Don't Mock the 'Big House': Engage with Current and Former Prisoners on KP's Future

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Whereas Kingston Penitentiary (KP) was Canada’s first colonial prison, pre-dating Confederation, and was one of many institutions integral to the systematic dispossession of the cultures, languages, and lands of Indigenous peoples;

Whereas KP was a site where people - prisoners and staff alike - lived, loved, suffered and died for almost two centuries;

Whereas KP has become a site for entertainment that relies on voyeurism for fundraising purposes, which makes light of imprisonment and acts as a form of symbolic violence that diminishes the suffering of captives and captors in the past at KP and at present in sites of human caging across Canada;

Whereas KP tours currently privileges the voices of former staff members and administrators, while excluding the voices of prisoners who should be meaningfully included in any memorialization of a past punishment site;

Whereas benefit concerts can be held in places other than KP that don’t desecrate the lives and deaths of former prisoners and penitentiary staff through a party;

Whereas musicians can use their talents as part of healing initiatives behind and beyond prison walls, rather than a rock concert at a decommissioned site of human suffering and death;

Whereas musicians and celebrities have a responsibility to use their platform in an ethical manner for just ends;

Whereas the United Way has a responsibility to work in a manner that empowers, rather than feeds into sensationalist imagery concerning those who’ve been criminalized; and

Whereas the United Way has a responsibility to use just means in their fundraising if they wish to promote just ends such as challenging stigma and ending inequality.

We the undersigned demand that (a) tours and other fundraising initiatives (e.g. "Rockin' the Big House" concert) at Kingston Penitentiary be transformed due to their unbalanced representation of imprisonment and punishment in Canada that exclude the voices of prisoners, and (b) that a representative group of current Kingston area prisoners and former KP prisoners should be invited to take a lead role in shaping tours and other uses of KP, including its use as part of the local United Way’s fundraising efforts. If current stakeholders are unwilling to meaningfully engage with the voices and standpoints of criminalized persons, we demand (c) that they should stop the use of KP altogether.


"10 Things You Might Not Know About the Big House", a Teachin' Against the Big House: Teach-in on Prison Entertainment handout - 12 September 2019.

"A prison is no place for a party", op-ed by Linda Mussell in The Conversation - 3 September 2019.

"Queen's PhD student questions tourism, concerts at Kingston Penitentiary", article by Alexandra Mazur featuring an interview with Linda Mussell on Global News - 4 September 2019.

"Rockin' the Big House", interview by Wei Chen with Linda Mussell on Ontario Morning - 9 September 2019. 

"Respectful use of former prisons to be discussed", article by Ian MacAlpine featuring an interview with Lisa Guenther in The Kingston Whig-Standard - 11 September 2019.

"Tragic, but not hip: Escaping prison tourism at KP", op-ed by Justin Piché in Tracking the Politics of Criminalization and Punishment in Canada - 13 September 2019.

"Kingston activists, scholars question ethics of prison concert: University and local activists host public teach-in on the ethics of prison tourism and entertainment", article by Luca Dannetta featuring commentary by Lisa Guenther, Linda Mussell, Justin Piché and Kevin Walby in The Queen's University Journal - 17 September 2019.

"The Ethics of Prison Space as Entertainment", CRFC Podcast featuring an interview with Linda Mussell - 26 September 2019.

"For Kingston Penitentiary, a dark history revisited: Concert roils divisions about prison’s legacy" article by Andrew Schjerning featuring commentary by Lisa Guenther, Jennifer McKendry, Linda Mussell and Justin Piché in The Queen's University Journal - 27 September 2019.

"A 'win-win for everyone' Except Prisoners: Kingston Penitentiary Tours as a Staff, Media and Public Relations Campaign", peer-reviewed academic article by Justin Piché, Matthew Ferguson and Kevin Walby in Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research - Volume 8 (2019).

"KP Tours" - previously unpublished documents obtained from Correctional Service Canada by Justin Piché and Kevin Walby. 

"Kingston Penitentiary tours send the wrong message", op-ed by Justin Piché and Kevin Walby in The Toronto Star - 13 June 2016.

"Getting 'Beyond the Fence': Interrogating the Backstage Production, Marketing and Evaluation of CSC's Virtual Tour", peer-reviewed academic article by Jarrod Shook, Justin Piché and Kevin Walby in Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research - Volume 7 (2018).

"After the Prison Closes: Seeking Healing, Memory and Awareness at P4W", peer-reviewed academic article by Linda Mussell in Journal of Prisoners on Prisons - Volume 28-1 (2019).

Journal of Prisoners on Prisons - Website.
OPRIG Kingston - Facebook page.
P4W Memorial Collective - Website.