cell Block 7 was an active cell block that housed countless inmates and saw the likes of many notorious names (Kwame Kilpatrick and Jack Kevorkian were among those who passed through here). Now, the former cell block is open to the general public, providing a close-up look at what lies beyond the metal bars and barbed wire.

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
When our group arrived at the museum (I visited in conjunction with Jackson Historic Prison Tours), I was excited but a little nervous about going inside. Yes, I knew Cell Block 7 was safe (there are no prisoners inside), but the museum is located on the grounds of an active prison! While visitors go nowhere near current inmates (and vise-versa), the atmosphere definitely reflects the seriousness of prison culture (you won’t find any cutesy gimmicks here). There’s also a very strict no-cameras-or-cell-phones policy* in place, so if you plan on visiting, make sure to leave your devices at home or locked in your car.

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
First, we checked in, passed an old visitors’ window (where inmates once talked with family and friends), and made our way into the former processing area. Filing into a holding cell with several other people (and one very publicly-situated toilet), it wasn’t difficult to imagine how uncomfortable that room would have been if we were actually there as prisoners. Exiting the holding area to make our way to the cell block, we took our last good look at sunlight, turned the corner, and trekked deeper past open showers and strip search stalls.

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
We stepped through one last set of doors, and there it was. Stretched out in front of us, Cell Block 7 was amazing and gigantic and terrifying all at once. Five floors of vacant prison cells were an oddly-chilling sight to behold, and I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like walking into this room back when it was full of people. The thought was both intimidating and incredible.

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
Inside the cell block, we were free to roam around as we listened to our tour guides tell stories about past inmates and escape attempts. While a few individual cells were staged to demonstrate how inmates might have “decorated” over the years, most ranged from empty to scattered with notes and remnants of inmates who once lived there. We were even treated to a demonstration of how the cell doors were automatically opened and closed (an entire row slamming in succession produces an impressively-loud clanging sound)!

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)Climbing the stairs to check out the other floors, we found posters detailing prison history and caught glimpses of rules and instructions that were still painted on the walls. Careful not to get too close to the railings (I’m not a huge fan of heights), I walked down the eerie, dimly-lit rows of empty cells. Of course, I knew no one was up there, but I couldn’t help but imagine someone jumping out to scare me.

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
For visitors who arrived without a tour guide, there was a docent on site: a retired Cell Block 7 guard who regaled us with tales from his days of working at the prison. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but listening to all of the chilling accounts of what happened in that cell block over the years was incredibly sobering and a heavy reminder of just how grim prison life can be.

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)

5 Things To Keep In Mind For Your Visit To Cell Block 7

1.) Cell Block 7 is a self-guided experience, and there are informational signs and staffers floating around to answer any questions you might have. However, if you’re looking for a more in-depth historical account, consider booking a tour with Jackson Historic Prison Tours (which also includes group tours of the old state prison and lunch at a nearby Jackson restaurant). Click here to learn more.

2.) DO NOT bring your phone or camera. Seriously, just don’t do it. If you’re caught, you could end up in hot water and may have to forfeit your device. It’s much easier to just leave all electronics at home or locked in your car trunk.

3.) Set aside 1-2 hours for your visit. This will give you plenty of time to walk around, study exhibit signs, and ask questions before moving on to your next appointment of the day.

4.) Consider leaving younger children with a sitter. Children of all ages are welcome at Cell Block 7 (under 18 must be accompanied by an adult), but the atmosphere and stories you'll hear may not always be “rated G” (or PG). Upper levels of Cell Block 7 are also limited to kids 13 and older (the railings were not designed with children in mind). My advice: leave little kids with a sitter and consider bringing teens/older kids only.

5.) You can buy prisoner-made artwork. It’s true! The museum store offers unique pieces like cards, art prints, and my personal favorite—bird houses made from license plates.

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)

Cell Block 7 Prison Museum Hours & Ticket Prices

Monday – Tuesday: Large tour groups by appointment only
Wednesday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (last ticket sold at 4:00 pm)
Adults: $15 // Children 13-17: $8 // Children 12 & Under: Free
Seniors, Military, Police, Corrections Employees, & Ella Sharp Museum Members: $10
Group Discount Rates Available

Think you can handle the truth behind prison life? Let me know in the comments what you’d like to see first-hand at Cell Block 7!

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // via Wading in Big Shoes (Photo taken and used with permission from the Michigan Department of Corrections)
*Note: I received media credentials that allowed me to take photos during my visit to Cell Block 7 for the express purpose of publishing written content about the museum. All photographs in this post have been approved by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Want to learn more about Jackson, Michigan? CLICK HERE to check out my latest Pure Michigan article: Six Things You Didn’t Know About Jackson

Cell Block 7: Go Inside Jackson’s Eye-Opening Prison Museum // Ever wondered what life inside a prison looks like, but don't want to find out the hard way? Take a look inside Jackson's Cell Block 7 prison museum, a formerly active cell block located at the current Michigan Southern Regional Prison! - Click to read more on Wading in Big Shoes (www.wadinginbigshoes.com)

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