It’s the holidays and school children across the country are enjoying their freedom. It’s been great to see so many kids here at Inveraray Jail this summer finding out what life was like in a Victorian prison.
They’ll have met Kaitlyn Kirkhope, our youngest member of staff, who plays Jessie Lamont one of the jail’s child prisoners. Jessie was 15 – the same age as Kaitlyn – when she was sentenced to two months behind bars for stealing petticoats. When Kaitlyn was scanning the Prison Records choosing a character to play, Jessie instantly jumped out at her. It was partly the fact that they were the same age, but she was also drawn to her story. Kaitlyn says: ‘She’s quite a quiet character and seems to regret her crime. Although she really misses her family, she’s also quite happy that she gets three meals a day while she’s in prison – more than she’s used to at home!’
This wasn’t unusual. Child prisoners, like adults, would get a bed, they were warm and they were fed. In a way, a spell inside wasn’t really a deterrent – in fact sometimes it was quite the opposite. That’s why, in 1852 whipping was introduced as an alternative to sending boys to prison. This punishment was meant to be ‘sufficiently severe to cause repetition of it to be dreaded’.
Kaitlyn points out that Jessie was being taught to read and write in prison by Matron, something she would never get the opportunity to do in her normal life. She helps Matron in the kitchen too. Kaitlyn says: ‘Jessie is picking up skills that will help her when she’s released. I think she realises that this offers her a chance to change her ways. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to go back to a life of crime.’
Kaitlyn joined the jail as an actor and guide in April this year. She normally works at the weekend, but is doing extra days as it’s the school holidays. Initially she spent time shadowing the other other actors, listening to what they say and how they respond to people, before taking up the role of Jessie. You’ll normally find her sitting in a cell or locked up in the airing yards in costume, answering questions from curious visitors. ‘They ask me things like: what I did, why I’m here, how long have I got left. I have to stay in character all the time, no matter what people say to me! The other day someone asked me to take their photo. When they passed me their iPhone I had to pretend that I had no idea what it was!’
Kaitlyn finds that people respond sympathetically to her character because she’s a child. ‘They’re fascinated about child prisoners and what life in jail was like for them. They’re always surprised by the fact that children, like Jessie, were sent here for very minor offences.’
You’ll also find Kaitlyn working in the shop at the jail, but says that what she really enjoys doing is playing Jessie. ‘It’s great fun talking to visitors. I think the chance to speak to costumed guides really adds to their experience. They get to learn that little bit more about life in Inveraray Jail and the people who spent time here. I’ve always been interested in history [Kaitlin would like to be a history teacher] and love helping to tell the story of Inveraray Jail.’
So if you visit Inveraray Jail this summer make sure you say hello to Jessie/ Kaitlyn and find out more about the children who were locked up here for real all those years ago. Of course, unlike them you’ll be free to leave whenever you please!