Thursday, August 9, 2012

We Went to Jail. Directly to Jail.

Our cell.

That's where we stayed in Ottawa -- in jail. A haunted one, no less. The Old Carleton County Gaol, which is now the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel. We stayed in cell #8.

Outfitted with twin bunk beds, a desk, a storage locker, and a fan (Hallelujah!), we had it much better than the prisoners ever did. In fact, our small cell was actually three combined. Back when it was an actual prison, the cell was basically only as large as a lice-ridden cot.

To get our bearings and learn more about accommodations for the next few nights, we took a Crime and Punishment Tour of the jail. Here we learned about the horrendous conditions of this "model prison" which housed prisoners as young as 7-years-old from 1862 until it finally closed in 1972. 1972! It's almost unimaginable.

Suicide screens filled the gaps from floor to floor so that no one could throw themselves (or a guard) over the staircase. Our tour guide also pointed out the holes in the backs of the stairs, which served their own purpose. The holes allowed the guards to see the shoes of anyone going up or down the stairs, which was telling, since prisoners and guards wore different shoes.

We were taken up to Death Row: three small cells that were separated from a 4th cell. The prisoner facing execution was kept in the 4th cell until he was walked in front of the other three on his very short path to the noose and trapdoor at the end of the hall. The guards would announce, "Dead man walking," while the crowd outside waited. Then a bag was placed over the prisoner's head, the noose placed around his neck, and then the executioner stepped on a pedal, releasing the trap door where the prisoner dropped to his death. You can still see the trapdoor of the gallows in the hostel's courtyard.

Only three men were executed there; all proclaiming their innocence until the end, and all having very little evidence against them. So it would be no wonder that their ghosts (and others) are rumored to wander the halls of the hostel.

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