Monday, September 08, 2008

Jail time: Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum

Hong Kong is quite hot and humid right now. Inside venues are good for us these days, especially those with good air conditioning systems. That is said as a bit of an explanation as to why we recently found ourselves at the Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum. This museum (and prison and staff training institute) are all located in Stanley, the little town near our apartment where we do our most of our shopping and errands. While it does seem a bit incongruous with the expatriate side of Stanley, the prison is there and we now know a little more about it.

Prisons have a long history here, with the first prison opened in 1841 and known as “Victoria Gaol.” When space became cramped, some prisoners were incarcerated in a prison ship permanently docked off one of the outlying islands. In 1876, a restricted diet was introduced as a form of punishment. The penal diet consisted of bread and water for the Europeans prisoners and rice and water for the Asian prisoners. We all found this distinction oddly thoughtful.

In 1937, Stanley Prison was opened. Today it is a maximum security prison for adult males with approximately 1,500 individuals serving time. We did know about the prison but really only through mention of a prisoner visitation program that our minister has started. There are police and military headquarters in Stanley but those and the prison itself do not attract much attention from the foreigners.

The museum, like all Hong Kong museums, is put together nicely with displays in dual languages, lots of technology and zero crowds. This museum had a mock gallows and mock cells that were a bit gruesome but we hustled the kids along and looked at the guards’ uniforms instead. A large part of the museum was dedicated to Vietnamese boat people. As best we could figure out, Hong Kong’s correctional services were in charge of the management of the many refugee camps. The photos of all this people and kids playing and learning in the middle of these huge camps was inspiring. We also liked a display on Bogadek’s Burrowing Lizard, a rare limbless lizard discovered in a prison facility. We could not tell who found the lizard, either staff or prisoners but it was described as an environmental plus.

Throughout the visit, Royce asked why the museum was called the Correctional Services Museum instead of the jail museum. There actually was a display about the relatively recent switch in terminology from Prisons Department to Correctional Services but Royce would have none of that. It did not make sense to her. I thought my description of our day’s “museum visit” was a little suspect as well but no one called me on it. We were all too happy with the air-conditioning to get into the semantics of it all.


Blogger alberta1 said...

I agree with Royce, why not Jail Museum. I feel obligated to turn the parents of these three innocent children in to some kind of service that helps parents pick out age appropriate museums. Grandma

5:07 PM  

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