Unguarded Moments: Stories of Working Inside the Missouri State Penitentiary

Larry E. Neal, Anita Neal Harrison


In the first memoir about life in the Missouri State Penitentiary by a worker who was neither a prisoner nor a guard, Larry Neal reveals a portrait of prison life very different from common conceptions.

Interview with Heather Berry of Rural Missouri magazine, October 2015: Laughing on the Inside.

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In this first memoir about life in the Missouri State Penitentiary by a worker who was neither a prisoner nor a guard, Larry E. Neal reveals a portrait of prison life very different from common conceptions. As a maintenance worker, Neal led prisoner work crews, and his stories show that life inside the prison walls could be surprisingly lighthearted, with prisoners and staff playing pranks on each other and crawling through dark tunnels together. In addition to a rare insider’s view into prison humor, Unguarded Moments also gives readers a window into the rhythms of daily life inside and the shared humanity of everyone behind the walls.

These stories about life in the Missouri State Penitentiary are funny, insightful, and thought-provoking.  Larry E. Neal describes himself as a “hillbilly”; if so, he’s a smart, very observant hillbilly, with a great sense of humor.  Read this book; you will never think about prison life in the same way again.

—Dr. Gary Kremer, Executive Director, State Historical Society of Missouri

This book is about prison life, but not in just any prison. This prison was once called the “bloodiest forty-seven acres in America.” Who knew such a notorious prison could be so funny? Unguarded Moments shows readers a view of working behind prison walls that most of us (thankfully) never see. From prison politics to pranks to inmate escapades, these stories from a man who worked in the prison plumbing shop give us a hilarious glimpse of the pen, and the understanding that, felons or not, people are just folks.

Jason Offutt, author of Haunted Missouri and What Lurks Beyond


Foreword by Mark Schreiber

Prologue: The Way It Really Was
Chapter 1: Learning from the Master
Chapter 2: Into the Lions’ Den
Chapter 3: A Word about Sewers
Chapter 4: Life in the Pen
Chapter 5: You Call This an Emergency?
Chapter 6: Walls Ain’t All That’s Dense Around Here
Chapter 7: The Old-Timer’s Triumph
Chapter 8: Push-Ups and Snakes
Chapter 9: Plungers Are Weapons Too
Chapter 10: Bloodshed inside the Walls
Chapter 11: Turning Up the Heat
Chapter 12: Vats Disgusting
Chapter 13: Digging in the Pen
Chapter 14: Leaving an Impression
Chapter 15: Is There a Doctor in the House?
Chapter 16: To the Max
Chapter 17: Ingenious Inmates
Chapter 18: The Great Flood in A-­Hall
Chapter 19: The MSP Burrito Bandits
Chapter 20: Troublesome Twins
Chapter 21: Memories of Housing Unit 3
Chapter 22: An Unlikely Friendship
Chapter 23: The MSP Gas Chamber
Chapter 24: Executing an Extreme Makeover
Chapter 25: Doing Time in the Towers
Chapter 26: The Last Day

About the Authors


Larry E. Neal worked at the Missouri State Penitentiary from 1984 through its close in 2004. He began as a labor supervisor and ended his career as the chief engineer at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. He retired in 2010 and now lives with his wife in Columbia, MO. He has four daughters and seven grandchildren.

Anita Neal Harrison is an award-winning magazine journalist with hundreds of stories published ranging from rocket science research to Major League baseball. She lives in rural mid-Missouri with her husband and two children. She is the managing editor of Inside Columbia's Prime magazine and is a freelance writer and editor.

See also http://unguardedmoments.weebly.com/ and www.Facebook.com/UnguardedMomentsMSP.



Interview with Melissa Bradford, Detours Magazine, January 2015

Interview with KRMS Osage Beach, July 7, 2015, Ozark Today 5 pm (11:15)

From outrageous pranks staff and inmates pulled on each other to a pancake restaurant two entrepreneurial cell mates launched inside a housing unit, Neal's stories show an unseen side of life in the old prison.

-Inside Columbia, Book Brag, September 2014

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