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Some women dream of vacations filled with romantic walks, glowing sunsets and sandy beaches. For me, the idea of a Soviet prison and gas masks seemed more intriguing. With this in mind, I made a stop at Karosta Prison in Liepaja, Latvia during the autumn Eastern European journey. It's difficult to determine the greatest threat in the modern world, but at one point it was nuclear annihilation, with the Soviet Union and America being the culprits of tension. I grew up at the end of the Cold War and never really experienced the neurosis associated with the threat of a nuclear attack, but my parents who were young children at the height of the Cuban missile crisis recall "duck and cover" drills at school. Alarms sounded and school children were trained to take cover under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. It looked something like the photo below, and Americans also were indoctrinated with films, posters and cartoons explaining safety procedures during an atomic blast.

duck-and-cover     Bert2


It seems unthinkable that hiding under a desk could prevent the drastic consequences of a nuclear blast, but one Hiroshima official claims he trained local policemen to duck for cover after an atomic flash, and as a result not a single Nagaskai policeman died in the initial blast. Perhaps this is an urban legend, but in any event for me there's great curiosity about this period of history. I'm certain Soviet children were also trained about nuclear attacks, but I don't know the specific procedures. Perhaps some of you went through the drills?

1. When I first learned there was a prison on our Eastern European travel route, I became ecstatic. I've always been intrigued by serial killers and criminal psychology, but Karosta is a different type of prison. For most of the 20th century, it served as a Soviet and Nazi military prison in which hundreds of prisoners were housed. No civilians served time at Karosta, and the military theme is immediately noticeable when you enter the gates.

prison3

2. Outside area enclosed by barbed wire. What does the sign say?

prison

3. This cute trash can seems out of place at such a dismal place. If I recall correctly, my travel companion informed me these penguin trash bins were common during Soviet times. I think modern day Russia should bring them back, as I remember the lack of places to discard trash during my visits.

prison2

4. Grandpa Lenin greets you at the check-in desk.

lenin

5. Today the prison is an interactive museum, drawing tourists from all over the world. Visitors can sign up to receive the full prisoner experience, including being abused by guards, sleeping in a jail cell overnight under the watchful eye of a prison keeper, and even being captured at the nearby fortress and escorted to the prison by guards. You can watch videos of the mock treatment on YouTube. It's hardcore and not for the faint of heart!

guard

6.  Unfortunately, the interactive experience wasn't available in late autumn when we visited. Our tour guide, pictured above, barked commands to me in Russian and English, probably some special pleasure in torturing an American visitor. He played the role convincingly, and at times I was completely uncomfortable. I was forced to lie down on this hard slab, which served as a bed for prisoners. For only $16 USD, you can sleep overnight in one of the cells during summer season. Pity we couldn't stay here overnight, as it would have brought me great pleasure to make my travel companion a prison bitch for the night. :)) Night guests are fed through the iron bars and eat the meal that real prisoners once ate.

bed

7. The whole scene here is dreary and creepy. Dark hallways, dark cells, mean guards...The structure was built in the early 1900's and was used as an infirmary for a short period before it was converted into a prison. During World War II, the Nazis sentenced Latvian deserters to death here. Hundreds of prisoners were shot in the head, and many believe the tortured spirits still roam the prison hallways. Karosta is considered one of the most haunted places in the world, and ghost hunters from all over the world have visited the location to measure paranormal activity.

hallway

8. Prisoners were sentenced to hard labor and chores throughout the day, given strict wake-up and bedtime calls, and were allowed to speak and use the restroom only upon command from prison guards. During the tour, our guide escorted us to the "honeymoon suite", also known as the toilet.

toilet

9. What happened if you pissed or shit without the command of a guard? You were punished, made to wear gas masks and engage in strenuous exercise, sometimes outside in sweltering summer heat. Alternatively, you were forced to clean up the excrement of fellow prisoners, and other gruesome tasks. Tourists who wish to engage in the "prison experience" are required to sign a contract stating that they agree to be ordered around by the guards, insulted, subjected to physical labor and exercise, etc. When I laughed inappropriately at one of the guards commands, he demanded Sasha and I put on these gas masks. I've never worn one in my life, or attempted to place the mask over my head. No easy task, and the feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia indescribable. I can't imagine running around in hot temperatures with this mask on, doing exercises in the blazing sun. Have you worn one?

