|Entrance to the Prison Transportation Camp|
in Maroni, French Guiana
|Our ride across the border|
In preparation for our day-trip, we watched the classic movie with Steve McQuean and Dustin Hoffman, Papillion knowing we would tour what remains of the penal colony once known at the worst place on Earth. From 1852 to 1946 prisoners suffered a living death known as the “dry guillotine” in French Guiana. Three islands collectively known as the Iles du Salut, including infamous Devil’s Island, were a place no Frenchman would go unless sentenced by a judge.
|Richard outside the cell of Papillon|
|Papillon's cell was second from the right|
|Papillon's name is visible on the floor of the cell he was said to have occupied prior to his deportation to nearby Devils Island|
Buildings still standing include administration offices, the infirmary, and housing for the guards. We visited the cell block where a prisoners wearing red and white striped pajamas were confined to a room with a fixed wooden bench for a bed, a wooden pillow, one bucket for water and one for a toilet, and shackles to be placed around their ankles either overnight or for 22 out of 24 hours depending on their crime. There were 12 cells for reserved for prisoners awaiting the death sentence and 20 cells reserved for those destined for Devil’s Island. Still visible in some cells, are marks on the walls made by prisoners including tallys marking off the numbers of days spent in the cell or drawings of their escape dreams. The bottom half of most of the prison walls, including cells, were covered in paint made from black ashes. If a prisoner touched a wall or leaned against it, black soot rubbed off on their hands or clothing resulting in punishment.
|Tour guide putting the shackles on Tony|
The forger, Fredric La Grange, tells how prisoners in solitary lay on their wooden boards, “their legs fettered to an iron bar, staring at any light coming from a small hole, just waiting… waiting… waiting.” La Grange died in 1964. Our guide shackled Tony (a prison warden in his previous life in England) to one of these beds for only 5 minutes but marks on his ankles remained for several hours. Of the 70,000+ convicts that sweated, suffered, and starved in the name of French justice, less than 2,000 would get out alive.
On a more uplifting note, we also spent time at a most fabulous outdoor market held Wednesdays and Saturdays.
|Open market in Saint-Laurent du Maroni|
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