Students take a first hand look at the gas chamber in the old Wyoming State prison on their fieldtrip for Criminology.

Photo by Brittany Madigan, Blue Print

Students take a first hand look at the gas chamber in the old Wyoming State prison on their fieldtrip for Criminology.

Life behind bars

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"Everybody should be in a prison at least once in their life," says Joy Tegtman, criminology teacher at Moffat County High School. Recently, the high school's criminology class went on a field trip to two prisons in Wyoming; The Wyoming State Penitentiary and the Wyoming Frontier Prison.

"I really enjoy going. I think the students enjoy it also. [It's] not just a day away from school, but something you keep with you," said Tegtman. According to students, both prisons are very interesting, but they have their differences as well. The Wyoming State Penitentiary is the new prison that houses today's inmates while the Wyoming Frontier Prison is the old penitentiary, opened in the December of 1901 and closed in 1987, where it sat abandoned for almost a year. According to its website, the Wyoming Frontier Prison was made into a museum in 1988, when a joint powers board assumed ownership.

"The operational one [Wyoming State Penitentiary] is more important to see because you see what happens today. The old one [Wyoming Frontier Prison] is fun. It's creepy," laughed Tegtman. As for the students, their favorites of the two prisons varied. For junior Jordan McLeslie, the old prison is where she gained the best learning opportunities and had the best experiences. For junior Johnny Landa, the State Penitentiary was the only one he got to see, but it was still very enjoyable. "[It was a] great time. We got to see prisoners." In fact, students were granted the opportunity to interview two of the prisoners, Tommy and Gabe. Tommy and Gabe were locked up, and as a punishment, they will serve a life term. McLeslie states that she has mixed feelings about the interview. She says that she feels, slightly bad for them, and wishes that they could someday get out, but she believes that they got what they deserved as well. As for Landa, the lesson learned from Gabe was to never trust a lawyer fresh out of college. According to Gabe, he almost got away with serving only a few years in prison, but due to his young lawyer, he has to serve a life term.

The trip is something that will not soon be forgotten. Both McLeslie and Landa agreed on the fact that they wouldn't hesitate to recommend this trip to other students. "You get to see paintings that a man did of animals, and wherever you walked it's eyes followed you. There were also railroad tracks that always stayed on the right side of you, no matter where you walked," said McLeslie, "The pictures are trying to tell you that someone is always watching you, and the railroad tracks are trying to remind you to always stay on the right side."

Landa agreed. "[It's] a fun trip. You learn a lot and get to meet Gabe and Tommy." As for the criminology class itself, you get to participate in many activities including the prison field trip. For Tegtman, it's a class that she's taught for many years, and has had a great time every year. One of her favorites is the prison field trips. The trips will hopefully continue for many years, and it's one that many students wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

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