mask

10. Tourist being punished for disobeying.

prisoner

11. Inscriptions and drawings cover the prison walls. I know my dirty Russian words, so recognize the world "bitch" here, but nothing else.

writings

12. Those who require personal attention or scolding are sent to the warden's office. Again, Lenin heads everywhere and portraits of all Soviet leaders hang on the walls. During peak tourist season, guards occupy the office. You can see images online.

ward

13. At the end of the tour, you can pick a uniform and get photographed, with an intake card stating your offense and other personal details.

uniforms

14. Me - guilty of treason!

me

I can't say this place is for everyone, but for my masochistic readers I highly recommend it! If I ever return to Latvia, I'll be sure to engage in the full Karosta experience, starting with capture at the nearby fortress, transition to the prison, and an overnight stay filled with abuse. What do you think? Unique and extreme adventure!

Comments

( 90 comments — Leave a comment )
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bright_mosk
May. 29th, 2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
Sign says:

Stop! Restricted zone!
Shooting on sight!

Territory of DOD USSR
(this line is unreadable)

Upd: after close look last line is "protected by law"

Edited at 2014-05-29 03:53 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 03:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
pasha1980
May. 29th, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC)
Nice. I think the rationale for duck and cover is to hide from shattered window glass.
I have a couple of those gas-masks at home - stole them from highschool when I was a kid.
The warden's office looks quite nice with all the books on the shelves - that particular warden must have been an intellectual :)

I was in San-Francisco about 3 years ago and felt like going on a tour of Alkatraz but didn't feel like paying for it :)
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 04:01 pm (UTC)
Alcatraz is interesting! I've been there several times, and once watched the Blue Angels (U.S. Navy flight squadron) perform over the island. Amazing experience! San Francisco is one of my favorite American cities. Perfect weather there, always cool and breezy.
(no subject) - pasha1980 - May. 29th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 29th, 2014 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 30th, 2014 09:07 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 04:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
mybathroom
May. 29th, 2014 04:35 pm (UTC)
That place is definitely not for me!

Make peace not war!
Нет войне, даёшь рок-н-ролл!
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 04:39 pm (UTC)
Да, рок-н-ролл! :)) It's only interesting to me because I'm curious about Soviet times and prisons in general. There is an abandoned prison close to me in Pennsylvania. I need to make a trip there, but it isn't a military prison.
(no subject) - mybathroom - May. 29th, 2014 05:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 05:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 29th, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - May. 30th, 2014 05:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mybathroom - May. 30th, 2014 05:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mybathroom - May. 31st, 2014 11:48 am (UTC) - Expand
avanik
May. 29th, 2014 04:57 pm (UTC)

Very interested in your opinion about events in Ukraine.
What do ordinary citizens of America?
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 05:14 pm (UTC)
Ordinary citizens of America don't really understand the situation or political conflict there. Our media and politicians strongly favor an independent Ukraine in all respects, although with the Crimea situation the news coverage was more balanced. Now we hear on the nightly news about pervasive shootings in Donetsk and other regions of Eastern Ukraine. It's difficult to determine what's really going on from afar. Personally, I don't support U.S. military intervention there, or in most other regions of the world. And Obama has lost all sense of credibility in global relations by threatening retaliatory actions and then mandating light sanctions. Honestly, I don't follow politics too much because it all becomes mind numbing at a certain point, and discussions of such topics on LiveJournal are pointless because they are rarely civil or respectful.
(no subject) - g_kar - May. 29th, 2014 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
g_kar
May. 29th, 2014 05:36 pm (UTC)
An interesting place! However, according to photos, this place looks more like prison theme park, than historically accurate reconstruction of real Soviet prison :(

> Have you worn one?
Yup, when I was a schoolboy I was fond of chemistry & pyrotechnics, and I wore one quite often not to inhale smoke from home experiments :)

PS.
10. Tourist being punished for disobeying.
Oh, and guard carrying a weapon INSIDE a prison is completely unrealistic, afaik. Only people on the towers and outside of the perimeter are armed - I think this is a standard stuff for prisons in all countries.

