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New escape room offers a 'get out of jail' experience

Lu Anne Stephens

Visit a Kansas town where escaping from the jail is no longer a crime.

LYONS, Kansas – The historic Rice County Jail in Lyons is probably the only jail in Kansas where the owners hope you escape.

John and Tammy Sturn are partners with Chris McCord, who bought the jail in 2020. The Sturns operate the Slammer, an escape room located inside the jail. They also use the space for murder mystery dinners and other events.

The first floor — the former sheriff's quarters — is being rented out as an Airbnb. But the Sturns weren't sure what to do with the rest of the jail, which is a historical site and can't be torn down.

Lu Anne Stephens

Then someone asked to have their bridal shower in the jail and they thought:

"So maybe people would have an interest to have something a little unique that they could do with their parties and stuff," John Sturn said.

So the Slammer was born.

The old jail is on the second floor of the large, square building and was built to hold as many as 24 prisoners, six to a cell. There also was a separate area that held cells for women, inmates who were sick and those with mental health problems.

Lu Anne Stephens

Most of it looks the way it did when it was built in 1929: lots of concrete and iron bars. But there are now photos and historic items displayed along the hallway.

A recent event was a child's birthday party held in the escape room.

The kids bounced up and down as John Sturn explained how it worked: Once they're locked in a cell, they'll search for clues. Clues lead to tools or keys or maybe several keys.

It's a puzzle, and they'll need to work together as they escape one locked area after another.

Lu Anne Stephens

"Everybody's going to start in here, and I'm going to lock the door," Sturn said.

"You're going to lock us in there?" a child asked.

"Darn right."

"Like, you can't push the door open?"

"Oh, no. It's a jail."

The kids were supplied with flashlights and Sturn watched nearby, ready to offer a hint if needed — which it was.

"So you found a screwdriver?" Sturn asked.

"A screwdriver and padlock back here," responded one child.

"Did you find any … screws?"

"Screws … there's screws somewhere, there's screws somewhere!"

Lu Anne Stephens

Some of the clues are harder than others. Sturn stayed nearby with the kids. But with older groups, the action is monitored remotely with closed-circuit cameras — and the gamemaster can offer help through speakers if the group asks for it.

It didn't take long and the kids found the key. They cleared the first cell and were on to the next obstacle.

They were one step closer to escaping from the old Rice County Jail.

Lu Anne Stephens is KMUW's Director of Content and Assistant General Manager. She has held many positions over many years at KMUW. Lu Anne also produces KMUW’s New Settler's Radio Hour and the Hidden Kansas segment for KMUW’s weekly news program The Range.