Off to Kingston for a few days with a visit to the Kingston Penitentiary Museum at the top of my things to do list. You used to be able to also tour inside the actual prison, but unfortunately, they no longer do public tours which is a shame. The museum itself was so interesting and, as usual, I was photographing everything excitedly.
The museum is accross the road from the prison and is in Cedarhedge, this was the Wardens Residence from 1973 until 1993 when it was was used for admin. The first room had different uniforms worn by prisoners and officers. The officers uniform had a baseball cap and made me think of Orange is the New Black. The keys they had in the cabinets were massive – they said they did have smaller keys later, but that that some remained huge – the size of my hand.
There were replica cells and I was suprised to learn that, despite the modern ones being similar in size to current day cells in England, they never had two prisoners to a cell. This meant that the cells had a nice cabin type bed that children tend to have with a bed on the top and a desk area underneath. It made the cells a lot more like a bedroom than a cell. The cells from before upgrades and rennovations were tiny – the width of a single bed, if that.
The punishment room was fascinating and had a list of different methods of punishments as well as contraptions used. One of the punishment display boards did look like something from Fifty Shades of Grey I have to say!! There were wooden structures called Triangles that were used as whipping posts. The sign said that corporal punishment ceased in 1969 and was removed from the Criminal Code in 1972. I am amazed that it was as late as 1969. Another punishment was The Box. This was used at Kingston Penitentiary more than 800 times in 2 years from 1847-1849. It was basically a coffin with a few holes in it and prisoners would be confined in it for 15 minutes to 9 hours. Obviously, I had to get in and try out the The Box. It was a cosy fit! There was also a Water Bath a.k.a The Shower Bath. Again, I took a seat to try it out. This was used from 1855-1859 as an attempt to find a substitute for the lash. It was introduced in Auburn State Prison in New York. This description was given by a Warden of Kingston Penitentiary on seeing it used in Auburn “I have been present in Auburn Prison and witnessed the water punishment, for which I felt under compliment to the Warden of that Institution. The Convict is stripped quite naked, and placed in what may be termed the stocks, in a sitting position; a shower of water is brought down on the unfortunate being, which as I could observe produced a suffocation; this continued for some time, the operator either increasing or slackending the torrent at his pleasure. On view of this proceeding, I was quite satisfied with the system of punishment in practice in this Instituion.” They stopped use of this punishment following a fatal use in Auburn.
In addition to a room showing the punishments, there was a punishment book in another room. It detailed offences and punishments issued. Unfortunately, it was behind glass and I could only see the page it was open on. The script was difficult to read. I would have loved to have been able to flick through a printed version of this. There were also a number of different knives and weapons made in prisons, along with tattoo guns and equipment to make alcohol. One cabinet had a number of guns made by prisoners to use in escape attempts.
There was an amazing stack of cafeteria trays that had been stacked and then the stack hollowed out for a prisoner to hide in and escape from maximum security Millhaven Institution in 1981. With great dedication to the cause, he also lost 30 pounds so he could fit in the gap. He was caught three months later, but did manage the escape.
Upstairs was a room about women in prisons and details about first female Wardens etc. There was also a room containing prison memorabilia from around the word. The map of UK Prisons was from 1996, so not 100% accurate anymore, but I was excited to see Dartmoor and a little section in the cabinet with Dartmoor mentioned.
The only disappointing thing was the lack of prison books in the gift shop as I would love to read more. This is one of the few occasions that I have excitedly read and digested every sign and piece of information! More often than not, I whizz around and head for the gift shop with museums!