If we're to believe hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black, prison is mostly quippy dialogue interspliced with scenes of high drama, sexy intrigue, racial tension, and revealing flashbacks.
Cinéma vérité, it ain't. For more realistic analysis of prison life, check out the Star Tribune's excellent feature on solitary confinement in Minnesota from last year.
Then again, this is the Internet Age. The preferred method of absorbing information isn't rigorously reported longform journalism -- it's crowd-sourced reviewing distilled into star ratings! How else would we know the Olive Garden in Oakdale is four-star dining?
All of Minnesota's 10 correctional facilities have earned Google reviews. Some are practical and earnest. Some are wisecracking. Some take issue with the prison-industrial complex, while at least one bemoans the absence of McChicken sandwiches.
Here are some odd digital glimpses into our state's penitentiaries.
Levels 2 & 3: Minimum and medium security
Stillwater (2.6 out of 5 stars): "I Love the marble and nostalgia of the design!" raves Jennifer Pointon in her five-star review.
Curious point of emphasis, but the 1913 structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lino Lakes (3 out of 5 stars): "They didn't have mcchickrns," complains Nicole Keeler in her one-star review.
We're guessing she meant McChickens.
Togo (5 out of 5 stars): "Went here when I was 17 yrs old. Best 3 months of my life," gushes Tyler Rossman in his five-star review. "Most of the staff were super down to earth and would treat you with respect. Wish everyday that I could go back. If you have a troubled male teenager this is the place to send him. I guarantee that this will change his life and give him a new outlook on things."
Confused? Known as Thistledew Camp, Togo's facility is really a restorative boot camp in northern Minnesota. It looks nice!
Faribault (2.2 out of 5 stars): "Welcome back to Minnesota Donald Pince," writes Jeffry Kinzer in his three-star review.
He's referring to the pseudonym of Donald Blom, a convicted murderer and suspected serial killer who's housed in Faribault.
Willow River/Moose Lake (2.7 out of 5 stars): No in-depth critiques of this dual facility located 45 minutes south of Duluth.
Red Wing (3.2 out of 5 stars): "::1961/1962***one year.... With a 3month break, chopping trees AT, saint crox ( sandstone, Minnesota)��������⁉‼::" offers Ralph Parks in his three-star review.
Level 4: Close security
Rush City (2.8 out of 5 stars): "Nice facility but my son who shouldn't be incarcerated for a crime he did not commit is being denied medical attention," claims Angela Corbin Nygard in her one-star review. "He's had this pain in his back that now has moved to his right arm. The only advise that they give him is go see the nurse or do this stretch or take an aspirin! Really! This is his right from Amendment 8 that he deserves proper treatment and not this bull crap that they keep telling him. Very disappointed in the facility and all the rest of them. The only good thing are the guards that you see during visitation!"
Very Minnesotan to employ the ol' compliment sandwich in a complaint this dire.
St. Cloud (2.8 out of 5 stars): "Beds were hard, the door to my room wouldn't open and my roommate had multiple facial tattoos," jokes Ben Lohrding in his one-star review. "Food was mediocre and toilets were next to bed (convenient, but awkward). Constantly feared for my life during my stay. 1/5 stars. wouldn't recommend staying here if you are planning on visiting The Land of 10,000 Lakes."
Har, har, har.
(Stillwater is also classified as close security, FWIW.)
Level 5: Maximum security
Oak Park Heights (3.7 out of 5 stars): "Treat the prisoner as if they are not human being more like animals," demands Romain Edwards in his one-star review.
Romain has a point: The Strib's story on solitary confinement reveals the horrific treatment of some inmates housed at Oak Park Heights.
Women-only (all security levels)
Shakopee (4 out of 5 stars): "Yes a prison, yet performed Jewish Services here, making our world better, to bring Moshiach (Messiah) now," reveals Reuven Overlander -- who appears to be a rabbi -- in his four-star review.
H/T to Star Tribune reporter Andy Mannix, the rare kinda guy who's aware of online prison reviews
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