Edited at 2014-05-29 05:38 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
It's the actual prison. Based on my knowledge, it hasn't been changed much from its original form. You wore a real gas mask, like in the photo? You must have been a mad scientist! :)) Because I work close to the White House, my work gives us a safety kit in the event of a chemical attack but it is more like a dust mask (like in the photo below). It probably would protect against nothing. So, I'm a goner if terrorists ever unleash a toxin in the city!!

 photo 117001_zps0aa2094f.jpg
(no subject) - g_kar - May. 29th, 2014 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - g_kar - May. 29th, 2014 06:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
andrey_kaminsky
May. 29th, 2014 05:39 pm (UTC)
Туристический аттракцион, но забавный
Many untruths. Physical exercise in gas masks were army punishment, not prison. Offices weren't decorated with soviet flags, for that there were special rooms "Red Corners". The prison guards were not specially trained sadists, they were simple employees, mostly.I believe that the russian prison is scarier than a soviet prison. Communists sincerely believed that prison should correct person, not only intimidate.
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Туристический аттракцион, но забавный
Well, there's a distinction between criminal and military prison. Based on what I read, this prison wasn't meant to be rehabilitative, but rather strictly for punishment. Maybe it was unusual, or perhaps all the information the tour guide presented and articles online are wrong. I'm certain there's a "Hollywood" element to the tourist prison experience here, but it's no joke and most wouldn't consider it fun.
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 06:30 pm (UTC)
I would like to visit a Russian prison and write a report, but I seriously doubt they would let outsiders in (esp. a foreigner).
(no subject) - pin_gwin - May. 29th, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 06:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pin_gwin - May. 29th, 2014 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - andrey_kaminsky - May. 29th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 07:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - south_of_broad - May. 29th, 2014 07:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
:) - andrey_kaminsky - May. 30th, 2014 03:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: :) - south_of_broad - May. 30th, 2014 10:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: :) - andrey_kaminsky - May. 30th, 2014 10:28 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: :) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: :) - andrey_kaminsky - May. 30th, 2014 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
south_of_broad
May. 29th, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
During the cold war we all had so called HBP "Начальная Военная подготовка " classes. The closest translation probably would be : " Military training for the beginners."
So, yeah, we've learned what to do in case of nuclear or chemical attack, also how to put a gas mask on, how to take AK 77 apart and put it back together ( preferably without any missing parts ) , and of course how to shoot a rifle.
peacetraveler22
May. 29th, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
I don't think gun assembly or shooting were part of the U.S. or European training. Now, of course, American students and teachers prepare safety drills for mass shootings. I read online that they are starting to make such drills more realistic, with bloody actors playing victims. It's all disturbing.

 photo 9_School_Drills-300x231_zpsa0d4633a.jpg
(no subject) - south_of_broad - May. 29th, 2014 08:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - south_of_broad - May. 29th, 2014 08:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - skvorets1989 - May. 29th, 2014 09:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 29th, 2014 11:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
skvorets1989
May. 29th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC)
It seems unthinkable that hiding under a desk could prevent the drastic consequences of a nuclear blast

Why not? Off course if nuclear bomb falls next to you, you would become dash immediatly. But for long distances it makes sence.

It's difficult to determine the greatest threat in the modern world, but at one point it was nuclear annihilation

And saddly enouph this point is not over. Russia still owns more than 2 000 nuclear warheads and is still run by mad men. If Iran will get away with it's nuclear bomb only God knows how many more nations would also want to have it. And even if it won't, anyway sooner or later this weapon will spread around the world.

So yeah, we live in dangerous world. But probably nuclear war if it happens won't kill the whole humanity. Just population of big cities in some countries.

I'm certain Soviet children were also trained about nuclear attacks, but I don't know the specific procedures.

They were taught how to manage with kalashnikovs on NVP (Начальная Военная подготовка) lessons.

