By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Friday the 13th is always special at the Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins, but for site director Tina Hill, this year’s March 13 tour was one of her last really fun days.
“We had a big tour of about 40 people that night and then that following Monday, things started to shut down and gatherings were being limited due to COVID-19,” she said.
About a week later, the “Old Pen” had to close to the public. For Hill and the other two employees at the historic site, this was gut-wrenching for a few reasons. They love hosting the daily tours of the prison, walking guests through history and detailing some of the best stories from the cell blocks. There was no doubt they didn’t want to put a guest’s health in danger, but they also missed seeing new and familiar faces coming on the grounds every week.
But also, no people into the prison meant no funds. Hill and her staff were worried about what the pandemic could mean for the future of the Wyoming Frontier Prison.
But they came up with an idea: renting a cell. This way, people could have their names displayed in the prison without any of the pesky legal consequences.
Contributors to the Rent-a-Cell fundraiser pay $10, which gets them a “cell” for a week. Really, they’ll get a sign bearing their name put up on a cell in the prison for one week — a few more for an extra donation. A person can donate under their own name or use a pseudonym, as seen in Hill’s daily Facebook posts on the WFP page.
Some names are real, like Jason or Joshua, while some signs carry names such as “Senor McAwesomesauce.” But even if some of the names are questionable, the support for the historic site is all too real.
Hill and the WFP staff have been surprised by the response to the fundraiser over the last couple weeks, and are trying to find ways to show their appreciation for their donors.
“I do little video tours every night so people can see their names on the cells,” Hill explained. “We also will send them pictures of their sign so they can share it. It’s been a really great response.”