Going to prison’s kinda like playing the lottery. Rob a 7-11 in one city and you’ll spend your incarceration time like everyone else: working out in the yard and avoiding the showers as much as possible. But rob it in another and you’ll be sentenced to ten years of mind-bending insanity. See, sometimes prison is weird. Like, really weird. Here are ten of the weirdest places to do time.
10. The ‘Holiday Prison’ (Norway)
If you’re going to do time, for the love of God do it in Bastoy. With almost no security and ample leisure facilities, you’d be forgiven for thinking this remote Norwegian prison was a holiday centre. But you’d be wrong: Bastoy houses murderers, rapists and all sorts of nasty-ass people you don’t want to imagine having a good time. Yet rooms come complete with writing desks and flat-screen TVs; the windows are bar less; and professional cookery courses are available in the ‘prison’ kitchens. Huh. Justice in Norway sure seems to lack – how shall we put this – justice.
To be fair, there’s a lot of reasoning behind this. Bastoy is reserved for bad dudes who are showing promise with rehabilitation. The idea is to bring them here and give them responsibilities that will ease them back into the real world. And part of that involves them looking after baby cows. You read that right: in Norway, killers are given adorable animals to look after. Weirdest of all: it really works. Bastoy has the lowest reoffending rate in the whole of Europe.
9. The ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Prison (Rwanda)
Remember the prison Bane chucked Batman in halfway through Dark Knight Rises; the one that was basically hell on Earth? Well, meet its real-life equivalent. Gitarama City Prison in Rwanda is little more than a dusty hole in the ground. Unfortunately, that hole is currently filled to over 20 times its intended capacity.
The result has been all sorts of indescribable misery. Mass infections routinely break out and starvation is not uncommon. There have even been reports of inmates cannibalising each other to stay alive – and that’s before we move on to the general conditions: standing room only, human waste covering on the floor and inmates limbs actively decaying on their bodies. If there’s one place on Earth you don’t want to be, it’s here.
8. The Custom-Built Prison (Pitcairn Islands)
The Pitcairn Islands are an infinitely remote chain of islands in the empty wastes of the Pacific, inhabited by as few as 60 people. In 2004, it was revealed that one in ten of the islanders had been engaging in some seriously unpleasant activities with underage girls – and justice immediately realized it was stuck.
See, Pitcairn doesn’t really have a judiciary. The inhabitants are descendants of the Bounty mutineers, and no-one was sure whose jurisdiction the islands came under. Eventually Britain stepped up and agreed to prosecute, at which point it became apparent that Pitcairn had nothing resembling a prison and they’d have to build one.
So in 2006, the UK flew out a bunch of contractors and jailers – who then had to build a prison from scratch, incarcerate ten percent of the islanders and then guard them until they were released a few years later. Currently the islanders plan to turn the now-empty prison into a café or boat club, a move which kinda seems to lack foresight.
7. The Prison with its own Golf Course
Louisiana State Penitentiary is, by and large, an unremarkable place to serve time. It’s violent, has the chair and the history is brutal. However, it also manages to chuck something the inmates’ way that most prisons would never dream of: a freakin’ golf course.
No joke: LSP is probably the only maximum security prison on Earth with a custom-built golf course, and that’s not all inmates get. The building has its own radio station, printing press, TV studio and airstrip. Basically, it’s like a goddamn fully-functioning city, only one absolutely crawling with violent criminals. In other words, it’s sort of like future New York in Escape from New York. Only with more golf.
6. The Prison with its own Mental Disorder
Imagine a prison so inhuman, so psychologically brutal in its treatment of prisoners that it has its own syndrome named after it. Now, where do you think such a disturbing place could possibly exist? Somewhere like Russia? Syria? Iraq?
