Mike St. Marie retired from the Correctional Service of Canada in 2009 after 35 years of service. St. Marie worked in six of the eight institutions in the region, spending 1981 to 1986 at Kingston Penitentiary. He returned this year to help lead and guide tours.
On duty in the prison as a station guide, St. Marie greets visitors as they file into the “dome,” the command centre located in the middle of the cell blocks. “You’re now in the belly of the beast,” he says, his voice echoing off the limestone and concrete walls.
His entertaining and well-rehearsed stories include sharing terminology unique to prison life.
“’Work-up’ meant inmates had to get to work. ‘Jug-up’ meant it was time for them to eat. Everything had ‘up’ added to it. I don’t know where it came from, that’s just the way it was,” St. Marie says.
St. Marie also volunteers at Canada’s Penitentiary Museum located across the street from Kingston Penitentiary at 555 King St. W. He says that this year the Penitentiary Museum is busier than ever. Often more than 1,000 people visiting a day – four times the number of people who usually tour the museum.
The retired corrections officer says being at Kingston Penitentiary again “just feels different.”
“When I’m in the dome and no one is here, it’s eerie. It’s quiet. It wasn’t like that when I was here.”