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Episode 5: It Happened Here

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Parker Miles Blohm
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KNKX

Studying the history of an American prison is really just a study in American history. Pick a major event, and odds are good you can find at least one story related to McNeil Island. 

In Episode 5 of Forgotten Prison, hosts Simone Alicea and Paula Wissel show how this one island in South Puget Sound was a party to history, from natural disasters and war to big cultural moments.

The prison on McNeil Island operated for 136 years as a territorial, federal and state prison. Lists of inmates show groups of people who were locked up there because of these earth-shaking events.

As a federal prison, McNeil held people for some military crimes. That included draft-resisters from World War I through the Vietnam War. During World War II, McNeil also held Japanese-American draft-resisters who had been interned as a result of Executive Order 9066.

But the island's connections to history are even deeper. In the 1970s, culture shifts around drugs and civil rights were seeping into prisons. Those shifts informed an increasingly vocal prisoners' rights movement.

McNeil even had a part to play in foreign affairs, housing some 350 Cubans who came over on the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, right as the prison was transitioning to state ownership.

Forgotten Prison is a six-part weekly podcast in partnership with the Washington State History Museum. Subscribe via Apple, Google or anywhere you get your podcasts. And be sure to check out the accompanying exhibit, now open at the museum in Tacoma.

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