Historic Prison Tour
The Jackson Historic Prison Tour has made the front page of USA Today, The Detroit Free Press, and The Lansing State Journal. It has been the subject of several radio and television programs including NPR and Under the Radar Michigan. There’s no need to question who or why to take a prison tour. Try it! You’ll be swept away -- or behind bars -- in Jackson, Michigan, a prison town since 1838, when it won a battle among several Michigan cities to have Michigan's First State Prison.
The Jackson Historic Prison Tour now begins at the Michigan Theatre, one of the three remaining theatres of the W.C. Butterfield Strand Theatres. Briefly tour the Theatre. Then sit back to watch a film and experience what life was like in Michigan’s First State Prison (1839-1934). See it on a high definition screen with surround-sound. Founder/Director of the tours and storyteller extraordinaire, Judy Gail Krasnow, narrates. Mixed with the live film as it pauses, you will hear tales told by live tour guides about colorful inmates, punishments, reforms, night keepers, wardens, prison labor and some clever plots and escapes. With film footage of every nook and cranny of the old building and intriguing archival photos, you see sites such as the old West Wing, solitary area, and a prison tunnel. The stories heard and scenes seen are memorable.
Today, Michigan’s First State Prison is a residence, Armory Arts Village. On the screen you meet Lou Cubille, an artist in his studio, once a cellblock. Hear muralist Jean Weir as she tells you about the murals showing the old prison’s fascinating history and painted under a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council. On screen, visit an apartment once 36 prison cells.
Are there ghosts in the old prison? You’ll find out!
When the movie ends, board the bus and go to the functioning Jackson State Correctional Facilities 3 miles north on Cooper Street. Here, separated from present-day inmates only by chain link and razor wire, visit 7-Block, a closed but fully intact cellblock (1934-2007). Go into the cells. Hear the echo of slamming prison doors. See where Robert De Niro filmed the movie “Stone.” Spend time on the prison yard, and walk the galleries. Hear intriguing stories about the famous/infamous convicts who spent time in 7-Block at “Jacktown,” as both the old and new prisons were called. And hear of a one-and-only helicopter escape!
At 7-Block you eat lunch at tables bolted into the floor where thousands of prisoners ate their prison grub. No bread and water or gristle for you, but instead – a custom-catered lunch (that is, of course, if you behave!!!)
After 7-Block, go to the grounds of Michigan’s First State Prison to ART 634, formerly the famous Jackson Wagon Company, where inmates once provided cheap convict labor. Here, visit The Old Prison Gift Shop and Gallery and other eclectic art boutiques. Enjoy a refreshing drink at CUPPA.
When you’re done shopping, take a 90-minute tour we call “From Prison to Paradise:” Visit St. Demetrius Orthodox Church with its exquisite iconography and delicious hot coffee and Baklava home-baked by the “Baklava Babes.”
Or make your visit an overnight stay. Freshen up in your motel and in the evening, indulge yourselves at the new winery, brewery and restaurant, Grand River Marketplace, opening right next to the Michigan Theatre. We call this tour “From Behind Bars to Sitting at the Bar.” Tour the Brewery. Taste the wines. Eat dinner.
Other Jackson gems include Ye Ole Carriage Shop, the Ella Sharp Museum, the Dahlem Conservancy, the famous Cascades Falls and the Walker Tavern. Jackson festivals include the Jackson StoryFest in May, Hot Air Balloon Jubilee in July, Michigan Shakespeare Festival in July and August and the Cascades Civil War Muster in August.
DO TIME IN JACKSON! AN EXPERIENCE YOU ARE SURE TO REMEMBER!
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- Tours run from May through October
- Call or email to arrange dates and times
- Reservations are necessary
- Groups of 12 or more may make arrangements to eat a catered lunch (no bread and water here) in the old prison café in 7-Block.
Public Tour Dates
The Historic Prison Tours offers public tours two Saturdays a month. Tours begin at 10 am, and last until 4 pm. The dates for the tours are:
- May 25
- June 8 & 22
- July 6 & 20
- August 10 & 31
- September 7 & 21
- October 5, 12, & 19
- November 2
Reservations required. Please call 517-817-8960.
Location and directions
- Jackson, Michigan: 2 miles south of I-94 (Exit 139, Cooper Street)
- Call for directions to parking area and bus pick-up
- Tour operators, please call for information on packages that include the Jackson Historic Prison Tour and other sites and venues in Jackson.
Website 100 Armory Court
Jackson, MI 49202
JACKSON – LARGEST WALLED STATE PRISONS IN THE WORLD Begin the tour in downtown Jackson at the Michigan Theatre with a brief tour of this historic site. Then, with surround... » More Information
JACKSON – LARGEST WALLED STATE PRISONS IN THE WORLD
Begin the tour in downtown Jackson at the Michigan Theatre with a brief tour of this historic site. Then, with surround sound and an HD screen, see and hear the fascinating history of Michigan’s First State Prison (1839-1934). Mixing film with live presentations by tour guides, you’ll experience intriguing tales of prison life, colorful inmates, wardens, night-keepers, punishments, and reforms. You will see solitary cells and underground tunnels as the old prison come to life. Journey into the present to what the former prison has become – Armory Arts Village. On screen, visit an artist in his studio, once a cellblock and see an apartment carved out of two floors of 36 cells.
Next: Board the bus to 7-Block (1934-2007), a fully intact, closed cellblock at the Jackson State Correctional Facilities. Here, Robert DeNiro filmed the movie “Stone.” Experience the “cage,” or holding area. Then walk down the ramp that took prisoners from the real world to the one behind bars. Eat a catered lunch at tables where thousands of inmates have downed their prison chow. Step inside a cell. Walk the five tiers of galleries. Go onto the prison yard. Hear of famous/infamous convicts, officers, riots, reforms, and a one-and-only helicopter escape.
After “doing time,” board the bus to ART 634 on the site of the First State Prison. Once the famous Jackson Wagon Company, where inmates provided cheap labor, today ART 634 hosts The Old Prison Gift Shop and Gallery. Browse and buy souvenirs here, featuring art from the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP). This original art work is created by artists in Michigan correctional facilities, juvenile facilities, urban high schools, and communities across the state. Also, visit other delightful shops and CUPPA, a cozy coffee café.
SO, DO TIME IN JACKSON! -- AN EXPERIENCE YOU’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER!
Seen on Film at the Historic Michigan Theatre
Experienced with Tour Guides on Live Prison Grounds
Tales of Famous/Infamous Inmates
Stories of Crime, Punishment & Reform
A Catered Lunch Served in 7-Block
Browse & Shop at the Old Prison Gift Shop & Gallery
Tour Begins at 124 N. Mechanic Street, Jackson, MI 49201
3.5 miles south of I-94 (Cooper Street Exit 139)
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