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Opened in 1864, the Don Jail was the largest jail in North America at the time. Soon to be closed in favour of a massive new jail, it serves as a remand centre for defendants awaiting trial.The Don is being renovated and preserved for its heritage but will be the administrative offices for the new Bridgepoint Hospital that is also under construction next door. To the east of the Don Jail is the current Toronto Jail that will also be torn down in the near future. Globe reporter Kirk Makin and photographer Peter Power gained extremely rare access inside both notorious jails.

The last thing an offender saw as he entered the Don from the outside world was a mawkish stone figure of Father Time carved into the stone above the front door of the jail.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Inside the jail, numerous wrought-iron serpents and dragons emerge from the dark, connecting walls to balconies and catwalks.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Floggings were conducted on the floor of its central rotunda, with inmates watching the gruesome spectacle from the balconies. An unknown number of inmates have taken their own lives, including one condemned man who did a swan dive from the highest balcony of the rotunda.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Some of the small cells on the first floor of the old Don. The families of debtors were often imprisoned in adjoining cells as extra punishment. For a long time, talking was prohibited.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Looking out from within one of the small cells. The cells of the old Don were stunningly narrow and often double bunked. The toilet was a bucket.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Looking up from the lower level of the gallows room. The execution chamber was a dank room located just off the midpoint of a death-row cell block. To add to the horror, the odd botched hanging would cause a gory decapitation. To this day, the outline of wooden gallows is visible on the walls.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Inside a basement cell in the old Don. Cold as a crypt and cavernously dark, echoes bounce off walls where prisoners once etched warnings and curses or crossed off their days with shaky Xs.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Officials had hoped that by shutting down the oldest portion of the jail in 1977 and moving inmates into a more modern, adjoining building, they could dispel its image as a medieval dungeon.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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It didn't work. The public and media failed to distinguish between the old and the new Don and, as recently as last month, Ontario Court Judge Melvyn Green noted in a judgment that, 'circumstances at the Don Jail remain notorious.'Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Inside the Toronto Jail. This is the area where searches are done when inmates are processed into the jail.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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In the area where prisoners are processed upon arrival at the jail a rack contains a suit bag for each inmate's personal belongings.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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The first thing that strikes a visitor to the 147-year-old jail is the odour - a none-too-savoury concoction of sweat and bodily waste.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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"It's what we call our morning scent," said jail superintendent Rose Buhagiar. "The offenders have an unwritten rule that they don't flush during the night because of the noise."Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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The Toronto Jail's sole purpose is to act as a holding tank for a vast spectrum of accused criminals awaiting trial. For the most part, life at the Don is a stifling affair.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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"All the provincial joints have changed," observed one inmate (not pictured) charged with armed robbery and assault. "There are no more programs. It's no fun now. You are being punished, and it's not a good time."Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Roaming the corridor outside their cell block, tough guys give visitors the stink eye, wise guys hail guards and supervisors with an inside joke or epithet.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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A maple leaf is part of the artwork this inmate has drawn on the wall of his cell.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Books and bibles are stacked up in the bars in one of the cell blocks.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Until about five years ago, black inmates had a cell enclave known as Motown. Youthful offenders were housed on a range known as Kiddy Corner. Seasoned criminals who had done penitentiary time lived on the Pen Range. The policy that helped maintain peace, however, also divided the jail into warring factions.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Violence can break out at any moment over the most trivial matter, Ms. Buhagiar said. “It could be that you spit on the floor,” she said. “You took my extra piece of bread. You took too long in the shower. You didn’t brush your teeth. It can be anything.”Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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An inmate peels an orange. The peel is often kept by the inmates and placed in their cells as a natural air freshener.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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An inmate in an isolation cell is given his medication.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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One of the negative pressure cells in the medical area.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Writing on the inside of a door to one of the negative pressure cells in the medical area.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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The wear and tear of the ageing jail is evident inside an isolation cell.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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The exercise yard is a featureless patch of asphalt surrounded by high walls. A small swatch of blue sky is obscured by mesh netting, erected to prevent outsiders from pitching in packages of drugs.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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One of the secure doorways leading to the courtyard where prisoners are able to get some fresh air.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Prisoners clean up inside one of the general population cell blocks following breakfast.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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Telephones hang in the visitation area, where inmates stand side by side while speaking by telephone to their visitors on the other side of the glass.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

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