the "Afterlife" sentence
- Convicts serving afterlife sentences keep things lively in West Virginia's creaky, creepy old penitentiary. A forlorn monolith of stone near the Ohio River, the West Virginia Penitentiary was closed in 1995, a decade after courts ruled that doing time in its cramped steel cages, where sewage dripped from pipes and bugs wriggled in food, constituted "cruel and unusual" punishment. But some rogues still prowl the gothic fortress in spirit form, say visitors and former administrators. Paranormal investigators and amateur ghost-hunters are frequent visitors to the 19th-century big house, which allows tours by day and night. Whether tricks of shadow and gloom or something supernatural, visitors have felt, seen and photographed strange things in the steel labyrinth embraced by sandstone ramparts and gothic turrets. From a window in the abandoned confines of the third-floor administration building where female prisoners once worked, a woman's face has been repeatedly
sighted, peering into the silent prison yard. A blurry, furtive apparition called "Shadow Man" has been glimpsed in the psychiatric ward, the cafeteria and the catacombs. But the granddaddy of them all seems to be inmate No. 44670, known in life as R.D. Wall.
He's been attracting attention for 76 years, long before the tourists came. Annually, about 20,000 people are drawn to the old pen and get a history lesson on its macabre executions and grisly violence, some of it imparted while visitors -- who dare -- stand locked in maximum security cells. (They qualify for "I Did Time" T-shirts on sale in the gift shop.) West Virginia, which split with Virginia in 1863 in the tumult of the Civil War, began work on the prison in 1866. Movie buffs may recognize the unusual gateway inside the entrance -- a round, rotating cage with one open side, installed in 1894. A guard in a booth controlled movements of "the wheel," spinning it with an old trolley motor to provide access to side passageways or the main prison area.
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