SYNOPSIS: The Nevada State Prison in just outside Carson City. Established as a territorial prison?
SYNOPSIS: The Nevada State Prison in just outside Carson City. Established as a territorial prison in 1862, it still has the look of the 19th Century. Our story is about a man who spent more time here than any other in the prison's history. His name is Eugene Austin... a Piute Indian who came here in 1941, when he was 18. Before that, he lived on a reservation near lovelock, Nevada.
One night---when he'd been drinking---he went on a shooting spree with a 22-rifle. One of the shots killed a white woman.
Justice was swift for the young Indian boy. Within two months, he arrived here with a life sentence for murder in the first degree. His first seven years passed uneventfully...according to prison records. He was ignored...just another inmate in the maximum security cellblock.
Then, when he was 25, he escaped...for two days. A few weeks later, he tried again. This time, he didn't even make it outside the walls.
He was branded a troublemaker. Guards reported he was agressive and assaultive. In the summer of 1948, he was removed from this maximum security wing...and put into solitary confinement... ...in a cell down this corridor...a 7-foot by 7-foot cell called "the icebox." It was to be his home for the next 14 years.
It's been cleaned up and painted...and is now a storeroom. When Gene Austin was stored here, it was a dungeon. He was stripped naked and forced to sleep on a steel cot. Once a week, guards would hose him and the cell down together.
He was fed sandwiches, candy bars and fruit...only food he could eat with his hands. They didn't trust him with a knife and fork. He was taken out of he "icebox" only once... in 1953.
They took him to a hospital in Reno wheredm doctors performed a lobotomy. They destroyed about one-fifty of his brain...to make him less agressive. After the operation he was returned to the "icebox" ...where he spent the next eleven years...most of it in total darkness. In 1964, they let him out... ...and discovered that sometime during his years of darkness in the icebox...Eugene Austin had gone blind. (intv with Eugene Austin)
Three wears ago...when a new Governor took over in Nevada... Austin was brought here...to a medium-security facility....three miles and a hundred years removed from the old prison. Today, he can eat with a knife and fork. And he dresses himself. In fact, he tends to overdress...perhaps as a reaction to his years of being kept naked.
He's free to roam the institution. But nowadays, he needs a guide. His blindness was believed caused by beating his head against the walls and floor of the "icebox." He started doing that after his brain was operated on. He doesn't beat his head anymore...but he still has a neurological tic that makes his head jerk to the side.
For the past several years, he's been getting help from Services for the blind. And prison authorities have been trying to find a place for him on the outside. Last month, they found one... a convalescent hospital in Sacramento. He's scheduled to go there next week. 5 1/2-years old...blind...and lobotomized, he's considered safe to release now.
The warden here put it nicely: "He's a good guy," he said. "There's just not much left of him."