Edited at 2014-05-29 09:02 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
May. 30th, 2014 02:34 am (UTC)
Maybe I'm naive, but I don't fear the threat of nuclear attacks in America. Yes, readers informed me of the name of the prep lessons for Soviet schoolchildren and I read about them tonight. This training seems more comprehensive than the "duck and cover" system.
qi_tronic
May. 29th, 2014 10:12 pm (UTC)
I dii not know you are masochist :)

Yes we had that training as some people already stated above.

We learned the effect of a nuclear blast, what to do in that situation like stay behind some wall during the first flash so you would not get this deadly tan :)
Also we learned different chemical weapons and their effects but I forgot it all...
Also, assembling and disassembling Kalashnikov at certain speed.
Shooting using some small caliber guns. We had a shooting range at the basement of our school but this event, unfortunately, did not happen often :)

Our school like probably all post-war schools buildings had it's own shelter.

Also, when I was in a pioneer camp we had this training: wear a gas mask and run around the camp.
Hot, suffocating but rather funny for a boy.

So I understand those volunteers who come to Eastern Ukraine to become pro-Russian fighters :)
This is an adventure (but some of them would die).
peacetraveler22
May. 30th, 2014 02:40 am (UTC)
Well, I wouldn't consider myself a masochist but I have a high threshold for physical pain. :) But low threshold for emotional pain. I don't think American Boy Scouts are running around in gas masks in the forest, buy maybe so. :)
rider3099
May. 30th, 2014 02:15 am (UTC)
I don’t like such kind of places… I don’t know why...
peacetraveler22
May. 30th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC)
Probably because you're too cheerful! :) Such places are gloomy and depressing.
(no subject) - rider3099 - May. 30th, 2014 07:17 am (UTC) - Expand
pro100_petrov
May. 30th, 2014 06:16 am (UTC)
What a strange uniform!
peacetraveler22
May. 30th, 2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
Which uniform? The gas mask? :))
(no subject) - pro100_petrov - May. 30th, 2014 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 05:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pro100_petrov - May. 30th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - May. 30th, 2014 06:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
xpo_xpo_xpo
May. 30th, 2014 11:54 am (UTC)
In Russia we had many jokes about nuclear war.
In case of nuclear attack hold your assault rifle in stretched arms not to let melted metal to drip onto your boots.

In case of nuclear attack cover yourself with shroud and crawl to the nearest cemetery.

US militaries visit Soviet ship and see how captain shouts:
-- Who the moron dropped a boot onto the control board?!
One of the Americans wants to tell the captain that in US military they treat subordinates with more respect:
-- Sir, we in America...
-- Who the dickhead dropped a boot onto the control board?!
-- Sir, we in America...
-- There is no more America!

And I saw the dosage meter developed in the US in case of nuclear war: it could me made with typical household stuff (like empty food can and threads) and they even developed a special "newspaper" to print in case of war to distribute among the people to let them build those dosage meters.
peacetraveler22
May. 30th, 2014 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: In Russia we had many jokes about nuclear war.
Special newspaper? Interesting, never heard of this. Russian humor is very different than American. :))
Here is some stuff about the meter: - xpo_xpo_xpo - May. 30th, 2014 03:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
anna_sollanna
May. 30th, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
As for me I've never been a fan of such strange entertainments as pretending being convicts in former jails and so on. I think there is enough troubles in our modern life to seek for them during leisure times. :)
I remember kind of drills in our Soviet school in late 80ies, but they were not so exhausting. But we had to put on gas masks, so yes, I have you worn them. But I hated the processes of putting them on and I wasn't able to breathe in them either. What surprised me in your story is that there were "duck and cover" drills at American schools.
peacetraveler22
May. 30th, 2014 03:24 pm (UTC)
The "duck and cover" drills were before my time, so I never experienced them in school. I have a phobia of suffocation. I believe it's one of the worst ways to die - to drown or suffocate in a fire. :(
(no subject) - anna_sollanna - Jun. 16th, 2014 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
real_marsel
May. 31st, 2014 08:46 pm (UTC)
You look guilty not, rather happy.
peacetraveler22
May. 31st, 2014 11:55 pm (UTC)
On this trip, I was very happy. But not when the gas mask was on! :)
(no subject) - real_marsel - Jun. 1st, 2014 01:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
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