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OLYMPIC HISTORY: The Olympic prison

May 15, 2014
By ALISON HAAS and SUSANNA FOUT , Lake Placid News

Of all the Olympic Villages built for past Games, the one built for athletes of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid has one of the most unique stories to tell.

Recently museum staff along with local celebrity, Roni Raccoon, visited the complex to learn more about what happened to the facility after the Games.

Located in Ray Brook, the surrounding mountains and thick forests provided a picturesque destination for both athletes and officials.

Article Photos

Photos provided
Roni Raccoon, 1980 Olympic Winter Games mascot, visits with Federal Correctional Institution at Ray Brook Warden Donald Hudson.

However, these scenic elements proved to be more important than just providing beautiful views. Built with the forethought of after use, the site was selected jointly by the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee and the U.S. Department of Justice so that the complex could be converted into a federal correctional facility after the Games.

Constructed with $22 million in federal funds, the Olympic Village, once the temporary home for the finest athletes in the world, now houses federal inmates from around the country as Federal Correctional Institution Ray Brook.

Due to the horrendous events at the 1972 Summer Olympics, known as the "Munich Massacre," the security of Olympic athletes and participants became the main priority for all organizing committees.

The Village's architectural design as a prison and its isolated location allowed the International Olympic Committee to approve the village concept because it facilitated the strict security requirements needed to protect its athletes.

A double chain-link fence, sensitized and monitored by televisions, surrounded the entire premises and remains today. Ray Brook prison was based on the architectural layout of Memphis Federal Correction Institution, a model facility used in other federal and state prison designs.

The Village consisted of 11 permanent buildings. Five of those buildings were dormitories and the other six housed cafeterias, a medical facility, an entertainment and shopping center, a full service bank, post office, game room, a chapel and a transportation center fully equipped with a helicopter pad. The original five dormitories still serve as housing units for inmates, however, most of the entertainment elements have been removed.

The recreation center which once housed a discotheque and a 350-seat theater is now home to the chapel and chaplain's office, as well as the Psychology Department and commissary.

The shopping center now serves as a receiving warehouse where all goods coming into the facility are inspected for contraband.

One of the buildings used for dining is now the Unicor factory, which serves as the main work service program where inmates receive vocational training. Here, inmates produce textiles such as gear bags and jackets for the private sector.

Other work programs at FCI Ray Brook might include landscaping, food services and maintenance operations, which is reminiscent of the departments established for the Village during the Games.

The Olympic Village was designed to provide a "campus-type" setting for 1,500 athletes and team officials who would reside there during the Games. The number of athletes expected to participate increased shortly before the Olympics began and an extra 512 beds were needed.

The LPOOC installed temporary homes in the village to make up for this deficit and were sold after the Games.

Currently, Ray Brook houses 978 inmates. During the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, 100 New York State Police officers were assigned to the Village and were backed by 80 additional security guards. Today, Ray Brook employs 120 correctional officers, many of whom reside in the Olympic region.

It is apparent that the Olympic movement along with correctional facilities throughout the area both play vital roles in the region by providing employment opportunities to those who call the Adirondacks home.

Although staff at Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution are not employees at one of today's Olympic venues, they are proud to be a part of our Olympic history. As far as we know, FCI Ray Brook remains the only prison to have its own Olympic mascot.

For more information on this unique history, please visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ironman Sunday.

For more information about the museum, see our Facebook page.



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