Editor’s note: This story was published in The State newspaper on Jan. 22, 1994
Eddie Payden made history Friday.
Payden walked out the front entrance of Central Correctional Institution as the final inmate in the last group of 21 convicts transferred from South Carolina's most notorious prison. He was overwhelmed by the role thrust on him.
He shuffled his feet and smiled as a crowd of corrections employees applauded loudly at his exit. It marked the final stage of the long-awaited closing of the state's oldest prison, located off Huger Street in Columbia.
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"There's a lot of memories. It's like leaving your old neighborhood," said Payden, who had been at CCI for 15 years while serving a life sentence for murder. "I'll have to deal with new rules, new regulations and new territory."
Payden had lived in Cell Block 1, a five-tier, granite-block building that was South Carolina's first state penitentiary. He and the 20 other convicts went to Lee Correctional Institution, the state's newest and largest prison.
The inmates' departure symbolized the end of one era and the beginning of a new one for the state Department of Corrections.
"The final inmates of this bastille will be released, and this chapter will be ended," said Parker Evatt, director of the Corrections Department. "We've been asking for years to close this facility, and now it's a reality."
CCI's reputation for housing some of the most dangerous convicts in the state was evident to the end. Inmates wore belly chains and leg irons as they walked several feet from the front entrance to a bus guarded by corrections officers armed with shotguns.
The violent reputation of inmates and decrepit condition of the prison made it difficult to manage CCI, said Ellis MacDougall, a former CCI warden and former South Carolina corrections commissioner.
"We lived with the most basic conditions you could live in in this institution," MacDougall said. "Thank God, it's gone."
CCI's acting warden, Chuck Cepak, will remain at the prison for at least a month as employees begin the painstaking task of salvaging equipment for use in other prisons statewide. Many people have called about getting cell bars and other items from the prison, but no souvenirs will be given away, Cepak said.
While the transfer operation inside CCI proceeded smoothly, the bus carrying the inmates to Lee Correctional Institution, located near Bishopville, did not.
It broke down Friday morning at the intersection of I-20 and S.C. 277. No inmates escaped, and two vans from the Lee County facility picked up the convicts and brought them to the prison about 1:15 p.m.
CCI at a glance
▪ The last group of inmates left Central Correctional Institution Friday in the final phase of the closing of South Carolina's oldest prison.
▪ History: The oldest building was completed in 1867 as South Carolina's first state penitentiary.
▪ Population: Housed about 1,300 inmates before convicts were transferred.
▪ Where inmates have gone: Prisons throughout the state.
▪ Future use: Columbia City Council has agreed to buy the property, nearly 25 acres, for $3.2 million plus demolition costs and will take possession by September. The site will be privately developed, but no decisions have been made about how. The emphasis, though, will be on residential use with greater public access to the Congaree River nearby.
▪ Public tours: Hourlong tours were offered on four consecutive weekends, Feb. 19 through March 13, in 1994.
▪ Employee reunion: Reunion party for all past and current CCI employees was held on March 3, 1994.