The old town jail on Central Street in the shadow of the Norwood Town Hall is about to have yet another identity crisis — due to the transient nature of its inhabitants.
History Of Crises
Its recent history has been full of such crises.
The first one occurred in 1965. when the U.S. Marines took over the jail for a recruiting office.
The bars were still on the front windows then, and prospective recruits invariably would ask “What are you doing in jail?”
That crisis called for a bit of remodeling, so the first Marine recruiter in charge of the jail went above and beyond the call of duty and did it himself. He solicited wooden wall paneling and floor tiles from local merchants and pried the bars off of the windows in his office.
The present recruiter. Sgt. Jerry Lequin. finds, however, that even with these improvements. the building’s identity crisis is still with him: His office doesn’t draft men. but “it is a very drafty place.’’
The jail’s draftiness. in fact, is one of its most singular characteristics — according to the men on the police force who remember working there.
The jail was built before the turn of the century and functioned as such until the Marine takeover.
Condemned By The State
One man recalls. “It was a very obsolete place, even 25 years ago. It had an old boiler that wasn’t kept lit all the time in the winter. So every time we got a prisoner, we had to heat the place up. It was condemned every year by the state!”
Most of the prisoners, however, were brought in to cool their heels after a Friday or Saturday night drinking bout at the Flats, and they didn’t mind the cold nearly as much as the policemen on hourly guard duty.
Once a f e w ‘resourceful’ prisoners took the jail’s heating problems to heart and set their blankets and mattresses on fire. But their actions only compounded the problem; thereafter prisoners were not allowed to have blankets and mattresses at all.
Prisoners were also denied neckties and shoe laces after two prisoners terminated their stay there by these means.
Because conditions were stark, no prisoner was kept in the jail more than n few days. For this reason, it functioned and was called the ‘lock-up.’
Not For Women
“No one served a term there, and if a prisoner needed to be held more than a few days, he was taken to Dedham. No major criminals were kept there. No women. It was certainly no place to lock up a woman!” one man with a head for history reports.
Besides the prisoners who were quickly removed, a few made the great escape. One man broke out by using the stove poker that was too close to his cell. Appropriately enough, the man had been booked on suspicion of breaking and entering.
Another man escaped 20 years ago when a friend broke through the window in the room where the Marine’s office is now located. Both escapee and friend were later traced and captured because the friend had left identifying fingerprints on the broken window.
Most of the other past inhabitants of the jail were “just passing through.” The Marines found evidence of this when they explored the jail’s attic yesterday and found an official “Tramp Book” with a monthly listing of visitors by name, age, and height.
The most recent transient inhabitants of the jail — now sharing it with the Marines — are a derelict group: 500 non-working water meters. The public works department has been using the back rooms of the jail as a repair shop since last November.
When April comes, the jail will open its doors to an inhabitant that may, at last, be able to resolve the identity crisis. After the Marinos move into their new recruiting office on 724 Washington St, the town yard will set up its sign shop in the front of the jail.
By MAUREEN A. CONDON
Patriot Ledger Staff Reporter