February 17, 2020, Yuma-
A commenter on one of my recent posts, on another social media site, took issue with the notion that freedom has a price. Once, an explanation of that statement was offered, he had a better appreciation o fits meaning. He did, for his part, also make a valid point: We can choose not to surrender our freedom to those who would take us down and use us for their own designs. Indeed, I have made several choices, even so far this year, that have not set well with some others. In the end, though, they can also choose for themselves, as to a best course of action. The sun should not rise and set, with any other person, when it comes to making choices of one’s own.
After a three-hour visit with some long-time friends, in this bustling border city, I took in two sites that focus on the consequences of discordance and social unrest: Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and the border wall at San Luis.
The Prison is, of course,defunct as a place of incarceration. It long ago gave way to a more “up-to-date” facility, in Florence, itself now slated for closure, after over 100 years of use. Yuma Territorial Prison was established in 1875, at the behest of the area’s representative in the Arizona Territorial Legislature: Jose Maria Redondo. It served as the Arizona Territory’s place of incarceration, from 1876-1909.
Since that time, Yuma has alternately used the facility as a temporary high school (1910-1914), a homeless shelter (1930-39) and, most recently, as the centerpiece of the city’s historical heritage preservation.
Here are a few scenes of the present State Historical Park. Below, is a view of the Colorado River’s wetlands, below the Park grounds.
Here is the railroad bridge, opposite the Park. It is still in use.
This was the Parade Ground.
This was the Guard Tower.
These are two views of the Sally Port (Puerto de Salir), or main entrance to the enclosed prison.
The present-day Museum is in the site of the Prison Mess Hall.
Men and women, Mormon polygamists and Mexican revolutionaries, white collar thieves and cutthroats-all shared this facility, at one time or another. The most famous of its prison breaks, the Gates Riot (October, 1877), saw Superintendent Thomas Gates taken hostage, one of his trusted inmates, Barney Riggs, come to his rescue and killed Gates’ attacker. The would-be escapees went to the Dark Cell, Gates suffered the ill-effects of the attack for the remaining twenty years of his life and Riggs was eventually set free.
Here is a view of the main cell block.
Next, a couple of views of the typical cell.
These were the first bunk beds.
Finally, this is a view of the Dark Cell, the holding place of the most incorrigible prisoners.
In spite of appearances, the Yuma facility was progressive for its time. It had electricity, running water and was mostly operated with a rehabilitative, rather than a punitive, mindset.
I left this city, for a forty-minute ride to San Luis, to take a brief look at the border crossing leading to the large Sonoran community of San Luis Rio Colorado. It was peak crossing time for day labourers, who were returning home. In fairness, the barrier here looks nothing like the much-photographed Bollock sections, in other areas along the frontier. I don’t much care for the fortress-like images being promoted as “necessary”, but the real barriers to human progress are in the mind. This puts the onus for social change and justice squarely on those creating the barriers-both the antisocial elements whose actions generate fear and the reactionaries who fancy that building such structures will obviate any further efforts at rectifying the imbalances present in society.
Most of us, whether “liberal” or “conservative”, actually fall somewhere in the middle on this one. I wonder how Thomas Gates, the reformer penologist, would have dealt with undocumented immigrants.