on incarceration

What are the unheard histories of Katarokwi/Kingston’s prisons?
Where are the stories from those with lived realities within these carceral sites?
How can a different practice and ethics of witnessing allow for a re-storying of incarceration that shifts away from the spectacle of dark tourism?

open up the archives: on incarceration invites contributions from anyone and everyone who has connections to Katarokwi/Kingston’s prisons – with those who are currently or previously incarcerated prioritized – who want to have their stories shared, songs sung, histories told, poetry read, and voices heard. This material will be developed directly into a living, breathing, growing archival space – both digitally and physically hosted at the Centre for Indigenous Research Creation, located at Queen’s University.

By not only digging through archival materials from national, provincial and local collections, but also making accessible forgotten, neglected, or personal narratives and ephemera, open up the archives will preserve a collection of surviving stories while placing the lived realities of incarceration at the forefront. The project places emphasis on documenting and presenting community-led and first-hand experiences of those most closely connected to prisons as an archival process of remembering, re-storying, and healing. Also imperative to this project, is making note of what to leave behind: what acts of remembering are purely moments of spectacularizing pain? What do we do with these narratives? How do we take them up critically and not further disseminate them? Ultimately, open up the archives: on incarceration is centred on a process of archiving that demonstrates a fierce optimism and commitment to survival while presenting a stubborn challenge to the institutional boundaries of “the archive.”

Famously known as Canada’s prison capital, Katarokwi/Kingston has been put on the national map, in a sense, by its historical and contemporary relationships with its penitentiaries. Over the past few years in particular, the city’s reliance on its carceral sites has increased dramatically, especially with the introduction of Kingston Penitentiary (KP) tours. Framed by the marketing demands of the city, and fueled by narratives of carceral punishment, prison tourism and the popular discourses around it sensationalize incarceration long after the closure of a prison. Kingston’s Prison for Women (P4W) was decommissioned in 2000 and while it no longer houses incarcerated women, the narratives surrounding it within Canada’s Penitentiary Museum continue to perform cultural work that engages with sensational aspects of historical injustice.

Jacqueline Wilson has defined this growing trend in sightseeing as “dark tourism,” where people gravitate to sites, attractions or exhibitions associated with tragedy or suffering. These dark touristic narratives based within the Correctional Service of Canada’s KP tours, or Canada’s Penitentiary Museum, glorify incarceration while simultaneously glossing over the mass incarceration of Indigenous peoples (most especially Indigenous women), those living in poverty, racialized peoples, trans and/or queer peoples, and/or individuals with mental illnesses. The colonial violence inherent to the prison industrial complex is effectively shielded under kitschy tourist gimmicks within penal sites of dark tourism.

The city of Katarokwi/Kingston’s carceral landscape is shifting: Queen’s University has officially sold P4W to the developer ABNA Investment Ltd; the KP tours continue to grow; and community consultations surrounding the future use of the now decommissioned buildings are in place. While Queen’s has a legacy of prison-related research in its close proximities to incarceration sites, it is imperative that a reciprocal relationship be established with members of our communities most closely affected by incarceration.

open up the archives aims to weave together elements of archival documents and personal histories, counter the city’s dark touristic narratives, and place focus on lived experiences. By moving beyond the scope of the individual archivist/researcher, multiple voices and stories are being invited to shape the research, itself.

this project is curated by carina magazzeni