By Cece M. Scott
The second I heard that the oh-so-famous - and without a doubt - infamous - Kingston Penitentiary, was selling ‘blocks’ of tickets to tour its centuries-old institution, (closed to inmates in 2013), I was unequivocally con-vinced that it would offer a unique, once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into the psychology of the criminal mind, specifically the Canadian criminal mind.
Opened in 1835, the Kingston Penitentiary, aka the Kingston Pen, aka KP, aka the Big House, has been compared to San Francisco’s infamous Alcatraz, both home to bad boys of epic magnitude.
Much to my surprise, and without too much prodding (from the root word nagging - but heaped with dollops of pretty-please sugar on it), FF (Farmer Frank) agreed to make a conjugal visit to the Big House with me.
“Why would you want to visit that place?” a random acquaintance asked.
“To research my family tree,” I dead-panned. “Do you have any messages for your relatives you want me to pass along?”
(Like who doesn’t have skeletons dancing in their closet, darh-ling…but I digress)
As FF and I drove into the maximum prison parking lot, my stomach was in gold medal roil - the booga bogga excitement and twisted energy of what churned behind the walls of this notorious 178 year-old prison had me all pumped up- an excitement that I am sure was in no way shared by the thousands of prisoners that passed through these formidable doors.
The location of the Pen was specifically chosen for a coupla factors: the area had a shitload of limestone, perfect for building the intimidating institution; it was situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, adjoining the Portsmouth (Olympic) Harbour, perfect for transporting prisoners in; and, it was close to the Canadian Forces (military) Base (CFB), perfect for squashing any riots (and there were a few!) or escapes, that might arise.
The theory at the time around housing prisoners in that particular location, (an 8-year-old was housed there for stealing a loaf of bread), was, the fresh air would be conducive to improving the behaviour and societal worth of the convicted ingrates.
Now that theory really worked out, didn’t it!
And while the last prison bell rang throughout the Pen on September 23rd, 2013, at precisely 4 p.m., the lives that were impacted outside of these walls, and the stories that evolved within these walls, will resonate throughout the annals of true crime history.
Over the years, inmates of varying degrees of notoriety, some with no explanation needed, include: Paul Bernardo, Michael Briere, (convicted of murdering 10-year-old Holly Jones), Clifford Olson, Russell Williams, Mohammad Shafia and sons, Grace Marks, (on who Margaret Atwood’s novel, Alias Grace, is based), Edwin Alonzo Boyd, (of Boyd Gang fame), escape artist and writer, Roger Caron, and wife killer Helmuth Buxbaum.
As we walked through the doors to begin our tour, a cheery university student greeted us….
“Welcome to the Kingston Penitentiary!”
(Now that’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one!)
My time in the Pen was about to begin….
Click here for my gallery of prison (and Kingston Penitentiary Museum) images, and stay in lockdown for the next-in-series on my ‘time’ in the Pen!