Imagine living in this much space. A tiny cell. Other areas of your ‘home’ are shared with at least 20 other people. There is no where to ‘get away’ except to your room and you can’t necessarily escape to your own space without permission.

Room at Illinois State Training School for Girls, Geneva Illinois. Courtesy of Geneva History Center Archives Collection

Prior to the early ’70, all activities were strictly controlled and scheduled. Inmates had very little ‘free’ time other than being either in school, eating a meal or locked in their rooms. For example, on weekends, a time was set aside specifically to write letters in your room. About 1970 with the appointment of a new Superintendent, the rules changed. ‘Behavior modification’ practices and a token system were introduced. People were given more responsibility and opportunities to make decisions. And, the institution became coed – young men were incarcerated and attended school with the girls and young women. Dances were organized on site and became a big incentive to make decisions that would allow you to attend.

This room is small and barren. My memories of the girls’ rooms in the 70s include desks stacked with things bought from the commissary with ‘tokens’ earned through good behavior. There was great demand for these purchases as accumulation of items provided a certain prestige among their peers. A product to condition feet was high on the list of preferred items to decorate the room. Does anyone remember what it was called – maybe ‘Happy Feet’? I don’t remember the boys decorating their rooms, putting the same value on similar purchases nor it bringing them the same prestige.

How would you like to spend hours in this tiny space? I wonder what it was like….. can any of you tell us?