The key to getting out of Anamosa State Penitentiary actually may be a key -- one or two that prison officials fear may have been sold on eBay.
Prison officials just paid $6,000 to have the outer locks changed in the Iowa maximum security men's prison that houses 1,289 inmates. Fred Scaletta, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections told InformationWeek that changing the locks was a precautionary measure because they're not sure if the keys sold on the popular online auction site were actually for the prison.
But they certainly could be, so prison officials weren't going to take any chances.
Scaletta explained that a man who used to work as a locksmith for the prison was allowed to work from his home. He retired in 1974 and has since died. When the man's wife died, their estate, including some keys that are thought to be for the prison, went on sale.
No one at the corrections department knew there was anything amiss until an employee pointed the sale out to them and said some keys might be involved.
"They were sold under the pretense that they were actual keys but we don't know," said Scaletta. "We were a little surprised. It's a very, very unusual thing to happen. You hear about assaults and disturbances that become newsworthy. But you don't expect to hear that so-called prison keys are being sold online."
Scaletta said he had never even been on eBay before but he did go up to check out the keys that were being sold. He said they did look like some old prison keys.
He also noted that the prison updates its locks periodically but he wasn't sure if the locks that these keys might have opened had been changed since the '70s or not.
"Was there any threat to security at the institution? It was very, very slim," he added. "I don't think it's uncommon [for convicts] to sell the clothes they wore while they were inmates. It's all just a novelty thing."