Among those featured in The Fort:
Warden, Iowa State Penitentiary 2006-2017
Ludwick served as warden of the ISP from 2006-2017, and oversaw the closing of The Fort and the ISP’s move to the new prison one mile north.
Ludwick served over 30 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections, including as a warden of a maximum security facility in the Wolverine State.
During his time at The Fort, he would frequently make the rounds unaccompanied by other staff, visiting with inmates, especially veteran prisoners he called his “CEOs” — offenders he looked to as leaders within the prisoner community. His favorite place to mix with the prisoners was at the inmate basketball gym.
In 2004 Ludwick was diagnosed with melanoma. Despite his extraordinary therapy at the Mayo Clinic, in 2016 his doctors advised him he should retire.
Warden Ludick was succeeded by Patti Wachtendorf, the ISP’ first ever female warden, and a former correctional officer, investigator, correctional counselor, and treatment services director at the institution.
Criminal record/offender information: https://doc.iowa.gov/offender/view/0100134
Jack Nutter is the longest serving prisoner in Iowa history, and currently the 5th longest serving prisoner in the United States, with over 60 years behind bars. In 1956, at the age of 18, he and four other teenagers went on a joy ride and were arrested for speeding after robbing a gas station. Nutter escaped from police custody, then returned to the police station in Independence, IA, and while attempting to free his accomplices, shot and killed policeman Harold Pearce.
Nutter’s government attorney advised him to plead guilty to sway the judge to give him life in prison rather than the death penalty. But despite his plea, the judge in the case sentenced Nutter to death. Nutter appealed his case to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Court refused to intervene, clearing the way for Nutter’s execution by hanging, Iowa’s exclusive means of capital punishment.
Nutter was spared from the gallows when Governor Herschel Loveless commuted his sentence in 1957. In the commutation, the Governor cited Nutter’s youth, saying that his parents and community bore some responsibility for his life of crime.
Thanks to the 11th hour commutation, Nutter has for over 61 years had the nickname, “Lucky Jack.”
Nutter has declined to apply for transfer from the ISP. “I grew up here,” he says in the closing scene of The Fort.
As of 2017, Nutter is living in the ISP’s medical unit.
READ MORE ABOUT JACK NUTTER:
- On Death Row: The Story of the 18 Year Old Boy Iowa May Hang (Daily Iowan 1956)
- Condemned Slayer Tells of Death Row (UPI 1957)
- Love Story: Three Women Want to Marry Prison Lifers (Des Moines Register 1977)
- Iowa “Lifers” Face Life Without Hope (Des Moines Register 1985)
- The Longest Prison Sentences Ever Served
Doug Bolton, C.E.R.T. Commander
Captain Doug Bolton has worked at the ISP since 1992, and is currently Commander of the Corrections Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) – analogous to a penitentiary SWAT team. He is also in charge of the prison canine unit.
Although his team is the most heavily armed at the prison, Bolton emphasizes that communication and deescalation are the most important weapons in his arsenal: “You really learn to communicate — because that’s the ultimate objective. If you can communicate and learn de-escalation it’s safer for you, it’s safer for everybody, it’s safer for the offender — because then you don’t have to use force…”
Criminal record/offender information: https://doc.iowa.gov/offender/view/0204792
Burkett, the prison barber, is a “Lifer” serving a life sentence for murder. When he was first incarcerated, another inmate told him he had been in prison for five years — shocking the young Burkett. Now, having served 33 years in prison, he says wistfully “Five years was nothing.”
Burkett liked the new ISP at first. “I was tired of looking at the same gray walls for 30 years.” The new ISP allowed him to see through the fences, watch birds, animals, and cars. But the larger facility meant a large influx of new and younger prisoners, which change — upsetting older inmates including Burkett.
In 2016, he requested and was granted a transfer out of ISP.
Charles Robinson Bey
Criminal record/offender information: https://doc.iowa.gov/offender/view/0401006
In the documentary, Robinson Bey shows his old cell in Cellhouse 217, where decades ago new prisoners were given temporary quarters before being assigned permanent cells. Cellhouse 217 was the oldest part of the Fort, dating to the middle 1800s. It was also extremely dangerous — with three stories of cells and virtually no safety rails to keep prisoners and guards from falling — or being thrown — three floors to the cement below.
A prisoner class action lawsuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s alleged conditions violated inmate’s constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The Courts agreed, closing the cellhouse for good.
Criminal record/offender information: https://doc.iowa.gov/offender/view/0207963
Edward Love works in the ISP’s prisoner hospice, caring for inmates in their last weeks and days of life. The program is one of the first in the nation, and is the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Prison Terminal.
Criminal record/offender information: https://doc.iowa.gov/offender/view/0206680
“If you’ve in a place for a long number of years, you get used to it.” Charles Watkins’ insight, delivered near the documentary’s close, is as simple as it is crucial to explaining one of the great mysteries of The Fort:
Why did so many inmates resist leaving the old, crumbling prison for the new, air conditioned, state-of-the-art prison?
“I’d rather be back down there now,” says Jack Nutter, incarcerated for 60 years. “I grew up down there.”
Criminal record/offender information: https://doc.iowa.gov/offender/view/0808405
Enrique Garcia never finished high school. His son would visit him at The Fort, and tell him about studying algebra and other subjects Garcia had never studied. To be a good father, Garcia decided he had to study and know the subjects his son was learning. So he began taking classes through the prison’s education program — eventually earning his GED.