MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Former Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP) warden Crispus Nix passed away on March 10, 2024 at the age of 93. Nix provided a legacy at a pivotal time in the prison’s history, becoming the first African American warden at the ISP and serving for 11 years.

Nix was born on March 7, 1931 and grew up in Greenville, Ala. In a 2023 interview he conducted with Lt. Col. Pete Grande, Nix discussed his graduation from Tuskegee University in 1957, where he earned a degree in physical education. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman. Ultimately, he made his way to Fort Madison, Iowa to become the warden at that storied facility in 1981.

The ISP was not in the best of light when Nix took over. In fact, it has made national headlines multiple times for prison riots, with one such incident resulting in over a million dollars in damages. Nix made an immediate impact in Iowa, forever changing the trajectory of the ISP.

Former ISP Executive Officer Ron Welder mentioned in a 2007 interview with MVM News Network’s Joe Benedict that of the nine wardens he worked under, Nix had the biggest impact on how the prison still operates to this day. He was brought in to fix the problems, and he made the ISP flourish.

There are many examples of Nix changing lives, including employees and inmates. He laid the groundwork for an atmosphere that was inclusive and safe.

In that same interview with Lt. Col. Grande, Nix knew he was in an important role.

“I was cognizant of the fact that I would be under intense scrutiny as the first African American Commandant at this storied facility. To that end, my personal objective was to succeed in such a manner as to leave this pathway open to other minorities climbing up the ranks behind me.”

Nix restored order, discipline, and gained the respect of everyone in Fort Madison. He retired in 1993 and left a legacy that still resonates today.

Nix was laid to rest on Monday, March 18, 2024 at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, Ala.


About the Iowa Department of Corrections

The Iowa Department of Corrections is making significant strides to implement evidence-based practices system-wide that are proven to reduce victimization, reduce recidivism and enhance community safety. The IDOC is a nationally recognized leader in corrections for innovation and implementation of evidence-based practices. Being on the forefront of innovation and practice, the IDOC continues its commitment to be the best corrections system in the country.

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