Comparing the Kilmainham Gaol to U.S. Prisons

6 Nov

A couple weeks ago I visited the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin with a couple of friends. On the way to the jail we walked along the Dublin Marathon runners. It was nice to see all the citizens of Dublin come together to cheer on the runners. It also made for a very pleasant walk through Dublin 8. When we arrived at the jail we were led into a small museum that provided us with background information on the jail.

The Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe. The gaol is filled with historic stories that highlight the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland as the country transformed into a modern nation. This county gaol imprisoned key leaders in Ireland’s independence from British rule. I was fascinated with the reasons as to why people were detained in the Kilmainham Gaol. Robbery, begging, assault, prostitution, and drunkenness were all reasons that detained prisoners.

As we walked through the prison everything became very real. It was an odd feeling knowing that we were standing in the same place that Ireland’s most significant independence leaders stood. I also couldn’t help but compare this experience with my experience visiting a medium security prison in the United States during high school. Although I was appalled at the executions and living conditions at the Kilmainham Gaol, I decided that life in today’s U.S. prison system is much worse. The Kilmainham Gaol cells were about the same size as U.S. prison cells. However the Kilmainham Gaol cells housed one inmate while the U.S. prisons held two inmates. The U.S. prison cells also contained a toilet located right next to the inmates’ beds. The Kilmainham Gaol also was constructed to be open with a skylight to let god look down and cleanse the inmates of their sins. On the other hand, the U.S. prison resembled a dark cave. There was no natural light let in. Lastly, prisoners in the U.S. are only allowed out of their cells for one hour a day. When they are allowed out they are placed in their own small cages outside. In the Kilmainham Gaol prisoners were able to walk around outside for two hours a day.

This experience opened my eyes to the miserable truth of jail life. I am truly appalled at the fact that life in jail in the U.S. in many ways is worse that the life of prisoners in the Kilmainham Gaol 200 years ago. This experience makes me question if it is humane to let people live this way in U.S. prisons. It also makes me upset that these restrictions are in place because the world is incredibly dangerous.


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