Florence Prison To Close

February 4, 2020

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Florence Prison To Close

This Sunday, February 9, will probably be the last Florence Prison Run. For the last 37 years, a large pack of motorcyclist has ridden past he Arizona prison to remind the men inside that they are not forgotten and that they remain a part of a larger, defiant culture of freedom.

Cops hate it. Jay Dobyns hated it because he had to ride his motorcycle 75 miles and he hated to ride. But afterward he described it as “too cool.”

Most participants assemble at one of five location for the pilgrimage to the prison: At Independent Motorcycles on Chandler Boulevard in Chandler; the Hells Angels clubhouse on 12th Avenue in Tucson; the Clubhouse on West Mojave in Cave Creek and the Steel Horse Saloon in a shoppin center on Bell Road and Phoenix; and at Chilleens On 17 in Black Canyon City. If you don’t want to ride in a pack you can go straight to the Charles Witlow Rodeo Grounds which is four miles south of Florence.

The ride is probably about to end because Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced in the middle of January that he intends to close the prison. He’s wanted to do it for years. Nobody seems to know where the prisoners will go but the Governor is likely to do it anyway. He is that kind of Governor.

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Florence was opened in 1908, four years before Arizona became a state, as a replacement for the Yuma Territorial Prison. Prisoners who lived in tents built it and after its completion the prisoners supplied a cheap source of labor. Prisoners from Florence, for example, built the mountain road from Tombstone to Bisbee in 1913. It includes six segregated housing units and can house about 4,ooo prisoners. The state hung men there until 1933. It still has a 100-cell death row although the last time Arizona executed a prisoner was in 1995.

The closure will cost the town of Florence about 1.3 percent of its state revenues and hundreds of jobs. The town issued a statement which said, “Without legislative action, resources currently used in the community could dry up and could radically change this historic community and the county seat of the state’s fastest growing county.”

“We take great pride in the partnerships we have developed at the Florence State Prison, and in the programming and beautification efforts that originate behind its walls, but radiate throughout the region. Within the Florence State Prison, you can find Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI) – a fabulous asset where tens of millions of dollars of industrial, commercial and residential products are made and distributed to Arizona establishments each year. The Arizona Wild Horse and Burro Training and Holding Facility trains wild horses and burros that Arizonans can adopt. The Florence Fish Farm raises tilapia and catfish on a commercial scale. ACI Ranch cultivates nearly 450 acres of land in Florence, and regularly harvests a variety of forage crops. Inmate labor is used around the region to help beautify streets and maintain landscaping. We simply cannot afford to suddenly flip a switch and allow these programs to disappear from our region.”

The Florence Run is the largest Hells Angels event in Arizona. There may be other one-day rides as large but this one is hard to beat for its blatant anti-authoritarianism. If you live in the Southwest and you have never been, this Sunday will probably be your last chance.

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5 Responses to “Florence Prison To Close”

  1. Azbrick Says:

    Sorry I meant Hells Angels run

  2. Azbrick Says:

    I was incarcerated for several years at the Florence prison complex. The annual hills angels Ron was a fantastic event for the inmates to witness each year. It did remind us that there were people on the outside who still thought about us. I couldn’t wait to get out and ride past the prison as a free man.

  3. Old & Jaded Says:

    This run has it’s place in the history of AZ. The guys inside don’t have much to enjoy; hope it continues at another prison.

  4. Thinker Says:

    Not that it REALLY matters but Arizona has executed several men since 1995,a few of them botched, which has put a hold on executions since 2014.

    Still sad to see the prison run end, was THE run in Arizona.

  5. Straight Shooter Says:

    Our local SP used to have Chosen Few arrive in number to welcome a member out once in awhile. They would roll by slowly in tight formation. Go past the main gate to the top of the hill and turn around just before the wardens residence and then back down the hill slow gear and park right out front. The kicker (no pun) was the inmates (ALL! My uncle taught weld shop inside) would stomp their feet like a sport event & stop when the motors stopped. LAter when the bikes fired up to leave they would start stomping again. That was the ’70’s in to the ’80’s. Being a kid on a pedal bike just yards away, that was amazing. Today’s memories choke you up a bit, understanding what is was.

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