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Plan would turn former Kansas prison into tourist attraction

by Staff

LANSING, Kan. — It’s a place where thousands of men paid for their crimes.

One Leavenworth County city hopes to rescue an old prison from the wrecking ball, and turn out into a tourist destination and a testament to local history.

City leaders in Lansing hope to save a large section of the Lansing Correctional Facility, the state’s oldest penitentiary, which has roots that date back to the 1860’s. The Kansas Department of Corrections still uses some of the campus.

Plans to demolish the old state pen may go on hold — for history’s sake.

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“There’s so much history here. Just like they saved Alcatraz,” Debra Bates-Lamborn, president of the Lansing Historical Society, said.

Bates-Lamborn supports a proposal to preserve the old prison, including some inmate cells and the prison auditorium, where country music legend Johnny Cash played a concert for inmates.

“I think it gives people a place to come and see a prison in a prison town. For years, we’ve been known as a prison town,” Bates-Lamborn said.

At one point in tine, Leavenworth County had five prisons at different security levels. Historians here point to a widespread interest in tourism based on defunct penitentiaries.

Nowadays, Jermaine Wilson is the mayor of nearby Leavenworth, Kansas. However, times were different for him in 2008, when he was sentenced to three years in the Lansing lockup after being convicted for drug possession.

Thursday was his first return to the old prison since his release. Wilson now works for a prison ministry, helping counsel and guide active inmates.

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“There are so many people who have a story to tell. These prison cells tell the story of those individuals including myself,” Wilson said. “It’s a reminder that my past mistakes didn’t define who I was. I lost my freedom, but discovered my purpose.”

Parts of this prison are still functional. Around 2,400 inmates are still housed in one building here. This proposal still needs approval from the Kansas Department of Corrections. There’s no timetable yet for that.

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