Michigan State Prison in Jackson has a legendary — and some say haunted — history.
Photo source: Michiganology

It goes past the power of my words to express what it means to have been a gravedigger at a prison in Jackson, Michigan. 

Jackson State Prison, or Michigan State Prison, as it was also known, opened in 1839, making it the first state prison. The prison went through various rebuilds before being relocated three miles away, where it went through further renovations and renamings over the years. Jackson State Prison’s claim to fame is that it was the world’s largest walled prison, once housing close to 6,000 people over 52 acres of space. The main campus closed in 2007.

Given the prison’s legendary history, the 19th-century portion now hosts a museum, public tours and the occasional ghost hunt

While some folks might like to search for goblins and ghouls on prison grounds, I spent enough time at Jackson State Prison burying the dead. I now have gravedigger tales. Please don’t experiment with resurrecting the dead. You will place your life and other lives in grave danger.

My connection to the afterlife started at a young age. When I was first born, my mother told me I’d be able to communicate with spirits and the dead. When I was 7 years old, her words came true. 

I had many dead visitors. Witches and warlocks would sit on the edge of my bed. I couldn’t scream or move because I was paralyzed. Demons always tried to trick me into doing something evil, like poking the eyes out of my sister’s dolls or stealing the jelly beans out of my siblings’ Easter baskets. They even tried to make me sacrifice our cat Big Head.

My prison job at Jackson State Prison was digging graves just outside of the compound. I worked from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., unless I was ordered to work overtime.

Before I dug graves, I would pull table salt and wooden stakes out of a brown leather bag I carried with me. I’d sprinkle a circle of salt around the grave and drive the 6-inch stakes into the ground to protect myself from being attacked and possessed by hostile spirits.

I dug 6-foot holes for single corpses until Boot Hill became overcrowded and I had to double-bunk the graves. The prisoners’ cemetery was named Boot Hill because prisoners were buried in their boots on top of a hill.

If you were in the 16 Block unit, you could look out of your window and see old wooden crosses and deteriorated headstones.

On my lunch breaks, I enjoyed walking around Boot Hill, reading headstones with names, dates and prisoner identification numbers. Sometimes I heard frightening screams for mercy from dead prisoners. I believe those screams came from prisoners who were brutally killed in Jackson State Prison. Their souls refused to cross over to an afterlife.

On rainy workdays, I would place plastic over the 6-foot holes and hide in a grave, eating cucumbers, until the thunder and lightning stopped. At night, rebellious ghosts would make cell calls and haunt the cell blocks, seeking revenge.

One late night, we witnessed brother Abdullah’s silhouette with a rope around his neck hanging from the bunk head in 4 Block. Prison legend has it that the dead prisoners’ spirits were so haunting in 4 Block and 16 Block that prison officials had to demolish them. An exorcism was required before they could rebuild 4 Block.

Since I have this power of communicating with the dead, let me reveal a 50-year-old secret the spirits once told me:

Before you go to sleep, place under your bed, under your head, a letter to the dead person you want to contact. Also place a shiny dime over the letter for the underworld gatekeeper. Then place the letter on top of a clear 8-ounce glass half-filled with pure, clear water. With this act, you will resurrect the dead, and they will come.

But like I told you at the beginning, please don’t experiment with resurrecting the dead. You will place your life and other lives in grave danger.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Gene Favors

Gene Favors is a writer incarcerated in Michigan. Gene’s pieces are submitted through the American Prison Writing Archive, a partner of the Prison Journalism Project.