brushy mountain correctional

Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex: A Historical Overview


Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex, once a maximum-security prison nestled in the remote hills of Tennessee, has a long and storied history. Known for housing some of the most dangerous criminals in the United States, the facility has gained a reputation for both its strict security measures and its infamous inmates. In this article, we will delve into the past of this notorious institution, exploring its beginnings, significant events, and what it has become today.

History of Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex

Early years

Constructed in the late 19th century, Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex was initially intended to house prisoners who were sentenced to hard labor in the nearby coal mines. The prison’s remote location was chosen to make escape nearly impossible for inmates. Over the years, the facility underwent several expansions and renovations to accommodate a growing inmate population and improve security.

Expansion and improvements

Throughout the 20th century, Brushy Mountain continued to evolve, with new buildings and facilities being added to keep up with the needs of the inmates and the prison system. Some of the notable expansions include the construction of additional cell blocks, a new mess hall, and an administrative building.

See also  Tennessee Prison for Women

Notable Inmates

James Earl Ray

One of the most infamous inmates at Brushy Mountain was James Earl Ray, the man convicted of assassinating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison and was transferred to Brushy Mountain in 1969. He would later attempt an escape, which we will discuss in further detail below.

Byron Looper

Another well-known inmate was Byron Looper, a former Tennessee politician who was convicted of murdering his election opponent, State Senator Tommy Burks, in 1998. Looper was serving a life sentence at Brushy Mountain until the prison’s closure.

Escape Attempts and Security

James Earl Ray’s escape

In 1977, James Earl Ray managed to escape from Brushy Mountain along with six other inmates. The escape made national headlines, and a massive manhunt ensued. Ray was eventually recaptured just three days later, hiding in a wooded area not far from the prison.

Other escape attempts

While Ray’s escape was the most famous, there were other attempts throughout the years. Despite the prison’s remote location and strict security measures, a small number of inmates were able to briefly taste freedom before being recaptured.

Security measures

Brushy Mountain implemented various security measures to prevent escapes and maintain order within its walls. These included a perimeter fence topped with razor wire, armed guards stationed in watchtowers, and routine cell searches.

Life Inside Brushy Mountain

Daily routines

Inmates at Brushy Mountain followed strict daily routines, which included waking up early, participating in roll calls, and performing assigned tasks. Prisoners were also given allotted times for meals, recreation, and personal hygiene.

See also  Cold Creek Correctional Facility

Rehabilitation programs

Brushy Mountain offered various rehabilitation programs to its inmates, with the aim of reducing recidivism and helping prisoners reintegrate into society upon release. Programs included educational classes, vocational training, and substance abuse counseling.

Working conditions

In the early days, inmates were subjected to harsh working conditions, with many forced to work in the nearby coal mines. Over time, these practices were phased out, and inmates were instead given the opportunity to participate in various work programs within the prison, such as maintenance and food service.

Closing of Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex

In 2009, the Tennessee Department of Correction announced the closure of Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex, citing outdated facilities and budget constraints. Inmates were transferred to other facilities within the state, and the prison was officially decommissioned.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary Today

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary as a tourist destination

Following its closure, Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was transformed into a unique tourist destination. Today, visitors can tour the former prison, learn about its history, and even dine at the on-site restaurant, which serves “prison-themed” meals.

Paranormal activity and ghost tours

Brushy Mountain has also gained a reputation for being haunted, with numerous reports of unexplained sounds and apparitions. As a result, the former prison now offers guided ghost tours, which take visitors through the eerie, abandoned cell blocks and recount stories of the supernatural.


Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex has a fascinating and tumultuous history, marked by notorious inmates, daring escape attempts, and harsh living conditions. Although it now serves as a tourist attraction and a reminder of the past, its legacy lives on in the stories and memories of those who experienced life within its walls.

See also  Riverbend Maximum Security Institution


  1. When did Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex open? Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex opened in the late 19th century, initially serving as a prison for those sentenced to hard labor in the nearby coal mines.
  2. What was the main reason for closing Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex? The main reasons for closing Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex were outdated facilities and budget constraints.
  3. Are there any famous inmates who served time at Brushy Mountain? James Earl Ray, the man convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr., and Byron Looper, a former Tennessee politician convicted of murder, are two of the most infamous inmates who served time at Brushy Mountain.
  4. What can visitors do at the former Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary today? Visitors can take guided tours of the former prison, dine at the on-site restaurant, and participate in ghost tours recounting stories of paranormal activity within the facility.
  5. Are there any reports of paranormal activity at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary? Yes, there have been numerous reports of unexplained sounds, apparitions, and other supernatural phenomena at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, leading to the establishment of guided ghost tours.

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