- Canada's Big House: The Dark History of the Kingston Penitentiary
- 7 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Kingston Pen – Visit Kingston
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- Kingston Penitentiary: A piece of Canadian history with a long record of brutality
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7 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Kingston Pen – Visit Kingston
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Ratings and Book Reviews 1 2 star ratings 1 reviews. The whole thing had been unpremeditated and unplanned. From a crazy scheme to release a few supposedly irreplaceable ball players, less than a hundred cons had worked up a first-class head of steam. When the first wisps of smoke came through the windows there was a minor stampede—in which I joined —to buy out the welfare canteen before it might be destroyed. The canteen adjoins the east wing of the shops building. The three men behind the counter did a land-office business. Cons surged around the place, waving their scrip like women in a bargain basement.
The shelves were emptied in less than ten minutes. I bought a cantaloupe and a brick of ice cream and shuffled around with the fruit in one hand and the rapidly melting brick in the other. At least the guards could see that my intentions were innocent. By the time the shops building was well alight, the rioters had become half a dozen small aimless gangs firing and destroying everything they could reach. Huddled along the east path, were the rest of us.
Those who had bought pop when the canteen was bought out swigged their drinks as they watched. A few at the southern end of the spectator group shouted encouragement. Half a dozen men who had found a length of two-by-eight used it as a battering ram against the main door of the main cell block. They made several assaults on the oak-and-steel door without effect. The guard McCallum startled everyone b. The warden, deputy warden and head keepers and guards were standing in front of the north gate.
The walls were thick with guards. A heavy cloud of smoke was carried toward the City of Kingston by a southwest breeze. After little more than an hour of rioting a few cons were ready to throw in the sponge.
Stay where you are. Soon after McCallum made his escape we heard explosions from the shops building in muffled sounds that probably were tins of paint bursting. The smoke hid the southeast section. They fired one volley of about twenty shots against the north wall of the cell block, over our heads. They were the only shots fired all day. A little less than two hours after the first rush at the mail bag I noticed the guards on the north wall looking intently to the east, beyond the prison.
A moment later there was a stir in the ranks of the pen brass—warden, deputy, chief keeper, assistant chief and otheis who had been ranged before the north gate. The warden left the group and spoke to the keeper on the gate, then came back and they all stood clear while the big doors swung open. Troops from the Kingston garrison entered the yard, steel helmeted, armed with rifles, Bren guns, tear-gas guns and other weapons.
The troops had drawn up in line across the entire north end of the yard before anyone but those of us at the onion patch knew they were in the place. They were nearly all kids who appeared as uncertain about what would happen next as we were. When word passed the length of the yard that soldiers had arrived, no one felt fear of any kind.
The cons at the southern end gave a mock cheer, but there was relief in it, and in the feelings of all of us who had not had a hand in the riot. It was all over. The soldiers moved down the west end of the yard right to the south wall, leaving small detachments strung between buildings to stop any die-hards from playing hide-andseek.
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All inmates, rioters and onlookers alike, retreated slowly before the bayonets. When everyone had been corralled on the ball diamond the fire trucks came in. They had been waiting for nearly two hours on the street outside ti. Hose lines were hauled. Back in the cells no one spoke. When the last cell door had clanged shut you felt that you had been entombed alive. Not a whisper. By midnight a few snores could be heard. They were the only human sounds to break the silence until morning.
I thought it certain that 1 would be kept in my cell for a long time to come. The warden had the power to keep me in for another nine months if he thought he had a reason.
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What about yesterday? I had been within speaking distance of the men who started the riot. Had some guard reported me as an instigator, or at least as one worth detaining for questioning? It seemed probable. On Monday morning breakfast was brought to the cells by a handful of trusties. We were literally fed through the bars. Two pieces of toast, a dab of jam, a boiled egg and coffee. Half an hour later a keeper came to the cell and unlocked it. I took the first, step toward freedom.
From the cell block I was marched to the office adjoining the undamaged east cell block where the final rites in the discharge of a prisoner are observed. I was given a haircut and a shower; a suit of clothes and hat were next. They returned the club bag containing the clothing I had worn into the pen and they photographed me again. At the administration building I got back my ring and wrist watch and was given a railway ticket to Toronto. When I reached Toronto I bought the evening papers and read all about the riot, and life in Kingston pen. I wished some of the others could have been with me.
You fec i kind of silly laughing by yourself. The papers spoke of big-time gambling in the pen—of fifty and hundred dollar bills floating around the poker tables. There is gambling in the pen —bets made on card games craps and poker are not permitted , on baseball games or on when it will stop raining. Prison scrip is used —valued at fifteen to the dollar. Sometimes card players will be at a game from Saturday noon to Sunday evening.
