posted: July 30th, 2011 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Is life little more than a crap shoot? That’s the question you may well be asking yourself if you tour the old prison in Deer Lodge, Montana. That facility — now replaced by a nearby more modern facility — once handled some of the nation’s most incorrigible criminals.
Jerry Myles was one such man, and his resume at the time of incarceration in the Deer Lodge Prison included stints in prisons to include ones in Georgia, Illinois, and Alcatraz.
He committed at least fifteen crimes in eight states to include burglary, grand larceny, conspiracy to commit robbery, mutiny with weapons, and finally threats to burn alive guards whom he had captured. Jerry Myles absolutely despised authority.
Born in 1915 to a mother who rejected him shortly after birth, he was passed from one family to another – often with brutal consequences — until he finally wound up in reform school, serving in his case as a training ground for crimes to follow, which eventually included the association with murder.
Not surprisingly, Jerry spent virtually his entire adult life in prison. During the few times he was free, he searched for his biological mother. But she didn’t want to see him, and the search ended in failure.
Prison psychologists later said his evolving hatred of women lead to a predatory life of homosexuality, during which time he preyed on young and, sometimes, reluctant young men. Myles always wanted to be the “Lion.” Today, he might be called a “control freak.”
Jerry is best known for the lead role he and Lee Smart, his young male “wife,” played in the infamous prison riot they started in 1959. Because prison conditions at the Montana jail at the time were so horrendous, they found a willing following among other inmates.
The riot lasted several days and was highlighted when convicts captured a number of prison guards and then threatened them throughout the long days and nights of captivity with guns and knifes. “I’m going to kill you,” Jerry Myles kept saying to several of the guards they’d forced into a cell. “Think about it, ‘cuz I’ll be back.”
Eventually the riot ended with the death of a deputy warden and the suicides of both Jerry Myles and Lee Smart. Men from the Montana National Guard stormed the old prison, first firing a bazooka into Cell Tower One, where Myles and Smart were controlling rioting prisoners. That hole still exists, and is one of the features that serves to remind of the days when things went so array.
ART IS CAN BE BALM FOR THE SPIRIT
In part because of the riot, Montana built a new prison with modern facilities – and one night I rode my bike along a small country road to the new facility. From my vantage the huge complex appeared neat and clean and well kept. But it is also surrounded by some of the state’s most beautiful mountains, and paradoxically, that could be the most frustrating aspect of serving time in Deer Lodge. So much nearby beauty, but for those inside the walls, that beauty is very – very — far away.
Today’s convicts are encouraged to create works of art, and many do, and they do so at a high level of creativity. It is for sale in store near the old prison.
Prison art work, showing immense skill, for sale at store near Old Prison.
The art may enable some to work out the frustrations of lonely childhoods, fraught in some cases with much pain and abuse. It provides opportunities for introspection and perhaps a way to deal with circumstances imposed by horrendous environmental circumstances into which chance birth once placed them.
For the rest of us it might also provide an introspective moment or two – and perhaps a way to reflect on our own luck of the draw. Prison physiologists say Jerry had an IQ of 125, suggesting that environmental circumstances were just too much for Jerry Myles to overcome, bright though he may have been.