Abandoned Estonian Prisons Are a Little Slice of Hell

Atlas Hoods

By Alex Hoban | Feb 27 2013

Disclaimer: Some of you might remember this article from a few years back when we still lived at Viceland. Unfortunately, when we moved to VICE.com it disappeared, so now we've dug it up. Enjoy.

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Back in 1820, Russian Tzar Nicholas I built a massive prison on the Baltic coast just outside of Tallinn, which was so good at making prisoners cower remorsefully before the might of the hegemony that it remained in operation right up until 2004. Embraced by the KGB during Soviet times, it was only upon joining the EU that the Estonians decided to pull the plug on the two-century operation. This was probably because having a fully functioning gulag on the outskirts of your capital doesn't exactly line up with Angela Merkel's vision of a democratic continent.

After the last prisoners were shipped to cells somewhere marginally more humane, Patarei Prison ("the Battery," in English) was left abandoned. Thankfully, for our purposes, the authorities left behind the dank, medievalesque surroundings that housed thousands of men reading comics about Jesus and jerking off furiously to pictures of Lisa from Steps culled from smuggled in copies of Smash Hits. If these walls could talk...

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Tallinn's a small place, so getting to the prison on foot was no problem. Yet after stepping through the wrought iron gates of the gigantic triangular complex, the civilities of Estonia's township seemed an echelon away.

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Inside the jail, a watchman would sit atop the cramped walking courts, watching the Battery's farm minions pace in frantic circles as they tried to suck in as much fresh Baltic air as they could during their weekly hour outdoors.

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The prison cells, spread across four floors, assumed their own hierarchy, with basement chambers at the bottom resembling the bowels of hell. Here, the perpetual dampness and moisture was used as a psychological trauma tool by the KGB to keep prisoners constantly ill and uncomfortable. If I had to guess, I'd say the prisoners weren't able to find much solace in "Dominator 2."

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Across the yard, a small corridor led to what was affectionately known as the hanging chamber. For centuries, a ladder like this one was used to unpick the noose from around recently departed prisoners' necks. The bodies were then carried over to the cliff face and thrown into the sea.

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