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Former inmate visits old W.Va. Penitentiary

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. -- The former West Virginia Penitentiary attracts many out-of-state visitors who take tours of the old prison. But one visitor had a different reason for making the trip to Moundsville.

James Tiller was sentenced to the penitentiary when he was 19 for his involvement in a shooting in Mingo County. He served two years of a five-year sentence at the Gothic-style prison. Today, he is an attorney in Nashville, Tenn., and he visits prisons to talk to inmates about turning their lives around.

On Sunday, Tiller returned to the old penitentiary to take a tour and look back.

"To have gone 30 years later and I look back at my life and see the transformations -- it's been astounding,'' he told WTOV-TV.

"At that time there were some of the most hardened criminals in the state of West Virginia housed here, and some of them were doing double-life and triple-life, and they would walk around the yard, and I had to obviously get acquainted with some of these individuals,'' Tiller said. "It was enough to try and stay alive in the environment you were in.''

Tiller also said he is not surprised by stories he hears about the old prison being haunted, although he never thought about it much.

"I just knew from personal experience that it was a very macabre environment, and it was a very eerie environment, and we didn't really talk about it being haunted, because we were dealing with the real life situations that were bad enough as it was,'' he said.

In 1995, the West Virginia Supreme Court declared the Civil War-era penitentiary uninhabitable and ordered it to be closed. It now is a tourist attraction that offers historic and haunted tours.

 


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