Sunday, November 25, 2012

Prison Visiting Rights

"You must visit Wellington Prison this weekend" my mate said to me over our traditional Friday glass of wine. "Erm..well we might if we have the time" was my less than enthusiastic response. Spending your Saturday visiting a prison is not something you would usually do out of choice. However this Saturday this is exactly what we did end up doing along with hundreds of other people.

Wellington's Mount Crawford prison is being shut down permanently; Built using prison labour in the 1930's it has reached the end of its useful life. It is not earthquake proof and the building is apparently not up to the standard required for modern rehabilitation.

I found the touring the prison rather moving, fascinating and somewhat uncomfortable and disturbing. There were loads of other people touring the building and we were all crammed in as it was  only open for a few hours. This meant that the cramped and claustrophobic conditions were amplified.

All the doors  were designed to only let one person through at a time which just added to the confinement and uncomfortably restricted feeling of the building. But I guess that is the point. It was not designed to be somewhere pleasant to live.

The cells were extremely small and prisoners clearly had no privacy. However, as my friend pointed out, they did have very nice wooden floors!

The indoor exercise yard for the high risk prisoners.

The education centre. Not exactly inspiring.

The main indoor space.

Executions were carried out in this area. Three people were hung before capitol punishment was abolished. The bodies were removed through the small door.

The outside exercise yard.

Grim surroundings made slightly less grim by a small shrubbery.

I found this visit eye opening in many ways. Thankfully I have never had to enter a prison before either as a potential inmate or a visitor and so had very little inkling as to what prison life was like. It appears from viewing this building, which up until recently was in use, that life behind bars is very tough. The confinement, restriction of movement and lack of privacy, are things I would find very difficult to cope with.

The best and most intriguing part of the day was listening in on a conversation that two men were having in one of the exercise yards. They has clearly previously been incarcerated in this very prison and had come back to have a nose at their old temporary home. Judging by their respective ages they would have been in prison quite some time ago but going by their smiles and friendly greeting that they gave to one of the guards, I like to think that maybe their time behind bars eventually led to an improvement in their lives.

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