So last night was my first stay in a prison cell.
Yup, with one night free in Christchurch I thought I’d try out the Jailhouse, once a Gothic prison built in the 1870s, now an award-winning hostel.
Walking into the reception, I instantly start laughing. There’s novelty black and white pyjamas for sale, stripy humbugs on the desk for ‘inmates’, and a ‘guard’ called Felix waiting to check me in.
Felix the Fox – as his name badge reads – is funny, friendly and passionate about the hostel. All the staff are, and I wonder if their warmth is to compensate for the foreboding architecture.
“Go to cell 20.” Felix says, grinning, “It’s my favourite. We left it untouched when we renovated the place.”
I thank him, and head to my cell, number 13 obviously. It’s the first hostel I’ve ever booked a private room (I much prefer meeting whacky travellers in mixed dorms) but I’d thought hey, let’s go for the whole ‘solo cell experience’.
Well that was a mistake.
The door clangs behind me on a narrow room, white-washed and cold. I drag the metal chair to the window, but am still too short to see out. The ceiling is high and domed, and I try not to think why they built the light fixings out of the inmate’s reach.
There’s a complimentary towel and hot water bottle neatly arranged at the bottom of a single bed, and that’s it. Yikes.
I leave the heater on and explore.
On the first floor you can relax on squashy blue sofas in a cinema room, and on the second, free pool and darts. There’s a great view of all the levels of the narrow prison, an unforgiving symmetry of law and order.
I head back down and count the numbers of the cells. Number 20 has been ‘preserved’, a 4 x 8ft museum of inmates’ artwork.
Holey moley. Stepping inside, the temperature drops, and I feel… funny. The art left on the walls, some drawn, some burnt, is moving, disturbing and provocative.
It’s a sobering snapshot of life behind bars.
But just half an hour later, I’m laughing with a Frenchman and a guy from Texas in the TV room (watching Marley & Me), and it’s like any other hostel.
At around 10pm, I make my way back to my cell. Except, when I open the door, someone’s sleeping in my bed.
Then I realise I’ve just walked into my neighbour’s room. Sorry about that mate… in my defence they’re (obviously) identical.
I climb into bed, my thirst for adventure satiated for the day.
The Jailhouse review:
One of the best hostels I’ve been to for cleanliness and efficiency – there’s information everywhere, friendly staff and immaculate facilities. Not bad!
It’s a bit out of town (15/20 min walk), but there’s lots of fast food joints and cafes nearby.
Bus stops for town, airport and Kiwi Experience are a few minutes away
The WiFi was dodgy – thick walls perhaps?