Closing the "Wall"

Story by Megan Guza


If The Wall could talk, what stories would it tell?

It would tell of an unsuccessful tunnel escape and, nearly a century later, one that succeeded. It would speak of riots and fires and offer the scorched beams in the auditorium as proof. It would speak of at least a half dozen floods, including one that sent 15 feet of water surging into cells in 1936.

The Wall would tell the stories of four corrections officers killed during its 135-year history: The stories of Deputy Warden John Pieper and Sgt. John T. Coax, killed in 1924, guard Cliff Grogan killed in 1965, and Capt. Walter Peterson, killed in 1973.

The Wall surrounding SCI Pittsburgh, the oldest prison in Pennsylvania, would tell a lot of stories.

Corrections officer and SCI-Green County Honor Guard member Frank Trout gets ready for start of a ceremony to lower the flags at SCI Pittsburgh for the last time after the state decided to close the prison's doors.

Now, though, it is quiet.

The inmates are gone. A skeleton crew maintains the facility. The state Department of Corrections decided in January that the prison should close to save money – about $81 million.

Superintendent Mark Capozza's footsteps echo through empty halls. A doorknob falls off in his hand.

"It's amazing the deafening silence that falls over this place," he said.