Inmates worked as loggers, millworkers and stonemasons during the week, earning 20 cents an hour during the 1950s. Half their earnings were sent home to their dependents, while about one third of their salary went into a savings account, and the rest was theirs to keep as spending money.
The prison tried to be self-sufficient, even going so far as to cultivate vegetable plots on the camp's 3,500-foot terrain and in its brief growing season. Pigs and chickens were raised at the camp and incorporated in its dining hall menu.
On weekends, a movie was shown, baseball games and other athletic activities took place, and guided hikes into the Cranberry backcountry were offered. Prisoners made use of a woodworking craft shop in which they turned out cabinets, gun cases, jewelry boxes and other items to sell or give to friends and relatives.
College-educated conscientious objectors and left-leaners like Fast who had run afoul of the law took it upon themselves to help teach illiterate inmates how to read. Their work was incorporated into the prison's education program, in which those unable to pass a fifth-grade competency test had mandatory hour-long classes four nights a week until they could.
To prepare prisoners for life away from the institution, Mill Point offered vocational courses in wiring, welding, carpentry and other skills.
By the time Mill Point Prison Camp was phased out of existence in 1959, more than 6,000 inmates had served time here.
Today, all that's left of the prison is a few foundation footers, standpipes and stairways. The only sounds that could be heard on a recent afternoon at the site were the whistling of wind through the needles of spruce and pine trees surrounding the former prison grounds, the calls of songbirds and owls, and the occasional drumming of a grouse.
The Monongahela National Forest has placed interpretive signs telling the prison's story at the site of the camp, now a grassy meadow along Cowpasture Trail, about a half-mile from the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center, at the intersection of W.Va. 39 and W.Va. 150, the Highland Scenic Highway.
The first gated road on the left side of the Highland Scenic Highway reached after departing the nature center is the former access road to the prison. Hikers are welcome to follow the grassy path, with occasional patches of asphalt, to the prison site.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.