Try the United States. Pelican Bay State Prison is notorious for its solitary confinement section (SHU) – where prisoners are denied contact for 22 hours a day, kept under fluorescent lights away from the sun and only exposed to exercise once a week. The results, as you might expect, aren’t pretty. Prisoners often suffer from SHU-syndrome; a condition that’s said to resemble PTSD – which you might recognize as something usually found in combat veterans and survivors of disasters. So remember kids: if you’re gonna get illegally drunk and steal a traffic cone, just make sure you’re not in Pelican Bay’s jurisdiction when you do so.
Sark is a tiny island between the UK and France. The population is less than 600 and it was the last place in Europe to drop the feudal system in favor of democracy – ushering in elections for the first time in 2008. And it has exactly the sort of weird, eccentric prison you’d expect from a semi-empty British outpost stuck in the past.
For one thing, it looks like a public toilet. For another, it’s tiny – as in microscopic; as in comedy-prison size. The one place on the island to put drunks and it’s only capable of holding a maximum of two people. That officially makes it both the world’s smallest and stupidest prison. Congratulations, Sark.
4. The ‘Hilariously Corrupt’ Mexican Prisons
Mexican prisons are notorious for their overcrowding and brutality. However, that’s only one side of the story. The other is that Mexicans have the most-comfortable prisons on Earth, thanks to the often-hilarious levels of corruption afflicting the system.
In July 2011, officials discovered a secret lottery being run among prisoners in Sonora State to ‘win’ a luxury cell with its own fridge, TV, DVD player and air conditioner. As bizarre as this is, it has nothing on what a surprise inspection uncovered in an Acapulco prison. According to the BBC, officials unearthed (and we quote): “100 plasma televisions, 19 prostitutes, 2 sacks of marijuana and 100 cockerels for cockfighting.”
3. The Naked Prison
There’s nothing funny about an enforced stint in Chikurubi Prison – Robert Mugabe’s notorious hell-hole on the outskirts of Harare. Here, disease, filth and violence are endemic; the temperature often drops as low as zero degrees and prisoners have been known to suffer up to two years without sunlight. However, none of that compares to the strangest aspect of all: new prisoners are often required to spend over a year completely naked.
Seriously: Kevin Woods, Michael Smith and Philip Conjwayo were incarcerated in 1988. For the first eighteen months, they were forced to do everything butt-naked. Even when the temperature dropped below freezing they were denied blankets or even a rag to wrap themselves in. How or why they eventually got clothes is a mystery, but if there’s anything worse than spending one and a half years naked in a violent African jail, we’ve yet to hear it.
2. The ‘Glory Hole’ Prison
Like most African prisons, Mpimba Prison in Burundi is an unpleasant place. People are detained there indefinitely, children are born and die between its walls and abuse and harassment are terrifyingly common. In the middle of all this decadence sits one of the strangest barriers in existence.
Originally designed to keep the male and female prisoners separate, the wall running through the middle of the prison has since been cut full of holes. The idea is that the prisoners line up either side and – how shall we say this – release their tension through the wall. The outcome is a disturbingly-high rate of pregnancy among the female population. Yet guards do nothing to discourage the practice, even using the wall themselves sometimes. So yeah: it’s a functioning glory hole, right there in the middle of one of the most-overcrowded prisons in existence.
1. The Pirate Paradise
The Republic of Seychelles is one of the smallest nations on Earth, a tiny island paradise off the coast of Africa. Most of its money comes from tourism, as Russian oligarchs and powerful stockbrokers’ fork out up to $4,500 a night to stay in the island’s villas. However, the republic is also home to a special ‘pirate prison’ built exclusively to detain Somali pirates.
In banana groves and on benches, some of the world’s most-violent hijackers spend their day’s idly sunbathing and awaiting trial. According to one BBC correspondent who visited, the place is basically a paradise – with the captured Somali’s getting a free extended vacation on an island most of us can’t even afford to think of visiting. So there you have it: if you want to spend three months lounging around in one of the most-beautiful places on Earth, all you gotta do is become a pirate first.
By Morris Micklewhaite