The main facility of the State Prison of Southern Michigan closed approximately three years ago. What had been known as the largest walled correctional facility in the U.S. was suddenly left empty. In hopes of creating revenue for the state, Governor Jennifer Granholm created tax incentives for filmmakers to use the prison. In May of 2009, the one-time prison became a movie set for the film, “Stone”, starring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton.
The parking lot in front of the prison suddenly filled up with cars, camera crews and trailers. I noticed cars passing by slower than normal, probably looking to see a glimpse of a recognizable face. I know that’s what I was doing. It was fun seeing the lighting set ups and how things were prepared. It was like getting a peek behind the scenes.
Smaller correctional facilities still surround the main complex. Across the road at what is known as the Cooper Street Facility, prisoners can usually be seen walking on the track or working out just inside the fence. Many lingered as near the fence as allowed watching what was going on, as fascinated as the rest of us. Some state workers at these facilities not only got a chance to watch a little from the outside, but also were also able to participate as extras in the film.
My sister, a nurse and health unit manager at Cooper Street, came home all excited, as De Niro and Norton had waved at her. Others had similar brushes with the stars of the film. A few even shook hands at local restaurants. Although the sightings were rare, for a small town like Jackson, Michigan, this was a big deal. It certainly brought interest and excitement to a mostly sleepy town.
“Stone” also brought the hope of other movies being filmed in our area. While people enjoyed the prospect of celebrities being in the area and getting a behind the scene look at the making of a film, most were hoping for an increase in business. In a state that is basically bankrupt and a town struggling with high unemployment, anything that might stir our economy creates excitement. The creation of jobs and the possibility of seeing your favorite actor or actress only make it better.