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Built in 1892 in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the territorial prison was one of the first federal prisons in the Midwest. The building quickly earned its nickname, the “Black Jail,” due to its 18-inch thick walls of dark limestone and brick. The original prison was a two-story building with a flat roof. The main entrance was on the second floor of the west wall. An inside set of stairs led to a metal cage built outside that entrance. Despite its reputation of being inescapable, 14 inmates managed to break free in the summer of 1896, most notably American bandit Bill Doolin.

The prison ultimately closed in the early 1900s but was later converted to a Nazarene Church and remained such until the late 1970s. The building was once again repurposed in the early 90s, this time by New Age spiritual group the Samaritan Foundation. Led by Linda Greene, the Samaritan Foundation taught and practiced dowsing (or pendulum swinging over different charts to ascertain spiritual answers).

The prison was re-named “The Monastery” by the Samaritans and housed the group’s seminars as well as many of its members. A handful of children also lived in the converted prison. Instigated by media investigations linking the Samaritans to other cults of the time—as well as by a custody battle over two children living in the prison—the doors of the prison were once again shuttered after the Department of Human Services deemed the structure unfit for the children living there.

The building remains unoccupied but is rumored to be inhabited by ghosts from times past. Restoration workers have reported feeling followed or watched. Voices have been heard echoing down the cell hall. A figure seen in the hallway is believed to be the spirit of James Phillips, the first white man to be hanged at the prison. Records note that in 1907, as he watched the construction of the gallows through his window, Phillips suddenly fell backwards on his bed, dying instantly of fright.

The spirit of a young woman is also said to occupy the prison. According to witness accounts, a woman’s voice can be heard singing throughout the main level of the building. She has been reported to wear a long printed dress, as well as gloves and a large-brimmed hat. The woman has also been noticed walking the grounds outside the prison, and on occasion attempting to cross the street of Noble Avenue. She usually appears alone and at dusk. Some believe she is a prostitute, while others think she was a prominent member of the Nazarene Church. Still, others speculate she may be the spirit of Donna Hebb, a former member of the Samaritan Foundation who stepped in front of a speeding train after she was dismissed from the group. She was said to be holding a little dog and smiling as she left this world.

I don’t remember much about living in the prison, but I remember that my oldest memories are there. I remember walking around, men sleeping on makeshift cots. I remember meeting Linda Greene, and I remember little dogs. I also remember climbing between the bedsheets of a leaning mattress, pressing a stuffed lobster into the crotch of my pants. I don’t remember being forcibly removed by police, nor do I remember the safe house we were kept in for a few days during the custody battle. I do remember those reoccurring nightmares trapped in a building with endless tunnels, elevators, and stairs leading to nowhere. I remember the witches and monsters that haunted that space, and that time the witch killed my father and tricked me into prayer. It’s only twenty years later that I make the connections to the building once lived.