Patarei Prison

How many horror movies have you seen that take place in an old abandoned prison / hospital ? Maybe not many, but the image alone makes me think of a Saw movie… in any case the type of movie that leaves you frightened of old abandoned buildings with a creepy history. Which brings us to Patarei Prison, the old abandoned USSR prison sitting on the outskirts of Tallinn (with a lovely beach view I might add).

Patarei was not originally meant to hold prisoners however. The grande stone fortress was built back in 1840 and was meant to be used for developping war strategy- having never served this purpose, it was used as baraks until the 1920’s when prisoners were brought in. The prison was officially closed down in 2002, and the last prisoners didn’t leave until 2005. Seeing the state it is in today, it is hard to believe that prisoners were kept there until just a decade ago…

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Guard towers and walkway

Walking through the old, unlight, damp, cold, hallways we got a sense of what living conditions were like in the prison. To give you an idea, we learned that the prison was originally built without taking into account human needs – no proper water system nor plumbing… you get the picture. Not to mention during the time when prisoners were kept there Tubercolsis ran rampid due to the horrible living conditions and the dampness of the facility.

What got me most however was learning about just how cramped the prison got at times. Intentionally built to hold a maximum (and I mean a MAX ) of 1500 people, at times there were over 5000 within the prison… Apparently up to 40 men in a single cell sharing space, sleeping with their backs proped up against one another and sharing a single, overflowing, bucket amongst themselves.

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With no functioning electricity we huddled in groups and used our mobile phone lights to guide us through the dark halls. Shattered glass everywhere, rusty bedframes, and horrorifying operating tables…

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Operating room

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Living in America for most of my life, and also in France, I’ve come to belive that such places are meant for television screens and our imaginations, and aren’t to be recognized as ‘history’. Walking through the halls with an unsettled stomach, realizing that not everyone has the same privleges (even when it comes to prison life), makes you rethink how see the world. Estonia was historically part of Russia, sure, and communism was everywhere, of course, but we learn so little about just how terrible it was for some people.

Luckily Patarei no longer is home to anyone. The prisoners were shipped of to a  more liveable prison in southern Estonia. However, it would not surprise me to learn that prisoners are still living in such places in communism dominated parts of the world…

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