It’s time to reveal one of our favorites. The demolition of the Kahn-designed Detroit House of Correction facility in Plymouth, MI has been announced after twelve years of decay and vandalism.
In 1860, DeHoCo began as an imposing castle located where Eastern Market is today, once the country’s westernmost federal correctional facility and the only in the state to house female inmates. Because of this, it hosted an impressive cast of co-ed Wild Western outlaws, including Billy the Kid and Belle Starr.
Due to overcrowding, a new facility was constructed miles away on the prison’s farm property in the secluded, rural community of Plymouth. Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed the new facility, which opened in 1931 to house bootleggers and bank robbers. Read more about the many changes to the property over the years on DetroitUrbex.
“I can’t sit, no, no, in DeHoCo,” was a line from Nathaniel Mayer’s 1966 song I Want Love and Affection (Not the House of Correction), rumored to have been written during Mayer’s sentence there.
Poet and MC5 manager John Sinclair was sentenced to six months in DeHoCo for possession of marijuana. He would later be sentenced to ten years in Marquette State Prison for two joints, and a resulting court case would eventually lead to the decriminalization of marijuana in the state of Michigan and Ann Arbor’s annual Hash Bash.
For more details of DeHoCo’s inmate history and photographs from just after it closed in 2004, check out Nailhed’s article.
It isn’t unusual to find old records left behind in former state-run facilities, where the administration always seems to “forget” to clear the many filing cabinets on their way out. DeHoCo’s bizarrely combined weapon cleaning and records room is full of handwritten files for the inmates of the 1970’s, a number of which are marked both “escaped” and “returned.” The remote location of the prison made it easy to round up the escapees, but it seemed to happen pretty often. There was occasionally commentary in the margins, with a pretty clear interchangeability between inmates at DeHoCo and patients at Ypsilanti State Psychiatric Hospital.
Of course, not everybody sentenced to DeHoCo spent their free time plotting to flee for the fields and forests of Plymouth. Glitter glue and yarn was abundant in the arts and crafts used to pass the time in some of the outbuildings, where personal details could still be found tucked into the nooks and crannies of each cell, many of which had personalized bulletin boards. Even in the maximum security facility, inmates managed to burn or carve their marks into the cell walls.
Around 2000, inmates started a greenhouse they used to grow food and feed the hungry through a program called Forgotten Harvest.
What’s left today was the men’s prison, and the women’s facility across the street was torn down to make way for another, newer prison, which too was closed and was demolished in 2013. Plans for DeHoCo’s demolition are now also in motion with all the proper signatures are in place, although the prison’s date with the wrecking ball remains uncertain.