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Episode 6: Every Prison is an Island

ferry dock at McNeil Island
Parker Miles Blohm

McNeil Island is an especially forgotten prison. But, in the end, all prisons are forgotten in some way. In the last episode of Forgotten Prison, hosts Simone Alicea and Paula Wissel wrestle with why that is.

Prisons are a cornerstone of our justice system, and taxpayers spend a lot of money to keep them running. But most people would rather not think about them.

"Staying invisible is just a natural part of being a prison in Washington state," said Dick Morgan, the last superintendent of the McNeil Island Corrections Center. Morgan was tasked with closing the prison between 2010 and 2011.

"You have that attribute in prisons in general, which is 'lock them up and forget about them,'" he said.

Everything on McNeil Island — the old prison, the abandoned houses, the commitment center, and even the wildlife preserve — was built in our name. So there is a lot to lose when we forget.

Forgotten Prison is a six-part 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, open through May 26 at the museum in Tacoma.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
A Seattle native and former knkx intern, Simone Alicea has returned to the Pacific Northwest from covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.
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  • The abandoned prison on McNeil Island and its 136-year history can tell us a lot about why we lock people up and how it has changed over time. Hosts Simone Alicea and Paula Wissel explore the decaying structures on the island to learn how the modern American prison system came to be.