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Elusive whispers draw searchers into an old prison

by Leila Atassi

In a win dowless stretch of concrete and steel bars of the vacant West Virginia State Penitentiary, there are ghosts. They reside in the metal cots where inmates passed time ruminating on their sins. Or in the remnants of mirrors still clinging to walls, where a prisoner could face his conscience or reflect on the crime that brought him here. And in the graffiti splatter camouflaging the maddening sterility of the institution’s walls.

Through the marker scribbles, each cell confesses violent crimes, speaks of wrist-slicingly isolated confinement and the death of dreams. One cell screams. “The Reaper Is Watching You,” cell No. 9 warns above a sketch of a skull that serves as a centerpiece for a four-walled museum of forfeited potential and depleted spirit. Every inch is covered with the black markings of a criminal with nothing but ink, blood and time on his hands. Close to midnight, on a Saturday, Jennifer Smith stood at the open door to cell No. 9, as her flashlight beam cut through the air, heavy with mist and history. The light fixed on a poem scrawled above the cot. “The sex, the drugs, the shocking truth. She broke my heart so I ripped hers out,” she read aloud.

Read the original article at: The Plain Dealer

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