Orange is the new black and prisons are the new hotels. Fans of TV jail dramas keen to experience life on the inside for themselves can now do so without the harrowing experience of committing a crime or having various orifices checked for contraband. We can see the appeal. Prison is a tough, bleak world that many of us will never experience other than through our television sets. We’re binge watching Netflix documentaries and re-watching Prison Break from season one to get our jail time fixes instead. Entrepreneurs and tourism boards across the world have seized this new craze and are now legitimately locking up tourists – and charging them for the pleasure.
Closed prisons in Europe, America, Canada and India are all flinging open their doors again and welcoming wannabe cons with a thirst for uncomfortable beds, basic rations and an unsettling desire to be within a couple of metres of a stainless steel toilet. One prison in Italy – which is still home to real-life prisoners – is offering you the chance to mingle with the jailbirds for the ultimate prison experience. Fancy spending a night or two in a prison cell? Don’t worry, if you’re not keen on a getting a criminal record to serve time, read on to find out more.
15. Karosta Prison
Pack some striped pyjamas and experience life as a Latvian lag. If you sleep with one eye open in this creepy prison, you’ll get a scary surprise. Your guard will be sat three feet away from you watching you sleep… Right there in your cell. Still game? In Liepaia, Latvia you can enjoy a night’s stay in Karosta Prison. Hugely authentic, from the brutal guards to the creaky iron beds, this is no luxury prison stay. Costing around 20 euros a night, you’ll experience verbal abuse, a gruelling exercise regime and the grisly spectre of your haunted cell. Sinister doesn’t even begin to cover it.
14. Zombie Prison
If spending some time behind bars isn’t quite edgy enough for you, let’s throw some zombies into the mix as well, eh? Deep in the sleeping heart of the UK countryside you can spend three hours locked up with the undead. Still not chilling you to your very core? Apparently the zombies in this prison were also violent and twisted criminals before they got put away, died and rose again to terrify paying customers. Thrown in to Oakham’s ‘secure zone delta’ to face the zombie hoard, you’ll be kitted out with replica weapons, but it’s stealth and intelligence that will win the day.
13. Prison Break
Picture this – convicted of a crime you didn’t commit, you’re sentenced to life in prison, no possibility of parole. So far, so Steven Avery. Except you’ll need more than a Netflix documentary to set the wheels of justice and possible freedom turning in this scenario. Using just your wits and steely determination, you’ve got one hour to escape with your team of fellow inmates. Can you bravely bust out of Nashville’s Iron Gate Prison in record time? There’s a journal of clues stashed in your cell to help you out. This cleverly executed escape the room game gives you some coveted jail time, without the criminal record.
12. Torre Prendiparte
Book yourself into this historic tower in Italy for a weekend to remember. All twelve floors of this former prison can be yours for 500 euros a night. Pricey, but worth it for the lewd graffiti in the basement alone. Gaudy wall decorations aside, Torre Prendiparte in Bologna was once home to the town’s criminal population. These were no ordinary jailbirds though, they tower was used to imprison anyone who committed a crime against religion. A typical celly might have got a nun pregnant or been caught stealing from a church. Lock yourself in a cell with some bread and water and pray the tower owner pops by with a spare set of keys.
11. Break into a Bolivian Prison
Mingle in the right circles on a trip to Bolivia and you can get smuggled into La Paz. A real, working jail – this is not for the fainthearted. Illegal and definitely crazy, but people do manage it. The prison itself is so tough even the guards don’t spend time within the walls. The prisoners run the prison. For a fee, a guide will give you a tour of the prison, introduce you to some inmates and show you how the prisoners have created their own economy and system within the jail walls. If that all sounds very cosy and safe – you may also be asked if you want to deal drugs while you’re on the inside. Enter at your own risk… Smuggle a file in via a baked cake, just in case.
Many of the prisons on this list are now hotels or offer the chance to explore an unused prison far away from any real crims. Not so with Pianosa, this is a game changer in the prison experience world. Just off the coast of Tuscany hand over some hard earned cash and you too could have a murderer cook your lunch. Perhaps a rapist might serve a classy cocktail on the prison terrace or a bank robber could take you out for a day’s snorkelling. All part of the jail’s rehab scheme, the inmates run Pianosa like a hotel. A really sinister, shady hotel where your bunkmate could have been a serial killer, drug dealer or sexual predator. Enjoy your stay!