Bank notes of any denomination are never seen. Drinking orgies were also given a sensational play. The reports on that phase of prison life led the reader to believe that nine hundred inmates reeled about the place all day and all night, juiced up on prison-made moonshine. Actually, a few lushes will sneak a cup or two of fruit juice from the kitchen once in a while, put it in as warm a place as they can find, and hope for the best.
The idea was that during the ball game the effects of the potassium cyanide would strike. The guards would drop dead and cons would march arm in arm. Of course there is a plot to escape. Sometimes it is organized but, organized or not, it is there from when you go in until you come out. There is a plot to escape in Kingston right now, and in Stony Mountain, Dartmoor and Leavenworth or any other place where men are locked up against their will.
And everyone is in it. For the great majority it is a vague hope, often to. People on the outside become exasperated when there is a major riot such as that of last August. Too much mollycoddling, they say. The taxpayer looks at the staggering bill, gets understandably angry. Very often the reasons given for a prison riot—and by the rioters themselves—are not the true ones. The lowest IQ in the place knows there is no future in that sort of outbreak.
For the hyperemotional ones especially it is a natural reaction to an unnatural existence. It is a kind of therapy for the suffering men undergo when kept in cages. They go to the hole. They have a large chunk of remission time taken from them, or they may have to face trial and hear their sentence being prolonged. But the act of rioting opens the safety valve. Mollycoddling has nothing to do with it. Ice cream and baseball never make a man forget the freedom he has lost. They help him a little to bear the emptiness of prison life, but there is no substitute for freedom.
A prison is an active volcano — churning and bubbling under the weight of stone and steel; under the pressure of routine and discipline are the uncontrollable urges for freedom and female companionship. So, there are eruptions. Neither can the prison authorities. Browse Issues Search Subscribe Now. Click to View Article Pages.
Why had it happened?
Kingston Penitentiary: A piece of Canadian history with a long record of brutality
No one had escaped. No one had tried. No one had been seriously injured. A sixty-watt bulb hangs from the ceiling above the table. The ranges move off at one-minute intervals. There is a bell to send each on its way, and there are thirty-two ranges in the main cell block.
Prison Continued on page Continued on page On his way to freedom, No. But his sympathies remain inside. Else- where and at other times there is no curb either on talking or smoking. He 's feared and thinks 's ready for a riot.
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Another night of sleeping in the shops would A mob was growing, ready to storm the shops and capture the key to freedom. The cons around the diamond were pep talking themselves into getting into the mail bag and releasing the men who were supposed to be imprisoned there for breaking the windows -players and others alike. The guards who had been approaching were nowhere in sight. Wrecking Gangs at Work The whole thing had been unpremeditated and unplanned.
The Only Shots All Day After little more than an hour of rioting a few cons were ready to throw in the sponge. Hose lines were hauled through the gates and over me walls. The guards would drop dead and cons would march arm in arm to freedom through the north gate. And while they block the way and They thoroughly infuriate The folks inside who want to get Outside at once and soaking wet. More From This Issue. I was fortunate to learn a trade — getting into my entrepreneurial program was the prison equivalent to winning the lottery — and I almost went as far as getting onto my knees to beg for my college courses to be facilitated.
Each year, eight out of more than inmates are chosen for welding and entrepreneurship programs, which are always delayed due to constant prison lockdowns: my three-month apprenticeship actually took six months. Inmates who have not learned negotiating skills find it impossible to participate in higher education from prison.
There was a price for taking on these opportunities. My push to self-improvement was interpreted as a sense of entitlement by correctional staff. I was serving my sentence in the way I thought society wanted me to, and preparing for the free world to which I would eventually return, but I was often questioned or held up in those efforts. I no longer wanted to be a drug dealer, but there were times the system made me feel like that was all I would ever amount to. Prison farms have been shut down; apprenticeship programs to become a Red Seal-certified chef or a welder have been stalled or halted altogether.
Prisoners abuse prescription drugs given by their own prison pharmacy, and men will often play cards or exercise to pass the time, though they will be returning to a world where building winning poker hands and doing pushups are not employable skills. As of this spring, I am free. I see its gun towers, its steel and concrete reinforced walls. Jose Vivar is a public speaker, writer, certified personal trainer and founder of Fitness.
He is now serving out the remainder of his sentence on parole. Jose Vivar spent eight and a half years in federal prison. Now on parole, he describes a typical day at Collins Bay Institution, in Kingston. By Jose Vivar - Published on November 14,