Friday, January 18, 2008

Dungeons and Corrections Kitsch

First, state officials in California have unearthed one of the dungeons used at San Quentin prison in California. Dungeons, of course, were used quite commonly during the 19th century.

"With its oaken, iron-latticed door and two-foot-thick granite bricks, San Quentin’s dungeon looks so stereotypically medieval that it might have been dreamed up by one of Hollywood’s masters of the macabre. But as niches for wooden pegs that once secured chains and shackles attest, these gloomy catacombs bore witness to “an enormous amount of human history, pain, misery and atonement,” said Kevin Starr, the California historian.

"Before demolition, state historians called in to survey the site discovered the significance of what had been a forgotten space used for storage. The space, a dungeon, was the original San Quentin and is believed to be the oldest surviving building constructed by the state."

Interesting. They are going to retain the dungeon for historical purposes, which is a good thing, but let's just hope it doesn't spur some politician to run on "bringing back dungeons" as a result.

The best part of the article, though, is the claim that "public fascination with prisons is growing" and they document several kitschy developments related to corrections.

"Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, for instance, closed to prisoners in 1971, is now a major tourist attraction that draws 110,000 visitors at Halloween, when it is converted into a haunted house. The prison’s current “Winter Adventure tours” feature “an hour-long tour of the beautiful winter cellblocks with an expert guide and a cup of hot chocolate!” the Web site says.

"In Boston, the historic Charles Street jail has been converted into a luxury hotel, the Liberty, complete with a restaurant called Clink, where tapas-style small plates are served amid the atmospheric original cell bars."

Outstanding. Make sure you check out the pictures on Clink's website, featuring very hip, well-dressed, sexy people drinking wine and enjoying a nice meal, behind bars! Thankfully they only have a few corrections-themed menu items, such as "The Slammer," three eggs any way you want, and a cocktail called "First Degree."

“People want to know what’s behind the wall,” Professor Norman Johnston, a professor emeritus at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania Johnston said. “There’s a certain morbid curiosity about prisons, just as there is with automobile wrecks.”

LOL. I'm not so sure commodifying imprisonment and places of torture is a good thing, but if it gets people interested in understanding modern corrections a little more seriously, then I suppose I can't argue with that.

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