Sue Spent the Day in Jail

I love to photograph old looking buildings and historic memorabilia. My interest in all things old began began many years ago during high school. My favourite subject was history and I enjoyed learning about the ancient civilizations and cultures. I loved it all, from learning about the development of man from homo habillis and switching from hunter-gathers to agricultural societies, to the ancient Mesopotamia and Greco-Roman civilizations, and of course what was known as The Orient. I loved the modern history of industrialization, colonization, art and literature and scientific advancement, the great philosophers and the great dictators, along with the all the wars in the names of Empires, Kings and Queens and religion. I have always been drawn to the historical nature of trips, choosing to view buildings, churches and crypts as opposed to the food and festivals. Growing up, I loved trips to Black Creek Pioneer Village, Casa Loma, Fort Henry, Upper Canada Village and the historic Quebec City.

Sue Behind Bars
Sue Behind Bars. This was a cell at Kingston Penitentiary

I was planning a trip to San Francisco with my running mates for the Nike Girls Run. Of course once I found out there are tours of Alcatraz, I knew right away I wanted to go and see “The Rock.” Besides, there is a triathlon that if off the coast there, starting on a huge barge which I had read about. I wanted to see the area first before deciding if I might try this triathlon in the future. The tour was great and the experience was very enlightening and insightful. One area I remember were the row of cells directly across from windows. The ‘expensive’ suites, so the tour guide told us. They were not overly big or small. The ‘treat’ of course for the inhabitants here, was a daily dose of both sunshine and fresh air, because you see, the windows were only frames with bars, no glass. Those same windows blew in the terrible winds off the San Francisco Bay and we were told, the prisoners had only a thin wool blanket, making for some very cold nights. None-the-less, it was a very cool walk back in history that I am glad I made.

So when Sue said the door would be open for tours at the Don Jail during the Doors Open Festival this year, I was all over it. She, along with myself, was very excited to see it. It was another great walk through history, but this time a little more disturbing for me. You see, the cells there were so small, like nothing I had seen. I have been to many divisions, penitentiaries and other police services over the last few years, and compared to the cells at the Don Jail, the rest were penthouse suites! The cell was no wider then a single sized bed. In fact, my arms spread was longer then the width. There was only space between the end of the bed and the cell bars for a bucket on the floor and for one person to stand. We were told a cell like this, in the end, would house two inmates, one in a hammock above the bunk bed, and sometimes a cell would house three inmates! As if the horror of this wasn’t enough, as I walked through the tour, I learned that they had carried out capital punishment here. I had no idea, and was especially surprised to learn that they conducted public outside executions for years, before bringing it inside of the Don Jail walls for the hangings. My mother later told me about the very last execution they did at the Don Jail. She said the fellow had killed a police officer and he was going to hang with another inmate. She said there was public outrage at these executions and a lot of people gathered outside the jail as the two were hung that night inside. She and her family, listened to it on the radio.

I couldn’t believe it was so hard to get tickets to have a tour of the Kingston Penitentiary. My mother was not surprised, suggesting that we polite Canadians are really a blood thirsty lot behind our nice facades! Like many, I wanted to see the place which had housed the likes of Clifford Olsen, Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams, Michael Rafferty and Mohammad Shafia, amongst others. I finally was able to get tickets and off to Kingston Sue and I went. We enjoyed this tour too, and I took photos of Sue inside the cells, which seemed large. There was a high bunk with a desk underneath, and room to walk around, especially as it only housed one inmate per cell. However, I guess if you had to spend your life in one, I can imagine it would become small quite fast. I learned about the great escapes, the massive fires and the huge riots. The tour was brought to us by retired Prison Guards, really bringing this history to life. Afterward, we walked and photographed the waterfront area before deciding to visit Fort Henry, my childhood favorite attraction. And according to the website, we would be just in time for the Garrison Parade. It is the inspection of the unit and the firing of the canon.

Kingston is small so I didn’t bother with a map, I just drove in the direction of Fort Henry. “There,” I said, pointing at the big red roof we could see just over there. I am not sure how or why I thought the roof to be red, but I was apparently wrong. But without further thought, I followed the roof to my destination. As I pulled right into the driveway, I did see out-of-the-corner of my eye, a black and white Federal Government sign which I really didn’t pay much attention to. I drove towards what I thought the front of the building, wondering where the parking was. I do remember seeing a sign that pointed to a driveway off to the right that said Sally Port, but still nothing clicked in. Except I did wonder for a brief second, why Fort Henry needed a Sally Port. A Sally Port is a confined and secured entry for prisoners in detention. Then I reached that part in the road, where there is a huge sign saying No Entry. I was looking at the tall stone walls of Fort Henry that included bars on the windows and barbed wire around the wall. Sue, who couldn’t see much, was no help. “I think you can park over there,” she said, pointing to where a black van was exiting and now coming towards us. So, I decided to play tourist and ignore the no entry sign and made my way slowly down this road going the wrong way. I was coming close to the front door and still couldn’t see parking yet. It was then that I noticed a male, standing smoking, and I thought I might ask him where parking was. However, as I approached closer, I recognized the shirt. It was a blue shirt with the crest of a Correctional Officer and I noticed that he was looking intently and hard, I mean really HARD at us. All of a sudden, I recognized that the barbed wire, the bars and the sign for the Sally Port meant this was a working prison and not Fort Henry.

As we started to leave and drive the correct way down the driveway, we started being followed by another black van. I was not ready to leave just yet, now wanting to actually consult a map to see where Fort Henry was. So while still on property, I turned right and the van turned right. I followed the road and turned right again at the fork and he did too. I said to Sue “I think they are following us. Get ready to be investigated,” I said calmly, putting her right into a panic. I was to find out that although there were many roads on the property, they all lead back out to the main road and off the property. As we approached where we entered, I thought it better to keep driving then to stop to consult a map. As we turned right out of the driveway, the van did not follow, but stayed in the driveway. I was right, they had been following us. I am sure they recorded my plate. And as I looked back I saw the sign for Collins Bay Institution and the no trespassing sign.  And so, once in the clear, Sue turned to me and said “What, you’re so interested in jails you just home to them like a pigeon? You came close to getting both of us an intimate and inside closer look at one today,” she said indignantly. She then insisted I pull over and obtain proper driving instructions from my GPS to Old Fort Henry and off we went for the rest of our tour. And, yes, while in Fort Henry, I of course HAD to put Sue in yet another cell and take a photo of her. And no. I didn’t close the door and accidentally lock her in. That’s not this story but another. That was the extent of our trip but Sue always refers to this trip as the day she spent in jail!

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2 thoughts on “Sue Spent the Day in Jail

  1. You really were lost if you were at Collins Bay rather than Fort Henry !! You should have turned right, not left when leaving The Pen. At least you didn’t end up at P4W where they probably would have kept you. I almost ended up trapped in there – I was part of a group who went to several dances at P4W around 1974/75 put on by some friends who were sociology grad students at Queens. What an education that was!

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