LANSING, Kansas (KCTV) — It’s not as famous as Alcatraz, but the Kansas State Penitentiary has a more interesting history than some might realize, and the Lansing Historical Society plans to share about it.
On Thursday, Historical Society president Debra Bates-Lamborn gave KCTV5 a preview tour of the state’s oldest prison. She recently toured the old Missouri State Prison in Jefferson City and learned it had become one of the state’s top tourist destinations. Her vision is to greet even more visitors seeing that Lansing is closer to a major airport and the county is known for its prison industry.
The state prison complex in Lansing has separate prisons for each of the three security levels. Neighboring Leavenworth has a federal civilian prison and a federal military prison.
Perhaps the most famous person to spend time at the prison wasn’t a prisoner. It was Johnny Cash. He played on the auditorium stage in 1970 with his wife June Carter Cash.
Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson, the county’s top prosecutor, championed the plan to offer tours.
It can be about tourism and curiosity or something more personal. Bates-Lamborn, Thompson and Kansas Department of Corrections personnel were conducting the media tour when Thompson spotted someone familiar. Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson was there shooting a documentary. He spent nearly three years there on a drug possession conviction. He had just seen his old cell for the first time since he was released 13 years ago.
His time in prison he has strengthened his spirituality. He now mentors prisoners and speaks about second chances.
With tours on the horizon, he’s excited about being able to show his 16-year-old son where he wrote his letters home, the place that made him want to find a new beginning and keep his son from becoming the third generation of incarcerated men in his family. The visit Thursday was emotional, he said, but necessary.
He hopes it will do the same for others once tours begin. Bates-Lamborn said The Lansing Historical Society will meet with the Kansas Department of Corrections next week to get the final go-ahead. They hope to begin offering tours in February.