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Take a look at these OLD pictures!
The Old Pictures contain the original blueprints for the jail and mostly NOPD officers long gone, some posing in front of our jail and some far removed from it. When I look at the first set of pictures from the 1890s (notice the keystone cop hats), I get not only a feeling of long ago or vintage, I see human beings that dedicated their lives to a world that no longer exists, but that made our present world possible. The picture with all the officers and the female nurse in front of our building is from the 1920s and gives me the feeling that they were here, not just as a police force, but also as an aid station, to truly protect and serve. The pictures with the Cub Scouts and the bikes are from the early 50s and are taken in the rooms that were originally this jail’s stables in the early 1900s. The feeling is of fun, of adventure and discovery, of kids being kids – the baby boom generation born after a long war, pampered by a society of men and women that knew they were lucky to be alive. The pictures from the early 1970s showing a racially integrated police force with some of the very first black women police officers and mostly black kids in the rooms touch me in a profound manner. That is my generation! – a world struggling to define who we are, races becoming aware of their rights and their place in society – police officers struggling to keep the peace among our inner city neighborhoods by providing a good example of how to get along through entertainment and education while keeping at bay the drugs and violence of the times. Over all, the Old Treme Jail is a bundle of feelings and emotions with the most important one of them all being a deep feeling of peace – a peace that all of these people in the pictures wanted. May we all find that peace in our own times and towns.
Enjoy these BEFORE pictures
These are the “Oh My God! What have we gotten ourselves into?!?!” pictures … not really. The condition of the jail was worse than what the pictures can show. Looking closely you can see children’s toys and clothing all over. When the jail was abandoned by the City after Hurricane Katrina, it started being used by the homeless, most of them addicted to drugs and alcohol. It was a hazardous cleaning and internal demolition process due to the countless discarded syringes present everywhere. I cringed for the kids that lived in this squalor – so different from the days when this jail housed the bicycle unit, the Cub Scouts, Officer Friendly and the entertainment and education squad. The irony of all this is that the cleaning and internal demolition work in this old jail was done with the help and hard work of, among others, a group of ex-inmates that had served a minimum of 20 years incarceration in Louisiana’s real jails. After being released, one of the few places they could find work was with me in this old jail. My feeling is of complete humility, in awe of the human spirit, of its capacity to overcome, to survive, and of a deep sadness when some of my crew started failing and returned to the real jails, never to come out again. It still pains me to know how we have also failed those men as a society. In the words of the great Mandela, “ A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones”. The rest of my crew – the ones that lacked formal education, as well as formal documentation – the refugees, the ones that taught their black brother Spanish while they were being taught English – continued to soldier on with me, through multiple deportations and heart breaks until we got it done.
I often think about my old crew, especially when I am alone and needing help with a job too big for me. I daydream of what I would have each one of them do and how fast we could have it done. I then smile and get going by myself, or more likely, with our son-in-law, Gerardo’s help. I see the few guys from my crew left around NOLA often, we talk and catch up and promise to see each other again soon. Sometimes I get a call from some small mountain town somewhere in Central America. After the niceties, the ‘how are you’ and such, the conversations always turn to what great jobs such and such did, how hard we worked, the good times, the bad ones, and invariably it turns to who the latest deportees are, when and how they were caught, and if I have heard from the ones re-incarcerated. I tell them what I know, we say goodbye and promise to stay in touch. I then wish we could all be together again for a moment here on the deck, having lunch, talking and joking in bad English or Spanish, eating from each other’s lunch, seeing what we all have accomplished with this old jail. Then I find a corner of the house where I can be alone. In my mind, I picture as many of them as I can. I try to remember what each one did before they came to me and I force myself to see them with the eyes of my mind working in the fields, with their crops, smiling in the rain, taking care of their animals, or working in construction, as mechanics and musicians, or in a market – always happy with their families. I try not to think of them walking thirsty, afraid, miserable in the Sonoran Desert hoping to get back to the wife and kids left behind in NOLA … or in a cold jail cell in Angola, contemplating the rest of their lives there vs what could have been if they had made it out here. Invariably, against my will, I think of it, close my eyes and through the moist fog, I pray for peace also for all of my crew. I feel thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to know and work with each one them – may the Lord bless you all.
How could we forget efforts DURING?
Please read the text above.
So worth the effort! AFTER
This is the way I saw the jail in my heart and mind from the very first time we crawled through the back door … actually trespassing along with the rest of the residents at the time. Most of the furniture is time period, bought at auctions here in New Orleans. Liz and I bought the pieces nobody wanted, the ones too damaged, too broken up or too ugly for the connoisseurs. With my crew gone, our son-in-law, Gerardo came onboard for this part of the process, I could not have finished this project without him. We started by restoring all the furniture that could be put together. The pieces that were too far gone were used in different ways – armoires were divided into smaller pieces, their door mirrors converted into wall mirrors, etc, etc. We built the bed frames and our daughter-in-law, Danie supplied the mattresses – designed and contract manufactured them for us. Actually, she now owns EzoBed, a mattress manufacturing company and we all love her product!
Now, after almost 4 years of restoration, we have reached our first anniversary milestone since opening the Inn at the Old Jail to our guests. We have received a few awards this year, from Louisiana Landmark Society’s Excellence in Historic Preservation Award and Booking.com‘s Most Unique Property in the State of Louisiana to name a couple. But the best awards we have received have come from our awesome guests and it is usually a big hug before they leave and the great smile of complicity when they come back for more. We’ve learned so many things along the way. Our very first guest came as a big surprise, since we didn’t know that we had gone live on the booking engines and were barely ready. He was royally received and entertained by our great neighbors while we rushed back from the store after receiving his call asking where we were! We have hosted football fans and guests en route to great cruises and received them back after their Caribbean or Mexican adventures. We have had a 50 year wedding anniversary and more than a few honeymooners, an intimate wedding on the deck and a surprise proposal down on one knee in our reception. We’ve enjoyed international travelers on road trips through our country. We’ve had entire families with kids, and parents on a quick getaway. We’ve enjoyed big groups taking over the entire jail for Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras, and smaller groups taking over whole floors. We especially love to see them enjoy the use of our kitchen, inviting us to share their meals – from Icelandic breakfasts to Italian pasta dinners and everything in between. We have enjoyed guests from all over the US and more than 30 different nations around the globe. We have been pleasantly surprised by how many of our visitors are in law enforcement – police officers from all over the country and beyond have added patches to our NOPD museum. We have enjoyed the company of criminologists here for an international convention. We had a whole group of Texas Sheriff’s take over the entire downstairs – kitchen included – and our hearts! We’ve met Secret Service agents, firemen, lawyers, DAs, judges, military officers, Park Rangers and City Mayors. We have visited with nurses and doctors and listened to their stories of life and death. What a wonderful thing it has been meeting people from almost every walk of life. We’ve had so many generous and gracious guests who have honored us with the gift of their friendship over coffee in the morning or midnight conversations on the front stoop. We’ve had a hair raising test drive in a guest’s brand new Tesla. Others who brought or sent gifts, letters and post cards, and drawing from children for our wall – too many lovely things to number. We’ve also hosted several neighborhood meetings – second lines, a party in honor of Yvonne Bechet – the former Commanding Officer of the NOPD Community Relations Dept here in this jail, choir practices and neighborhood police community meetings as well as neighborhood musicians practicing on our pianos for a gig. We could go on and on with precious memories in just this first year! Perhaps one day you will also stay and add to our wonderful memories here at the Inn at the Old Jail.