Old Town Jail
As you are marched towards The Key, you can feel the rickety dock sway back under the weight of the prisoners. The rowing of The Key is slow and deliberate. You see your home for the next few months. You are suprised it is still afloat.
This is originally associated with the Old Town Neighborhood, but can be used anywhere there is a large river or bay. To be honest, the river this was based on was really not that large, two and a half paddlewheelers wide at this point
The Old Town Jail is actually a large ship. It is a decommissioned warship (with all its weapons removed of course) with all but one of its masts removed (there is only one sail on the ship in case of emergency). It is several decks tall. Without much of its weight, it has a light draft (if on a river, it can normally only travel the river in the spring high water levels).
The ship smells of tar, old wood, and old blood. It moves slightly in the current where is is anchored down by four points. The smell of river plants decomposing can be strong during the day, but the breeze along the water clears that every night. The sound of a harmonica can often be heard, playing low and lonely tunes. Though a tradition of percussion (drumming) is strong in the jail, as odd tunes are played at work times or when they decide to dance and entertain each other.
Most of the time, the prisoners are kept under deck. It is a bit cramped and quite gloomy. There are no assigned places for prisoners, so they all just flop where they want. However, there are a good number of hammocks here where the weapons used to be, so crowding is not a problem. The ports have been removed of glass. They and the weapon's slots are grilled with iron bars. The food is cooked by a trusted prisoner in the ships old galley. There is very little to do but be bored. The ship board chores of cleaning and mending are actually performed by the inmates, who all have a vested interest in the ship being sea/river worthy. The Guards (called Mates) check the supplies in and out, if anyone wants them.
To be honest, it is a fairly run place. Inmates simply serve their time and get out. The Mates (guards) are fairly relaxed, since everyone is "in the same boat". The hammocks are cleaned and rotated often. Most of the Inmates realize that keeping the ship clean and water worthy is in their own interests, so they do their light chores with few complaints. The Inmates keep their own order and most people fall into the system of the decks quite quickly. (In fact most people keep to themselves, rather than risk the rough and dangerous justice of the Inmates). Note: Mates and Inmates all chow the same food, so it is not that bad (if you don't mind too much hardtack), and sometimes share the galley table.
There is little in the way of security on the ship, just a few Mates who man the poop deck and the undercabin. They are there to sound the alarm should someone go over (firing at them with crossbows/ rifles as needed). They also watch the prisoners when they get deck time. They are supposed to attack any unauthorized boat coming towards them, but that seldom happens. They are under the command of the most senior guard, called (creatively enough) the Captain of the Jail. The Mates are guards, police militia types, but they wear stripped down surplus navy officer uniforms.
If the Old Town Jail is a bay, the distance from the shore is all the security they need. The town rows out supplies every day or so, inmates are transferred on the same craft.
If the Old Town Jail is on a big broad river, the distance from shore is some security (as before the days of gym clubs, not many people learned to swim well). However there are two low narrow towers on either side of the bank. In each is posted two guards at most times, just to make sure nobody "gets any ideas". One of these towers have the official office of the Old Town Jail where papers are kept to satisfy the legal types.
The city side tower has a small dock for "The Key", the only ship that is supposed to go out to the Jail. It is crewed by Mates who are not onboard at the moment. They are a bunch of clumsy sailors, but they get the job done.
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? Responses (7)
I like it.You have taken the concept of the prison hulk and made it not as hellish as it used to be, but still a nasty place to be locked up in.
Welcome to the County Jail of Sacramento Ca USA during the Gold Rush Era. There are some admusing stories associated with it.
One HOT summer (1858 I think), the Mates and The Captains, with the prisoners, decided they were going to be pirates in the river. They ran up a jolly roger and made lewd comments to boats passing by (the water was too shallow for it to go anywhere). The local army thought they were serious and marched to the shore. The entire crew stood there for an hour, hands up, waiting for someone in the army to figure out how to row the boat so they could surrender.
In the heat of summer another year, (It gets well over 105F and 40.5c with 110% humidity) the prisoners decided it was time for a swim. They and the Mates were diving off the boats. Nobody escaped, though the shore guards called up the army unit again to line the river. When ordered back on the boat, everyone climbed back in nicely and waved.
In all the years the Jail was on the water, no one actually escaped. The one person who did, went to a local bar, had a couple of drinks, then went back to the dock and slept until the guards who would row the prison boat came back the next morning.
California as a territory or a state was always an interesting place.
I thought SO!
I was thinking that very thing (It being Sacramento) when I was reading the original post, then following the link led me here. (It helps to be raised there for a few years.) Truth really is stranger than fiction. My old Hometown has a couple of tourist traps and Old Town is one of them. While there is no remnant of the jail left, the story is drilled into the kids when the drag us on field trips.
That all aside, this is a cool way to keep prisoners that I had not thought of for years.
Oh and several people escaped. Most came back within a couple of days, only one had to be caught. It was the 'laid back' treatement they received that made the jail so secure. It if was a hell hole, everyone would want to escape. The Jail was just an inconvience and minor punishment, rather than an awful place.
Also remember that the 'really bad men' were normally hung by the posse or shot while being captures, so the worst of the criminal scum never actually made it there.
I like it. It works well and is a natural ide afor any ocean or bayside city or port.
Having worked in the prison system for a number of years it is nice to see someone who has an idea for it and can work it well. This is excelent and something I will attune to for myself.
Updated: Updated for spelling error
Updated: Updated for a link and added one comment
This is quite interesting and an excellent use for a decommissioned warship!