I have been a self proclaimed advocate for prisoner rights for several years. I have written several short articles on addiction, parole and institualization which were shared by the New Brunswick chapter of the John Howard Society. I have also spent a lot of one on one time getting to know parolees and ex-offenders through my volunteer work.
The journey to Burwash was a personal one, I had been in a long term relationship with someone who grew up in the system. The personal stories and emotions that went along with their time only made me want to help more. I had visited many institutions but was never able to truly experience my thoughts while there. I had done a bit of research and found Burwash and decided to make the journey.
Once I reached the coordinates for the old Burwash road, I started my trek in. Initially there were no signs indicating that it was a private property but, I was greeted by a gentlemen who let me know that I could obtain a pass for 20$ should I choose.He warned that if I didn’t obtain the pass I could face trespassing charges but, I could proceed at my own risk.
If you hike at a good pace you can get into prison ground in roughly 1.5 hrs. The terrain is soft and uneven however, certainly hike-able with a good pair of shoes.
As I hiked into the woods the emotions started to take over, I wasn’t sure how I was going to process this experience. I have been in many institutions but, never an institution that I have been able to sit and truly process the building, emotions and my surroundings.
The building is decaying and there has been a lot of vandalism that had occurred over the past 40 years.
The Burwash Prison, also know as the Bison Industrial Farm was in operation from 1914-1975 at which point they deemed the prison too costly to maintain. The prison was in fact self sufficient. They farmed the land and made their own food that supplied not only the institution but the local market.
If you have been any institution at all they all have that same “make up” reception, security “the bubble” and typically into a visitation or common area. The structures are all still in place and left little to the imagination.
As I walked down towards the bubble I remembered some of the times I had to enter active institutions and be subject to extensive searches and very unpleasant staff. There is never a time that, that process becomes less invasive or familiar.
The provincial Jail had a capacity for 186 inmates, and all the cells are still present. In some cases the doors still remain intact.
The first two floors contained primarily the minimum security cells which were approximately 8×10 and still has the sinks and toilets intact. I took the time to sit and process how it must have felt to spend up to 2 years within these walls. Federal can go up to life with as little as 1 hr a day outside alone.
This institution was by no means as rigid as the Federal Max institutions I was familiar with but, I am sure the emotions were just as raw. The emotions came rushing over me. I was angry, sad, lonely and most of all disgusted by the things these walls must have seen.
It always shocks me the complete lack of human rights behind these steel bars and the general lack of respect for your fellow human no matter their past.
Once I took some time to work through some feelings and emotions I carried on to the second and third floors. The third floor housed the showers, what appeared to be medium and/or solitary confinement cells. The second floor had a mix of cells the mess hall and the gym/auditorium. When I made my way through the stairwells to the basement
I came across the kitchen which still had the “bake o Matic” and stoves fully intact as they would have been all those years ago. The pantry was bare but, I could still imagine the work that went on before each meal in this small space. I could imagine the amount of fresh bread that was baked at Burwash and sold at the local general store.
After my time inside the institution I made my way to the outside facilities on the property. The water treatment, Power station and barns still remain on this large 40+ acre property.
I am glad that I made the trip despite many people saying it was a bad idea. I was able to see a piece of history, took the time to process some deamons and experienced something that ultimately I would never of gotten to the change to do.
These were my marbles!