Whether we like it or not, this little town has been put on the map by politics. Over a dozen years ago, the State of Illinois decided to build a prison just a few miles north of our quiet community. That is when the 140 million dollar, empty roller coaster that is the Thomson Prison began it’s ride. Spreading out over 140 acres of prime pumpkin raising farmland, this facility was the brainchild of then Illinois Governor George Ryan. Ironically, Mr. Ryan was himself put in prison for bilking Illinois taxpayers out of millions of dollars for his personal gain. With Gov. Ryan gone, the prison sat empty awaiting our new Governor’s blessing for funds needed to open this prison. Strangely enough, our new Governor, Rod Blagojevich was also put in prison for attempting to sell government posts within his reign, leaving the prison empty even longer, and leaving the state of Illinois with the moniker of the only state with two governors in prison at the same time.
Taking over the helm by default, Governor Pat Quinn failed to act on funding to open the prison. To this day, the Thomson Prison sits empty, with a 7000 volt electrified fence surrounding the compound.
In 1998, when the idea of building a prison became public, a site was picked near Galena, Illinois, a pristine, gated community north of Thomson. Galena wanted nothing to do with a prison being built near their beautiful town full of gift shops and antique malls. The Galena potentates had enough clout to push the prison project south to an abandoned army depot outside of Savanna, Illinois, along the Mississippi River. Again, this caused an uproar, and the state decided to look further south, citing a negative impact on the environment, with the proposed site being too close to the river. Oddly enough, the new site they picked would be just a stone’s throw from that very same river.
The village of Thomson, Illinois was now faced with a dilemma. At first, the town’s people were very much against this new prison being built just north of their quiet little town. Then, as it became painfully obvious that the prison would be built near them despite their cries of unfairness, Thomson city officials decided to make the best of a bad situation, and start spinning the whole thing positive. Businesses remodeled, stores geared up with townspeople spending their hard earned savings in anticipation of the influx of people that would surely come with the opening of this new prison.
But no one came. Little by little, one by one, businesses failed, and this little farming community seemed to be dying a slow, painful death, through no fault of their own.
Recently, on October 2, 2012 Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s office came to town and announced that the Obama administration and Federal Bureau of Prisons was buying the Thomson Correctional Center from the Illinois for $165 million. But, in their haste, the same administration failed to approve the 45 million dollars needed to open the prison, or the 7 million dollars needed to operate the prison.
So now, our town is expected to again rise to the occasion and welcome the federal government with open arms. As you might expect, most people in our town are taking a “wait and see” attitude. We are left wondering if changing hands from one political hand to another will really accomplish anything.
The human race is an amazingly resilient breed. Thomson, Illinois is full of citizens with opinions, as is any town or village. But the general consensus seems to be hope. For hope is all this town has left, where the prison is concerned.
To this day, the prison stands empty.