By Ned Geeslin S. Avery Brown
June 13, 1988 12:00 PM

If you’re a hopeless workaholic and the thought of getting away from it all gives you twinges of guilt, you might try sentencing yourself to a hoosegow holiday in the Jail House Inn in Newport, R.I. Visitors to this tony oceanside resort community are already queuing up to pay as much as $125 a night for an evening in the lockup.

We’re not talking hard time here, despite the two-inch-thick bars on the hallway door guarding the entrance to the cellblocks. And there’s no need to plot a desperate breakout, even if you end up in solitary or confined to the top-floor maximum security unit. In fact, after a good night’s sleep in a comfortable cell and some homemade breakfast chow in the cozy prisoner’s dining hall, you might end up a repeat offender, as have many recidivists who have visited this bizarre bed-and-breakfast.

The mastermind who pleads guilty as charged to creating this pleasure-seeker’s pokey is Newport developer Don Glassie, 53, who opened the 22-room inn last August. Much to his delight, Glassie has discovered that there are thousands of law-abiding citizens out there willing to spend their hard-earned loot for a chance to slumber in the slammer. “People like a place with character,” he says, “a place that’s a little different. I figured, ‘Why not call a spade a spade?’ So I named it the Jail House Inn.”

The inn was built as a jail in 1722 and kept in continuous service as such until three years ago, when the police relocated and put the building up for sale. Glassie’s $325,000 bid was an offer city officials couldn’t refuse, and the new owner quickly pumped another $500,000 into renovations and furnishings. He regularly prowls local flea markets, searching for old law enforcement signs and memorabilia. “Real jail stuff is hard to find,” he explains.

Still, the ambience is homey enough for even the most nostalgic ex-cons. Decor and furnishings throughout the inn have been kept consistent with the jail house motif. The steel-gray carpeting and plain white walls are complemented by comfortable, packing crate—style furniture upholstered in basic prison-blue denim. “I call it our bulletproof furniture,” boasts Glassie. “It’s indestructible.”

The same sturdy denim was used for comforters on each of the beds and for uniforms for the housekeeping staff. Sheets and towels are striped, and the cups and plates in the breakfast room are made of blue tin. “Just what you’d imagine inmates rattling across the bars of their cells,” says Beth Hoban, 37, who manages the inn and spent three months looking for exactly the right dishes.

The check-in procedure is true to the theme. Guests, referred to as “inmates,” fill out a registration form that asks for their incarceration dates, anticipated parole dates and the type, color and style of their getaway cars. (Showing some restraint, Glassie does not insist on fingerprints or mug shots.)

So convincing is the illusion that misunderstandings have arisen about the current function of Glassie’s establishment. Townspeople still wander into the lobby asking to see the chief of police, and shortly after the inn opened, says Hoban, a couple of people “ran in, plopped down a traffic ticket and $10” and ran out before anyone could set them straight. More recently, an elderly man came in fuming because he had been stopped for speeding. “He was jumping up and down and yelling that he was a good citizen,” says Hoban. “It finally dawned on him that he was in the wrong place. He was pretty embarrassed.”

The inmates are more enthusiastic. “I think it’s very clever. It’s like jail, I guess, but fun!” says Carolyn Oertel of Chicago, who turned herself in while visiting her daughter at a nearby college. “I’m in maximum security and it’s great! I called my husband this morning and told him we have to stay here the next time we visit.” Sounds like a lifer.

—By Ned Geeslin, with S. Avery Brown in Newport