KINGSTON, ONT. - How does one say goodbye to the Kingston Penitentiary? It's been there for 178 years, a sentinel keeping watch over Portsmouth Harbour and all the boats that come and go.
In the early days, larger vessels, either sail or steam, brought convicts to the west gate (now closed) to begin a penitential life of anger or sorry regret. The same boats often sailed away with decks laden with limestone bound for places along Lake Ontario looking to build an impressive town hall or church. Those chunks of stone were infused with sweat from the brows of hapless prisoners.
The KP story is so full of sadness and mental distress that it's tempting to say: "Good riddance to bad rubbish!" But that would not be fair to the strong men who had careers as guards and encouraged their sons and grandsons to follow after them.
The wars of the 20th century assured a fresh stock of guards whose military conditioning fitted them comfortably into the command-and-obey culture of the prison. I remember a war-veteran guard who answered my question about his work at KP by saying, "Don't ever turn your back on a prisoner." That answer encapsulated the social chasm that separated keeper from kept. The gap exists to the present day, even though post-secondary education of corrections officers has closed it somewhat.
Saying goodbye to KP begs the question "What next?"