Thursday, December 15, 2011
Opened in 1947, The Rideau Correctional Centre in Merrickville, Ontario originally served as a minimum security facility where inmates learned farming skills while serving out their sentences. The agricultural component was phased out over the years, in favour of treatment programs. In the latter years of the jails operations, it housed mainly sex offenders and drug addicts in the 354 beds, and offered various treatment programs in an attempt to combat recidivism. These treatment programs included anger management, substance abuse, and relapse prevention.
The Rideau Correctional & Treatment Centre closed in 2004 as part of the Ontario governments Infrastructure Renewal Program, and the inmate population was transferred to the new super jail in Lindsay. The program also brought about the closure of almost twenty other provincial jails, including the Millbrook Correctional Centre, which I also explored recently.
Our exploration begins with a long walk across the farmer's field, which was once maintained by the inmate population. We continue through dense vegetation and thick brush under the hot summer sun. Ninja and I, clothing covered in thistles and thorns, eventually make our way down a steep embankment, and then back up the other side of the crevice, pushing aside grasses and weeds that are taller than ourselves. We are overjoyed to come across what inmates here would surely have loved to encounter: A hole in the fence.
And so here we are, breaking into prison.
The basketball courts, the red brick building exteriors and the perimeter fence towering overhead instantly pay a handsome reward for the long treacherous walk, but as is our modus operandi, we immediately seek the safety of shelter inside the closest building, so as not to be seen. A helicopter flies overhead just after we enter what turns out to be the minimum security building.
We explore each and every accessible building in complete silence, unaware if there is security present on site. We have acquired proficient skills at team stealth and communicating with hand gestures and whispered code words. We take our time in each building, photographing and soaking in the energy, but we scurry hurriedly like mice between the buildings. Significant damage has occurred in the seven years since the jails closure, by the hands of man and mother nature alike. In some areas, the black mould is absolutely overwhelming, especially in some of the cell blocks.
When we come across the solitary confinement cells, I enter a cell and lay down on the cold blue steel bed frame, and Ninja closes the door behind me, enclosing me in darkness. A sense of utter loneliness and claustrophobia sets in and after about 3 minutes I hop to my feet and exit the cell. Inmates would have spent 23 hours per day in these cells while serving time in solitary confinement. We make our way outside to the tiny rec yard where solitary inmates would have spent only one hour of each day, before returning to their cells, which would have been as bare as they are on this day, with the possible exception of a mattress and some bedding.
In the long hallways of the office buildings, that were likely used for therapy sessions, rooms repeat themselves endlessly. The basement of one such building contains several large open rooms, used for group therapy sessions, I assume. We quickly wander through the cafeteria, and the gymnasium, where basketball hoops still hang from the walls surrounded by orange stencils of athletes that conjure up visions of artwork by my friend Pahnl. The Admitting & Discharge area fascinates us, as this was the first and last room that inmates would see during their stay at Rideau Correctional. We discuss this admission process at length and walk ourselves through it, then we sit down in the holding cell together and share a brief hug and kiss. Our discussion carries itself forward quietly, touching on the irony of the situation: The sense of freedom that we feel having this entire jail to ourselves, enclosed in this holding cell.
After scouring every inch of every accessible building, we conclude that we are indeed alone, and we make our way back through each and every cell block before calmly walking the interior of the perimeter fence to get our exterior photos.
And so here we are, breaking out of prison.
Through the hole in the fence, down and back up the embankment, through the brush, across the farmer's field, and into our getaway car.
We hope you enjoyed your time served at Rideau Correctional & Treatment Centre with us, and hereby release you from our custody due to good behavior. Hopefully you will be recidivists and return to our blog site, but not to our prison cells.
*****January 28, 2013*****
The Rideau Correctional & Treatment Centre is currently being demolished.
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