Alcatraz, Guantanamo, Black Dolphin, and more names conjure images of terrible prisons for the worst mankind has to offer. Yet compared to conditions at these places, they might as well be a Hilton Hotel. From the British to the Mongols, from Vietnam to Rome, we bring you the worst and most terrible places to be locked up.
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5.Mongolian Death Coffins
Prior to 1920, the Mongols had one of the most brutal means of carrying out death sentences. The prisoner was stuffed into a 3×4 foo wooden box for years. The boxes were stored in the prison of Urga, Mongolia in a dark dungeon surrounded by sharpened sticks.
Prisoners received food through a 6 inch hole and had their box washed only once ever two or three weeks. The small size of the box prevented the prisoners from properly sitting or lying down, making comfort impossible. In addition, their hands were manacled together. During the winter, many prisoners froze to death due to subzero temperatures. They were buried in the boxes they died in.
One of the first prisons built for punishment, the Mamertine was the Roman start of the practice in 640 B.C. The prison was located in the ancient Roman sewer system, and only by being lowered down could anyone access it. Twelve feet underground was a six and half foot by thirty foot by twenty-two foot room that smelled of filth and sewage.
Prisoners never left the Mamertine alive. Either they were awaiting the executioners ax or left to starve, out of sight and out of mind. The Romans had the decency to install an iron door, letting bodies be tossed out into the river for disposal.
3. HMS Hell
The HMS Jersey, a British prison vessel during the American Revolution and the most brutal of sixteen prison hulks plowing the seas. The Jersey earned it’s nickname HMS Hell by cramming 1,100 prisoners below deck, in an environment so hot many of them had to be naked.
Conditions were so bad, that it took up to ten days for dead bodies to be uncovered, and if sickness didn’t get you, you were likely to be eaten alive by rats. The death rate was twelve men per day, with bodies hastily thrown overboard or buried in shallow mass graves on the shore. The entire flotilla is believed to have claimed over twelve thousand lives, with under two thousand survivors.
Camp Sumter was the largest Confederate prions camp at the end of the war. Located in Andersonville, Georgia, the prison pen was surrounded by sixteen foot logs marking a nineteen foot shoot to kill zone. While intended to hold only ten thousand people, by the end of the war over thirty three thousand prisoners were crammed in.
Corpses and human waste quickly polluted the only fresh water source. Guards were barely more supplied then prisoners, and roaming gangs of raiders often killed fellow inmates with no interference by authorities. One third of those sent to Andersonville died of scurvy, dysentery, or starvation and were buried shoulder to shoulder.
1. Hoa Lo Prison
American prisoners gave the Vietnamese Hoa Lo Prison the delightful nickname “Hanoi Hilton”, which is better than it’s actual meaning: the Hell Hole. A fitting name given the conditions in the prison. During the Vietnam War the Viet Cung used the site to severely torture captured US pilots who had been shot down.
Prisoners were kept behind twenty foot walls topped with barbed wires and broken glass. They were routinely locked in solitary and beaten. The goal of the prison was to break the will of pilots, so that they would write or record statements critical of the US. The mantra of prison guards was “It’s easy to die, but hard to live. And we’ll show you just how hard it is to live.”