These places we like: an hour of vacation in prison

A trade, a street corner or an unknown park, a place to meet or relax: cities are full of places we love, often far from the more traditional circuits. This summer, columnists from the six newspapers of Groupe Capitales Médias will take you on a tour of these little treasures, from Quebec City to the Outaouais, from Mauricie to Estrie or to Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. See you every Thursday of the summer.
The summer holidays announcement that symbolize freedom. The last place that comes to mind to enjoy it is “inside”, behind bars.

Yet it is in a cell that Réjean found himself in June 1977 and that he gives us an appointment, 42 years later.

The former inmate has become a guide at the Old Prison in Trois-Rivières, a destination that is not very inviting at first glance and worth a visit and not just a rainy day. Change of scenery assured.

This column is part of a series entitled “These places we love”. I am surprised to propose a visit to the dungeon while my first reflex, when the summer break comes, is to go get away on the hiking trails of the Mauricie National Park, not to name it.

But there. It had been a long time since I wanted to go back to this place where the sight of cells can trigger goose bumps even if you feel a heat wave outside.

Classified as a historic monument, the Old Prison is part of the POP Museum, formerly known as the Quebec Museum of Popular Culture, right in the city center.

Classified as a historic monument, the Old Prison is part of the POP Museum, formerly known as the Quebec Museum of Popular Culture, right in the city center.

I can not judge the skills of other guides who do not all have the past prison of Réjean, but I admit that a tour in his company adds a powerful dose of realism. As long as you discover the daily life of those who have served their time, as well do it with a guy who has never forgotten the odors that came out of it … and who does not hesitate to describe them to us .

It’s not called a visit-experience for nothing. We do not just walk inside the stone walls of the building that opened in 1822 before closing in 1986 for insalubrity.

The concept of the testimony is to tell the story of the Old Prison through the eyes of a man who clarifies things before the metal door closes loudly behind us. Rejean does not want to be photographed or filmed during the visit for about 75 minutes.

“I’m not wanted,” says the guide with humor before explaining that his grandchildren are not aware of the experience of their grandfather. The man of nearly 60 years is not yet ready to tell them. It will come, but not immediately, let alone here.

Rejean is content to tell us that he was incarcerated a few weeks to be 18 years old. “I made a stupidity, a stupidity …”

Sentenced to a month and a half of detention, he was finally released years later. Here again, the guide does not give details of the reasons that increased his sentence.

“I always say we know what time we go to jail, but we never know how old we get out.”

We were about fifteen people, all adults, to start with the one who speaks about the prison reality with a mixture of emotions that stir again and raw truths.

He remembers his arrival, handcuffs on his wrists and feet, the sound of the creaky metal door opening, searches, tears or intimidating looks of fellow prisoners with whom it is necessary to share the suffocating narrowness of places. .

The prison was built to accommodate around 40 detainees. They were 130 in the summer of 1977 when one feels, listening to Réjean, to feel the grim humidity of the place.

“There has never been a toilet in the cells. From 10 o’clock in the evening to 7 o’clock in the morning, you were locked up with a shit bucket. ”

If the baked beans eaten the night before did not pass, it was hell, confirms the guide who does not always in the lace when it describes the conditions of detention.

Generally, the visit to the Old Prison is not accessible to children under 12, but on the museum’s website, it is mentioned that during the summer season, an “adapted” visit is offered to children from 8 to 11 years old.

A warning is however issued that the visit of the dungeons can be “agonizing” for some people and that the remarks made during the visit “are not for children” … It’s up to you to judge. You should know that the basement floor, where the “hole” is located, is made of clay. There is no light and chains are still attached to the wall. Réjean invites us to go there to see the state of affairs, but he is no. He stays behind, pensive.

The Old Prison is an interpretation center on prison life. This is not the house of horrors, although seven men were executed by hanging, the last having taken place in 1934.

Why did Rejean accept this work, which involves putting him back into bad memories every time? Our guide in freedom could take advantage of it to ride on motorbikes or to indulge in ornithology, his two passions.

“It was not easy to come back, but I do it for them,” he says, pointing to the youngest members of the group, older boys and girls between the end of adolescence and the beginning of the adulthood.

Talking about his troubled past is his way of preventing bullshit with serious consequences.

“I am not in a position to give you advice …” Rejean begins to say before concluding the visit with this warning that he can afford knowingly: “Make your youth, make your own possible, but stay away from prison. “

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