Kingston Penitentiary


It isn’t surprising that so much has been written about the Kingston Penitentiary (KP) given its long history and notorious reputation, but did you know that the youngest female inmate was from Brockville?


In 1878, nine-year old Sarah Jane Pierce was sentenced to seven years for larceny. Inmate #9207 was found guilty of stealing, mostly food, and her mother received six months in the county jail for receiving the goods.


There’s a good summary of KP’s history here, including details about inmates, riots and escapes, but what caught my attention was that Charles Dickens visited the prison in 1842, the same year the Brockville Jail was built.


Although KP had been opened seven years earlier, in 1835, conditions would have been similar, and the most extraordinary thing is the way Dickens described KP:


“There is an admirable jail here, well and wisely governed, and excellently regulated in every respect. The men were employed as shoemakers, rope-makers, blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters, and stone cutters; and in the building of a new prison, which is pretty far advanced towards completion. The female prisoners were occupied in needlework.”


His novels certainly don’t depict prisons this way, and neither do historical records and accounts.


The best account of an escape from KP was written by Ernest Hemingway on his first assignment for the Toronto Star in September 1923.


When the prison closed in 2013, after 178 years of operation, tours of the facility were organized and you can view the gallery here.

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© Alex Loshak, 2020