By Barb Arland-Fye
FORT MADISON — Sometime in March, 620 maximum security inmates will move from the 174-year-old Iowa State Penitentiary to a new prison about a mile away.
The new facility can house up to 800 inmates in four cell blocks. Each wing in each cell block is painted a different, soothing color: yellow, green, blue or orange to stimulate a calming effect. Each wing also has a community area where the inmates living in that wing can congregate at the end of the day for socialization. Technology in the new complex enhances security and efficient management of resources, prison officials say.
Warden Nick Ludwick and Associate Warden of Treatment Mike Schierbrock invite Bishop Martin Amos to tour the new prison after he celebrated Mass and an early Christmas dinner with inmates Dec. 4.
The bishop accepts. “Would it be appropriate for you to bless the new prison?” Ludwick asks. “Certainly,” the bishop replies.
Representatives of other religions are conducting ceremonies similar to blessings of the new prison, Schierbrock notes.
Bishop Amos chooses the Blessing of a New Home, which he adapts for the inmates, many of whom will live here for life. “Peace be with this house and all who will live here,” he begins. “Lord, be close to your servants who move into this home and ask for your blessing. Be their shelter … And at last receive them into the dwelling place you have prepared for them in your Father’s house where you live forever and ever.”
The bishop sprinkles holy water in the entry way, and then begins his tour of the prison campus. He is especially impressed with the kitchen, where 1,000 loaves of bread will be baked every other day. Bread is served at every meal, Schierbrock explains. The prison is able to feed inmates for a $1 per meal, he notes.
A prison escape approximately eight years ago led state officials to decide to build a new prison that could better accommodate inmates in the 21st century, according to news reports. Additional uses for the old prison are being considered.