Kingston Penitentiary closed its doors in September 2013, ending a legacy of 178 years of famously harsh treatment. "Canada's Alcatraz" has inspired lots of stories, but there are few pictures of what life was there. Except that photographer Geoffrey James had a privileged look on the inside.
James' photos of life inside the prison are being displayed at a special exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University, and also available ina new book called Inside Kingston Penitentiary (1835-2013).
An article in the Globe and Mail details the cruel punishments that prisoners in Kingston were subjected to, including "including The Box, a coffin-shaped wooden container that is held upright with an inmate trapped inside for six to nine hours. Guards sometimes jab the prisoner with a stick through the breathing hole. The cat-o'-nine-tails is a rawhide whip used to lash prisoners no more than 36 times, or 50 for assaulting an officer. A surgeon remains nearby to treat the open wounds that most recipients of the punishment develop."
Also apparently Kingston Penitentiary is famous not just because it housed Canada's most notorious killers, but because its convicts built the town of Kingston, when they "laboured in a massive limestone quarry just north of the charming village of Portsmouth."
James tells Slate that apart from some photos to capture the mayhem after the prison's famous 1971 riot, few non-propaganda photographers were ever allowed inside Kingston. "This is the only record of the place as an institution."
Check out some of James' photos below, and see more in the Agnes Etherington Centre's gallery.