One wouldn’t call serving time in the penal system a riot, but doing a ‘bit’ in the Kingston Pen could often times be a riotous experience.
Three epic riots that stand out in K.P’s storied and tumultuous history transpired over the span of four decades.
The first one, which happened in 1932, and lasted six days, took place one week after Thanksgiving. Whether it was due to wayward attempts at stuffing more than the proverbial turkey, or, there was a big hassle over who could snap the bird’s wishbone is a question for the wondering mind.
The good news is, the uprising ended without any causalities, and in fact, resulted in a series of proposed prison reforms – some of which might have even been implemented!
The second riot, which involved 900 inmates, happened in the dog days of August, 1954. Inmates, who were getting ready for an afternoon game of baseball, ran the guards instead of the bases, setting buildings ablaze, igniting panic, and creating extensive damage to the buildings. The cavalry, in the form of the army and the RCMP, were called in to help quell the uprising; once again, there were no casualties, but damages were assessed to be in the millions.
The mother of all riots at KP happened on April 14, 1971 and lasted four definitively violent days. Six guards were held hostage, and most of the cell blocks were destroyed.
What is a fascinating and illuminating aspect of ‘the criminal code of convicts’ happened on the last night of the riot when 14 ‘undesirable’ prisoners – (read sex offenders) were taken from protective segregation, brought down to the main area – the central dome that linked the four main prison wings – tied to chairs, covered in bed sheets, and tried kangaroo court style, while the 600 plus prisoners, all freed from their cells by the inmates who had absconded the guard keys, looked on from the ranges, screaming and shouting for justice.
Irony at its finest…n’est pas?
On Day Four, the inmates were still making demands, but once they heard the blast of bullhorns and looked out the windows, they knew the jig was up. Backup of military proportions that included epic shields, riot gear and eye-popping weapons, awaited the rioters.
When the inmates surrendered, two prisoners were dead, but the six guards that had been held hostage were unharmed. Physically, at any rate.
The one thing that didn’t make it out of the riot unscathed was the cussed and highly cursed penitentiary bell, a gong-er that rang 18 times, Every. Single. Day. It was the call-to-action for everything that happened within the prison walls, from get-up time, to meals, to activities, to work duty, to yard time, to tuck-in-time. It rang for virtually every possible thing that happened within the prison walls in the course of any given day.
“We ALL hated that (bleep bleep) bell,” admitted one of the former CO’s. (Correction Officers)
And you thought your morning alarm was annoying!
Stayed tuned for next week’s blog, ‘Heading for Escape’ to find out all about KP’s verrrrry interesting escape artists!
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out my gallery of prison (and Kingston Penitentiary Museum) images.