9. Maitland Gaol
Travellers heading down under can book themselves in for a night of jail time shenanigans at the Maitland Gaol. Two cell blocks in this historic prison in Australia are waiting to lock up you and you can bring as many friends as you like, provided you can convince them to join you. Your adventure starts with a 90 minute tour of the gaol before lock up at 9:30pm. Wedged in a cell with only a handful of buddies and whatever you’ve got in your rucksack for entertainment, what happens in Maitland Gaol, stays in Maitland Gaol. Tip: For a festive season to remember, the jail also hosts Christmas dinners. Stuff a turkey and call it jailbird for added inmate lolz.
8. The Liberty Hotel
If all of these prison experiences are just too basic for you, try the Liberty Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. Gone are the barred windows and stark cells. A few hints of the building’s former life remains – the Alibi bar is set in the jail’s old ‘drunk tank’ – and the prison’s old catwalk has been kept. Everything else is steeped in luxury. Look edgy and daring by updating your Facebook status to say you’re spending the night in prison, while you lay back in your 5 star bed ordering room service. No one will ever know. Pop a few bottles of hotel shampoo in your bag to add to your cut throat, hard man image.
7. A night in the Dana
For four nights in 2017, a UK events company is giving plucky wannabe convicts the chance to experience life in prison. Offering just cold floors or a bare metal bed frame, this is stark territory indeed – so pack a sleeping bag! The base for the experience will be Dana Prison, Shrewsbury. Opened in 1793 and closed in 2013, the Dana’s tiny cells don’t look very welcoming. Steeped in criminal history, the Dana’s hanging rooms were once used to hang murders doing time within the walls. Creepy fact: The bodies of those hanged men are still buried in unmarked graves somewhere the grounds of the prison.
6. Escape the Cornwall Jail
Download the Cornwall Jail’s blueprints and get them tattooed subtly onto your torso. If TV has taught us anything, it’s that this is the way to bust out of prison in style, while millions of viewers admire your body art. If a lifelong commitment to a series of air-con ducts on your abs seems a little excessive, perhaps just take part in the Cornwall escape game and see how it goes? Break out of Canada’s historic prison before you all end up swinging from the gallows. The games begin in May and run through to November 2017. Tattoos optional.
5. Culture vs Cons
Get a side order of culture in Hostel Celica’s jail cells. 20 cells in one of Slovenia’s old military prisons have been transformed into art installations you can sleep in. Still retaining the sparse prison comforts of bunk beds, cell doors and barred windows, each cell has a unique feature. One stand out cell features a glass floor through which you can see a series of sculptures. Another cell is full of furniture which can be folded and taken apart – handy for making a makeshift shiv, perhaps? Homemade weapons aside, this hostel has taken the brutal and bleak jail experience and managed to turn it into something beautiful.
4. Sangareddy District Jail
For a true taste of prison life, head to Telangana, India. For just 500 rupees (around C$10.50) you can sleepover in a 200-year-old former jail. But unlike some other prison tourist attractions, there’s no room service, WiFi or fluffy pillows at Sangareddy District Jail. Equipped with just your prison uniform, basic bedding and some soap (don’t drop it!) you’ll be escorted to a cell for an overnight stay. While you’re incarcerated you’ve got the option of cleaning your cell or planting trees to keep busy. Food is shipped in from the fully operational prison just down the road, and includes chapatis, rice and curry.
3. Hi-Ottawa Jail Hostel
Grab a stiff drink in Mugshots – Ottawa’s jail bar – before taking a tour of death row and the handy nearby gallows. The grisly 8th floor of this former jail once saw death row inmates enjoying their last meal, which you can recreate in the communal kitchen. Whip up a tasty last supper for you and your fellow travellers, before settling down for the night in a converted prison cell. Voted among the top ten spookiest buildings in the world by Lonely Planet, this hostel may still be home to a few former residents last seen heading towards the 8th floor gallows.
2. Löwengraben Jail Hotel
Every inmate option is available at the Jail Hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland. You can punish yourself and go ‘full lag’ and experience a bleak and tiny cell. Bars on the windows, a small sink and not a lot else awaits you. Hunker down with just your thoughts and ponder why you’ve put yourself through this. Or, if you see yourself as the jail’s resident kingpin, go large and book yourself into the suite. Once the governor’s office, it’s now waiting to welcome you with a king size bed and all the trappings of luxury a prisoner would never have experienced.
Book yourself into one of the original prison cells at this former courthouse in London. Clink78 used to be a temporary home for criminals on their way to either freedom or incarceration. Will you be free to walk the streets after a night in the Clink or be trapped forever in their underground cells. Ok, perhaps a bit dramatic. Now a travel hostel, Clink78 has been renovated to sleep over 500 guests. You can watch TV in a courtroom or settle into your bunk for the night to swap stories of your greatest heist – or more likely, greatest travel story. Who knows who you’ll end up bunking next to though?
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