1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Life in the Watch Towers

John McCurdy - April 22, 2011

I was lucky and did not work many nights on the Watch Towers at  Ashland and none else where. The towers, there were 4 of them situated so every inch of the double chain link fence, which was topped with Razor or barbed wire, was visible from one or more of the Towers. Tower 1 at Ashland was at the front of the Institution and controlled traffic in and out as well as kept tabs on  against inmates activity inside the fence, it was also the institution Armory, from where weapons would be issued in escape hunts etc. The Tower was entered from the bottom, the officer in the Tower would lower the key after making certain the individual wanting entry was an employee and supposed to come in at THAT Time. After entering one would lock the door and ascend a steep stair case going up about 60 feet. Hopefully the man already in the tower would have lifted a trapdoor in the floor to afford entry. He would then shortly leave the Tower, lock the door when he left and hang the Key on a rope for you to pull up.. A few times the key was not pulled up, a bad deed with possible tragic consequences! With me so far?

The space you have just entered is six sided about 12 feet across, counters with cabinets under and covered with battleship linoleum! There is  a steel pole in the center supporting the searchlight controls, the search light is about 20 inches in diameter and is BRIGHT! Hanging below the searchlight is a .38 Caliber Colt Police Positive in a leather holster. Right under the revolver is a Commode, no lid, but with a seat. On the other side of the center pole is a bubbler water fountain, (unrefrigerated). On the counter on each side is a M1 Carbine with magazine inserted and another magazine beside it. Hanging over it a Model 70 Winchester rifle with scope. Under the cabinet is a .45 caliber Thompson Sub-Machine gun with no ammo that I ever noted!!

The area is not air conditioned, however the 6 windows do open. They drop down to open and are a bitch to get back up. The officer  is far enough up in the air that in the summer you can be stark-assed naked to try to get cool and no one can see in. There is a three foot steel stool with a steel seat one can sit on for a little while, most decided that standing was easier. In the summer one can open all the windows but when the outside temperature is 90 or above, it ain't cool!   In the winter when one is cool the heating is done by a 1500 watt electric heater on the floor as I recall. However the Armory below is heated by a radiator and heat comes up thru a grate and helps some.

The 4 towers and the Control Center were linked by a intercom system always on, however after a few weeks one has heard all the lies and is sick of the fellow officers whining.  One can only clean the weapons so many times, waxing the floor and counter and spit shining your shoes get old after awhile!

Now imagine it's 3:30 in the AM on a sultry summer night or a frigid winter night when there is absolutely nothing happening and you've been doing this shift for several weeks maybe longer and you are tempted to empty a Carbine just to hear the noise>>>>>Perhaps, you think, "I could lie out of it!"

One older fellow at Petersburg reportedly emptied the full clip of a carbine, 15 rounds, down between the fences one night and reported that a line of elephants, tail and trunks entwined were marching away from him. Someone asked why he was shooting elephants going away, that they could see shooting if they were coming toward him!  He took his retirement and returned to Alderson.

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