The Old Joliet Prison made famous in the 1980 classic The Blues Brothers is now open to the public

Ever wanted to see the prison cell where ‘Joliet Jake’ Blues from the 1980 classic The Blues Brothers was kept?

This might be your big chance.

For the first time since the Joliet Correctional Center opened in 1858, and closed in 2002, The Old Joliet Prison – what it’s called by locals – is now open for tours. 

The Washington Post went behind the scenes to show what it’s included for the $20 visit and explains how Joliet went from the second-largest prison to disrepair.

The prison was designed in a Gothic style and built by convict labor with limestone quarried on site.

By 1872, the building housed 1,239 inmates, a record number for one prison at the time.  

‘It literally looks like someone just got up and walked away’ from the prison, Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the museum that is arranging the tours, told The Washington Post.  

‘The forbiddenness is definitely an asset. There’s a voyeuristic aspect.’

Photographs show paint peeling from the walls and ceilings and bunk bed frames still in tact.

In fact, in one cell, a pair of shorts lies on the floor, either left behind by a former prisoner or one of the actors.

The tour, which lasts 90 minutes, begins where John Belushi’s character ‘Joliet Jake’ walks out of the gate to meet his brother Elwood, played by Dan Aykroyd.  

Peerbolte says the film, along with the Fox TV series Prison Break – which also filmed at the prison – have helped drive the majority of tourists.

He told The Post that 200 tickets have already been booked over the summer from China, where Prison Break is a popular show.  

Peerbolte even recounted the story of a man from Italy who spoke no English, but was able to ask where Belushi’s cell was.

After seeing it, the man began crying. 

‘[He] talked about how he’d waited his whole life to see it,’ Peerbolte told the Post. ‘I’m like: “You’re from Rome, the cradle of civilization!”‘  

The Old Joliet was not quick to adapt to the times and did not have running water or toilets in the cells in 1910. 

According to the Post, which refers historical Robert Sterling’s book Joliet Prisons: Images in Time, showers were introduced into the cells until the 1920s. 

In the summer, prisoners bathed once a week in iron tubs and, in the winter, they bathed every two weeks. 

The tour takes visitors around the yard, which evens holds a preserved cell.

The cell is four feet wide, seven feet high and seven feet long, and holds an iron bunk bed frame. Next to the cell, a plaque refers to Joliet as the ‘last of the Illinois medieval prisons’, the Post reports.

Following stops on the tour include the cells used for solitary confinement and the prison chapel.  

Some areas remain closed off to tourists – including the warden’s quarters – but once restored, they could be added. 

There are many other sections of the prison, such as the former warden’s quarters, that remain off limits but could be a big draw for tours once they’re restored.

‘People lived and died here. This is a house of pain,’ Steve Jones, deputy city manager and economic development manager for the City of Joliet, told the Post.

But he believe it’s also an important preserver of history. ‘People need to see this place.’ 


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