Unique Disc Golf Experience Breaks the Internet

Inparcerated Returns to Old Joliet Prison

By Lauren Lakeberg ~

A players meeting at Inparcerated II. Photo Lauren Lakeberg.

For three years, Dellwood Disc Golf has hosted Inparcerated, a disc golf tournament held at the Old Joliet Prison in Illinois. The idea was born when Mark Grabavoy heard about the prison opening to the public for tours and wondered if disc golf was an option. He pitched the idea to Dellwood and they were all in.

Each year the tournament sells out quickly. This year it took eight minutes and two seconds and crashed the registration website twice. Slated for September 26-27, the event currently has 432 players registered and 88 players on a waitlist.

Leo Borowski, a member of the tournament staff, said he wasn’t surprised that the tournament filled, even though they added 72 more players this year. “The word got out that this was just a very fun tournament to play and a very unique experience,” Borowski said.

It took three years for Tyler Howell to finally get a spot in the tournament. “This year, I had three alarms set, and was on Disc Golf Scene three minutes prior to it going live,” Howell said. “I kept hitting the refresh button over and over until I saw that glorious register button light up in orange. I actually yelled in excitement when it went through and I was in.”

Players enter the grounds through the East Gate, the same location where Joliet Jake exited the prison in the Blues Brothers movie. Photo Lauren Lakeberg.

Andrew Drace is flying in from New Mexico for the event. “I work on Saturday and Tuesday. The only time I could play was Sunday at 3 pm. So, I leave Sunday morning, land at noon in Chicago and fly back on Monday afternoon. Expensive, but I couldn’t pass it up.”

As someone who has played and photographed disc golf for fifteen years, I still remember what it was like to send a check in the mail with my registration form to play an event. But Inparcerated is a different beast emerging at a different moment in disc golf history. I’m not surprised it broke the internet.

Explaining the popularity of the event, Borowski said, “I think the players enjoy the uniqueness of the course being inside a prison, the fun holes and the whole experience of being inside those walls. They get a good understanding of what prison was like after the Civil War.”

A player lands in front of the prison hospital that was built in the 1800s. Photo Lauren Lakeberg.

Amy Laskowski, a past player, also mentioned the unusual nature of the event, and added, “My favorite things are the fun layout and vibe, exploring the buildings and reading the historical facts posted around the prison.”

From the moment you walk through the gate, the sheer size of the prison walls is striking. It feels like there is no going back. You can sense the history of the place in the slowly decaying buildings, the paint peeling from the walls. A few of the buildings have been left in rubble due to fire damage or just from the weight of time itself.

At Inparcerated II, the weather turned as moody as the atmosphere on the prison grounds. Photo Lauren Lakeberg.

Playing disc golf in an infamous prison has left some participants with a mix of conflicting thoughts and feelings. Writing about Inparcerated II on Dellwood Disc Golf’s blog, Sean Callahan wrote, “This prison was a dark place, plain and simple. It was filled with a lot of people that had done a lot of terrible things. I’m sure it also housed people that had committed some not-so-terrible crimes or quite possibly innocent men and women.”

In an email conversation, Callahan elaborated: “We hope that players understand that they get to have fun inside those walls and go home at the end of the day, but there have been many lives that came and never left.”

Callahan noted that funds from the tournament will benefit the Joliet Area Historical Museum. “We hope that everyone takes the time to read the player’s guide to learn about what went on inside those limestone walls,” Callahan said. “We believe it’s important to learn from and preserve the past in the hopes that the system can change for better in the future.”

Amy Laskowski also commented on the prison’s social significance. “It does spark concerns and debate in my mind,” Laskowski said. “The mass incarceration of underprivileged people in this country is an important issue.”

The uniqueness of Inparcerated can be found in the extremes of human experience, in the figurative and literal darkness and light, in memories of misery and moments of pure fun. This place is grim but playing disc golf here may help time heal and build community.

On the morning of Inparcerated II, the sun rises on a church spire and a guard tower. Photo Lauren Lakeberg.

As Callahan put it, “Inparcerated is not only for the people who come out and play disc golf but also for the inmates that dreamt of a better life, a better way, to live outside those walls, to be free. I believe that the camaraderie and community that result from this event put positive energy back into a place that needs it most.”

If you would like to see more photos of the Old Joliet Prison and the Inparcerated events, head over to The Disc Golf Photographer.


Author Bio:

Lauren E. Lakeberg has a B.A. in photography from Columbia College Chicago. She has been photographing disc golf since 2004 and has been a regular contributor to DiscGolfer Magazine and the PDGA since 2009. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and her website.


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Parked is made possible in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.

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