“You have taken our civil rights—we want our human rights. ”
On April 14, 1971, a handful of prisoners attacked the guards at Kingston Penitentiary and seized control, making headlines around the world. For four intense days, the prisoners held the guards hostage while their leaders negotiated with a citizens’ committee of journalists and lawyers, drawing attention to the dehumanizing realities of their incarceration, including overcrowding, harsh punishment and extreme isolation. But when another group of convicts turned their pent-up rage towards some of the weakest prisoners, tensions inside the old stone walls erupted, with tragic consequences. As heavily armed soldiers prepared to regain control of the prison through a full military assault, the inmates were finally forced to surrender.
Murder on the Inside tells the harrowing story of a prison in crisis against the backdrop of a pivotal moment in the history of human rights. Occurring just months before the uprising at Attica Prison, the Kingston riot has remained largely undocumented, and few have known the details—yet the tense drama chronicled here is more relevant today than ever. A gripping account of the standoff and the efforts for justice and reform it inspired, Murder on the Inside is essential reading for our times.
Includes 24 pages of photographs.
Catherine Fogarty is a storyteller. She is the founder and president of Big Coat Media, with offices in Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and North Carolina. An accomplished television producer, writer and director, Catherine has produced award-winning lifestyle, reality and documentary series for both Canadian and American networks.
Catherine is the executive producer of the Gemini nominated series Love It or List It. In addition to that franchise, Catherine has produced several other lifestyle and documentary series including Animal Magnetism (W Network), My Parents' House (HGTV), and Paranormal Home Inspectors (Investigative Discovery Canada). Catherine also produced and directed I Don’t Have Time for This, an intimate documentary about young women with breast cancer.
Originally trained as a social worker, Catherine studied deviance and criminology. She worked with numerous at-risk populations including street youth, people with AIDS, abused women, and social services.
A few months into researching the story I found myself driving to Kingston, Ontario, the picturesque town on the shores of Lake Ontario where Canada’s most famous prison opened in 1835. The original facility consisted of a single cellblock containing one hundred-and-fifty-four cells. Designed to hold five hundred inmates, its population grew every year as more and more desperate men found themselves locked away inside its walls.
I was heading into the ‘belly of the beast,’ having snagged a hard to find ticket for the Kingston Penitentiary Tour. Since the penitentiary closed its doors in 2013, thousands have flocked to the notorious prison to finally get a look inside. But I wasn’t just a curious tourist; I was a writer on a mission to find the true story behind the events of April 1971. I knew Kingston was the place to begin my research, after all it was the birthplace of the Correctional Service of Canada, and Kingston Pen was one of the city’s defining institutions. But, by the time I drove back to Toronto twenty-four hours later, I was only certain of one thing: the ghosts of the 1971 Kingston Penitentiary riot were not going to be easily awoken.
Although the riot had occurred decades earlier, I soon discovered this was an event that few were willing to revisit. Correctional Services of Canada (CSC) that controls all federal penitentiaries was quick to ensnare me in red tape. Calls and emails would go unanswered for weeks. Every request led to more forms and more delays. The Canadian Penitentiary Museum, which is conveniently housed in the former Warden’s office across the street from Kingston Pen, informed me that they had little information about the riot. The Kingston Police also had no records dating back to 1971.
Multiple trips to the Ontario archives required more paperwork, Freedom of Information requests, and further appeals. When documents were finally received they would often be heavily redacted. A trip to Queens University archives to obtain historical photos from the Kingston Whig Standard led to even more frustration when it was discovered that someone had removed all of the photo negatives related to the four-day riot. But with each disappointment or closed door, I remained determined to exhume this story from behind prison walls.
Eventually, I was put in touch with a group of retired correctional officers. When I contacted the organizer of the group she was more than willing to offer assistance in trying to find any officers who had worked at Kingston pen during the riot, but she cautioned me that they might not want to talk. Once again I was up against a well-entrenched code. Prison guards for the most part, like police officers live behind a “blue wall” of silence.
A carefully worded email was distributed to over one hundred retirees, but my inbox remained empty. Then, a few weeks later I received one, short cryptic note; “I was there, but I don’t know how much I can tell you. ” Eventually a few more emails followed. Soon, I was headed back to Kingston for several clandestine meetings in shopping malls and coffee shops. security prison during its deadliest siege, when men from all walks of life, convicts, lawyers, newsmen, politicians and prison administrators were thrust together to try to bring about a peaceful resolution to a dire situation. Out of the fray emerged some unlikely heroes who saved hundreds of lives including those of the kidnapped guards, while others sadly turned their rage towards the weakest among them.
But half a century after the Kingston Penitentiary riot when prisoners asked to be heard and demanded to be treated humanely, we have to ask, what have we learned? Our country still struggles with fundamental questions related to incarceration and basic human rights. Cruel injustices continue to happen in our prisons every day.
It is my hope that in re-creating this moment in our penal history, I have offered the reader a glimpse into a world that remains hidden from our view. A peek behind the curtain of a correctional system that is still deeply flawed in its philosophy and practices. Famous Russian philosopher Dostoyevsky once said: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. ” But how are we to judge, if we are still not allowed to see inside?
Praise for Murder on the Inside
"Fogarty’s well-researched and moving debut examines a 1971 Canadian prison riot and the conditions that caused it . .. Fogarty sympathetically portrays Knight and others who acted in good faith. For readers who have ever wondered about life behind bars, this is a must-read. "—Publishers Weekly
"Catherine Fogarty's page-turner is a story of social and political failure. She's worked very hard to flesh out the complex men on both sides of the 1971 Kingston Pen riot and make them into compelling characters. She's found fascinating heroes and moral cowards in places you won't expect. And, when you think you've reached the end of the story, Fogarty will show you injustice upon injustice. Almost no one comes out of this story looking good, including Canadians who think human beings should be locked in cages and left without hope. "—Mark Bourrie, lawyer and author of Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson
"Catherine Fogarty's moment-by-moment recreation of the bloody 1971 riot at the notorious Kingston Penitentiary is a compelling must-read. The depth of research is remarkable. The narrative crackles with tension and foreboding. Those caught up in the standoff—inmates, guards, prison officials and journalists alike—come alive. This searing portrait of the still-too-secret world of Canada's prisons truly is impossible to put down. "—Dean Jobb, author of The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream and Empire of Deception