Murder on the Inside: The True Story of the Deadly Riot At Kingston Penitentiary

Murder on the Inside: The True Story of the Deadly Riot at Kingston Penitentiary – Catherine Fogarty

In MURDER ON THE INSIDE, author Catherine Fogarty looks at the deadly riot that took place at Kingston Penitentiary.

On April 14, 1971, inmate Billy Knight led what was to be a peaceful protest against the horrendous living conditions at Kingston Penitentiary.  Fed up with the dehumanizing conditions inside the prison and the rumors of an even more oppressive prison being constructed nearby, inmates took a handful of guards hostage with the hope of finally being heard by those with the power to effect change.  Bringing together a team of journalists and lawyers to assist with negotiations on behalf of the prisoners, the conflict stretched out for several days. 

Plans went awry when a group of inmates targeted those who made up the prisoners of section 1-D; child molesters, sex offenders and informants otherwise known as “Undesirables”.  Once released from their cells, they were dragged out into the open, tied to chairs and beaten and tortured for hours resulting in the death of two inmates.

In her introduction, Carrie had noted that while books and documentaries about Kingston Penitentiary exist, the deadly riot is mentioned in passing or in little detail.  This opened up the door for someone to truly dig deep into what happened and shine a spotlight on those four days in April 1971.  Through intensive research of court records, government documents, news reports and interviews with those who were there, Fogarty was able to paint as comprehensive a picture as possible of both the conditions inside the pen before the riot and the events that transpired after the beatings and bloodshed including a pair of trials with disastrous results.

Surprisingly, despite the outcome, things could have turned out worse had the Armed Forces invaded the jail before the prisoners surrendered.  There was a real opportunity for change here, but the outcome suggested no one had learned a thing from the four-day long ordeal.  Millhaven, the aforementioned new prison, ended up being even more tyrannical than Kingston, fostering an even deeper divide between the prisoners and the guards resulting in further riots and escape attempts.

The book closes with a look at the repeated attempts over the years to move forward with real prison reform as well as what became of the major players involved.  One of the more shocking moments focused on the punishing use of solitary confinement and its devastating impact on prisoners.  In 2017, the Liberal government imposed new restrictions on the length of time an inmate could stay locked up in solitary confinement, setting a cap of twenty-one days.  Before that, there had been many lengthy documented cases with one in particular telling of an inmate who had served 1,636 days along with twenty-four hour lighting.

Murder on the Inside is both a jarring yet captivating look at the state of a federal penitentiary which for years had been a ticking time bomb.  When it ultimately went off leaving bodies in its wake, it was quickly replaced with another as the time would tick down again and again.

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