Dorchester -- Renovating the Bastille
The huge walls of Dorchester penitentiary stand on a hill overlooking
the surrounding countryside. The view from the main prison gate takes
in the sweeping landscape of the rural communities from which in earlier
times, when prison rules required all prison guards to live within three
miles of the penitentiary, all of its staff were drawn. Even today, the
warden lived in a house within 15 minutes of the prison. Although I had
heard about the extensive renovations to Dorchester, I had not anticipated
the manner in which the Dome of the institution had been transformed from
a dreary symbol of the panopticon vision of total control to a bold contemporary
interpretation of 19th century gothic architecture. The Dome had been
painted in pastel colours with a heavy accent of avocado green on the
railings of the staircases. Some of the stoneware had been carefully detailed
and highlighted and on one side of the Dome was a huge mural, painted
by a local artist, that gave the impression of prisoners literally coming
out of the walls, presumably on their way to re-integration into the community.
The main cell blocks of the prison which, like the old B.C. Penitentiary,
had consisted of multi-tiers of cells with open-faced barred cells, all
overlooking the Dome floor, had been completely renovated so that the
tiers were now separated from each other and the cells themselves had
solid doors on top of which was a glass window to permit light to enter
from the corridor. The original cells, which were very small, had been
extended by about eighteen inches in the front, although they were still
smaller than the cells in modern institutions. The building had been retrofitted
so that each cell had electric outlets for TVís, stereos, kettles and
razors. On the end of each tier there were spacious common rooms where
prisoners could congregate; light flooded into these rooms through the
original domed windows.
The only area of the main cell block which had not undergone full modifications
was the basement housing the segregation area. Half of that area was now
occupied by prisoners who were on parole suspension warrants. Most of
these cells were double bunked. The other half of the area was for prisoners
serving punitive segregation and those in administrative segregation.
The segregation area still retained the original open-faced barred cells
although modern electrical outlets had been installed. What was most noticeable
was that the segregated prisoners had a lot more personal effects in their
cells than at Springhill. I asked the supervisor in charge of the segregation
unit why this might be. He had previously worked in the segregation unit
at Springhill and said that the philosophy at Springhill was to limit
cell effects in segregation, permitting prisoners to select only a few
items, the remainder of which were stored while they were in segregation.
At Dorchester the policy was to permit the prisoner to have all of his
cell effects except for those items which were a security or safety concern.
The Dorchester policy was in conformity with the law; Springhillís strained
against the law.
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