May 17th, 2011
We all share a bit of voyeuristic tendencies when it comes to seeing the baddies get locked away. It's awesome to know that criminals get a nice long period in a dingy cell with a few neckless roommates, much like some famous South African figures who haven't quite achieved medical parole yet... well since yesterday.
Incidentally, certain prisons have become world famous and are now tourist attractions. Here are our top five:
Alcatraz, San Francisco, USA
Otherwise known as The Rock, Alcatraz Island is probably the most famous prison in the world and housed America's dirtbags until 1963, including Al Capone. During 29 years of operation the jail prided itself on no escapes although 14 attempts were made. Thirty-six potential escapees were killed, 23 were caught and three were lost at sea and never found (erm, or actually did manage to escape). It's 2.4km offshore so rather a long swim for anyone that survived getting out of the prison. Nowadays, a ferry operates between San Francisco Harbour and Alcatraz so we can go and poke around and see just what a hectic prison it was.
Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne, Australia
This famous Aussie prison in the land of prisoners housed the legendary Ned Kelly and Squizzy Taylor. Kelly was a bushranger (people who could run away and had skills to evade the police in the wild Outback) who killed a few cops and defied the colonial police (which won him notoriety among Aussies who were getting fed up with British rule) and was hanged for his efforts in 1880. Taylor was a gangster with fingers in every pie - prostitution, drug dealing, the lot. He was a protected police informant though and only served a short sentence before being fatally wounded in a gun battle not long after his release. Nowadays this is a museum where you can go and see just how these criminals of yesteryear were housed.
Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland
This is probably Ireland's most notable prison as many Irish rebels were imprisoned and executed here by the British and Irish governments. It was a hideous place. People were crammed into cells with one candle to provide heat (those of you who have been to Ireland will be able to testify as to the temperatures) and no segregation amongst men, women and children. The prison is now a museum about the history of Irish Nationalism.
Eastern State Penetentiary, Philadelphia, USA
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia was set up in 1829 and places its emphasis on reform rather than mere incarceration. It was another prison that housed Al Capone and its then-modern wagon-wheel design which meant that all the wings of the prison could be viewed from one central tower. Eastern State was also the country's largest and most expensive public structure at the time it was built. Other than a museum inside it nowadays, the prison also often displays art exhibitions.
Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa
What don't you know about the infamous prison that housed Nelson Mandela just off the Cape Town coast? Perhaps you didn't know that before it became a prison, it was used as a leper colony. Maybe you weren't aware that it was fortified at one point and used as a line of defence of Cape Town? Nowadays it is a tourist haven as everyone wants to see just where Madiba and others, including President Jacob Zuma, were held by the apartheid government. See more info at http://www.robben-island.org.za/