Last Thursday was another day out for me. I hired a car and headed for Kingston, a few hours East. I went last year, but the Penitentiary was not running tours. This year, the tours are in full swing and very popular. After much anxiety around not getting a ticket, I managed to secure one spot for the 7pm tour.
I got to Kingston and headed for lunch at the Irish pub I had a drink at last time. Guinness and mushroom pie with mash – it was one of the best meals I have had since being in Canada – proper traditional food. With time to kill, I had a potter around the shops and bought some cosy joggings bottoms in the Roots sale ready for winter before heading for the prison.
I still had time to kill so I went for a look around the prison museum and chatted to some officers and the curator while I was there. Had another photo in the coffin and lay outside on the grass until tour time.
The tour was fantastic. The prison is very like those on TV compared to English prisons. The wings have a central circular cellblock with an office in the middle. The cells were all single cells and the doors were barred with no privacy if someone were to walk along the corridor. We visited the segregation wing which was the only one with electric doors. They would get one hour a day out of the cells for exercise in a teeny tiny yard. People were asking about well known prisoners and we saw where they would have been housed. There was a block of houses where prisoners could have visits from their family within the prison grounds.
I was suprised that the prison boundary was a single wall, though there were watch towers where guards had guns. Aside from this, the officers didnt carry weapons – not even a baton. They patrolled in singles in case of any trouble as the theory was that if they were taken hostage, one would be dispensable if there were two hostages.
There was a yard with a grassy area where prisoners were allowed to have religious ceremonies. Even after the smoking ban came in to effect, they could have tents for smoking and native smudging ceremonies to cleanse and purify the body and soul.
I asked about escapes and was told about three sucessful escapes. One killed himself when captured, one was caught and returned to custody and one from Toronto, Micky McDonald was never caught – he would be in his 90s now. The one that was returned to custody, Red Ryan, was caught because he sent a letter of apology to the guard he punched to escape. He later became a poster boy for prison reform, before falling off the wagon again and committing a robbery ending with him killing a police officer and then being shot.
There were pictures of a riot in 1971 where officers were taken hostage, prisoners were killed and the place was trashed.
The prison closed in 2013.
Before heading back to Toronto, I went to a restaurant, Chez Piggy, recommended by a friend for a delicious Creme Brulee.
It was so nice to get away from the city and have a change of scenery. I had such a lovely day out. It reminded me how much I miss prison life, routine and working with offenders. I love the summer I am having, but am about ready to get back to some order.