The Mind of Cities (2)
（Stockholm City. Långholmen and Södermalm）
Långholmen is a green island at the centre of Stockholm. It is accessible either by the small Långholmen bridge (Långholmbron) or by the big Väster Bridge (Västerbron) from Södermalm and Kungsholmen. The island is covered with patches of grass and woods, and there are plenty of paths, beaches and parks. It is the ideal place for walks, picnics and swimming. The beach facing the river is a very popular place which we usually find quite crowded in summer time.
Who lives there in those beautiful houses? They form a colourful square shape, just like another miniature city in Stockholm.
I bet you can’t imagine that this green island is the place where the Central Prison of Stockholm was situated before 1975 with its five hundred tiny cells. Even more, you can’t believe that the run-down Långholmen Prison was converted into a hotel and a hostel with a hundred and eleven tiny rooms after 1989. The previous prison hospital is now a restaurant with a pub. You can find The Långholmen Prison Hostel on the upper left corner and to the left of the Väster Bridge on the photo above.
(source: Långholmen Hostel Website)
Långholmen Prison Hostel is one of the many youth hostels in the world. These are small and convenient places that provide food and lodgig for specific groups of people such as students, workers and travellers. The conditions are ordinary and the prices are cheap.
Yet Långholmen Prison Hostel is not quite the same. Its design, decoration, management, staff quality and services are on top of its kind, with, of course, correspondingly higher prices. You can’t associate this “Youth Hostel” which costs more than 180.00 Euro/night with the dark, damp and stinky prison cells!
(source: Långholmen Hostel Website)
The design has kept its cells as lodging rooms with a bed or bunk beds, a desk, clothes hangers and a suitcase stand. There was no bathroom in a 4.46m2 cell, but now, every 3rd cell has been divided into two halves, each half being a bathroom with a shower for the cell rooms on each side. The 2.23m2 is very spacious compared to the unified size of the cell rooms, and it is surprisingly clean and modern.
（Photo taken in Långholmen Prison Hostel in October, 2014 by the writer)
This change hasn’t wiped out the prison’s two hundred and fifty year history. Several cells were kept as they were, together with their original wooden floors, doors, and windows, furniture, appliances and utensils.
(Photo taken by the writer in Långholmen Prison Museum in October, 2014 )
While visiting the Museum, my attention was immediately drawn by a photo on the wall of two people with their heads covered in cloth masks. I could only guess their sex according to the styles and patterns of their masks. The one on the left must have been a woman and on the right, a man. They were two suspects appearing in courts for trial, but why were they covered with masks? It was the first time I saw masks used in such a way.
（Photo taken by the writer in Långholmen Prison Museum in October, 2014)
Usually, masks are disguises for people to hide their faces or identities in front of powerful social institutions or classes. They either assimilate themselves to integrate into the mass, or differentiate themselves from the environment. There is a 3rd case where people wear false masks to pretend to be “good people” or ordinary ones to achieve their vicious goals, like a wolf wearing a sheep’s skin. In history, the masks were frequently used in religions, arts and entertainment for the purposes of teaching, communicating and leisure.
The masks of the KKK in the American Civil War are a good example. Its members spread the terror and the arrogance of racism with their white horrifying masks and hoods.
Nowadays, the Guy Fawkes mask is becoming more and more popular in people’s political life. An English catholic, Guy Fawkes was involved in the “gunpowder” plot on November 5th, 1605, scheming to restore Catholic order in protestant England by attempting to bomb the English Parliament and assassinate King James I. The plot was discovered, resulting in Guy’s arrest. On January 31st of the following year, he jumped off the gallows and broke his own neck before any corporal(corporeal) punishment ever incurred upon.
From then on, November 5th every year has become a celebration day for the victory of Protestant England over the attempts of Catholic restoration. People burn the masks made after Guy Fawkes in barn fires, which has become a part of English contemporary culture.
Most interestingly, the image of Guy Fawkes was borrowed in the 80s by English artist David Lloyd in his comic series “V For Vendetta” written by Alan Moore. They have changed the meaning of the mask from anti-England to a positive symbol of protest against tyrants and tyrannical governments in modern times.
More over, on September 17, 2011, in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district, people wore Guy Fawkes’ masks in their protests against social and economic inequality worldwide. It was inspired by anti-austerity protests in Spain coming from the 15-M movement.
The masks of Långholmen Prison Museum didn’t evolve from negativity to positivity, neither were they as famous. But they surely would uncover and display the evolving history of civilization in Sweden.
（Triangle open-air spaces for prisoners. Deserted look after 1975 before the conversion in 1989. Source: Prison Museum）
Authorities usually achieve social orders by using punishment in old times. Law breakers would receive punishment of shame and corporal punishment of different degrees of cruelties.
In 1594 (please refer to Anecdote ), Swedish King George III pronounced a death sentence on a 16 years old boy who committed manslaughter: First his hands were chopped off, then two shinbones broken with an iron rod, followed by his rib cage and spine, and lastly his head cut off…
Various types of burning at stake were used throughout 5th to 15th century called “The Dark Ages”. The prisoner was to be burnt alive, but if lucky, he/she would be suffocated to losing his conscience or death by sufficient amount of damp leaves and branches prepared by the sympathetic executioner, rather than going through the severe burning torture. There were extreme cases of executions where prisoners were strangled first, then beheaded before being burnt! In those times, the hatred over the crimes and vengeance towards criminals could not be expressed enough through just one kind of tortures!
The punishment of shame, such as exposing them in public to let the mundane mass curse, spit or throw stones at, was though considered more humane than imprisonment and physical mutilations , such as cases mentioned above, it has been proven to be detrimental to both the prisoners, their families and the society.
Even it was a slight punishment of binding them to the pillories and stocks in public, it would induce sufferings of mental breakdown or result in bitterness and even hatred towards society that more crimes with much more psychological and sociological complications had to be dealt with afterwards as severe consequences.
As a matter of fact, the continuation of punishment created a whole outlaw caste against which the society had been fighting endlessly only to find that there was more to continue. It not only caused the continuation of human sufferings and cruelties, but also cost society a substantial amount of money in its up-righteous legal cause.
Human conscience woke up gradually after centuries of witnessing its own indifference and cruelties. From 1650’s to 1780’s right after The Renaissance, the thinkers and philosophers of The Enlightenment or The Age of Reason in Western Europe started to promote reason, analysis and individual value. They held frequent discussions, researches and lectures in urban coffee houses, salons and masonic lodges and challenged the authority of institutions, that was deeply rooted in society, especially that of Catholic Churches which was so powerful that no one dared to question its God’s ways. They strived to elevate the importance of sciences, aiming at improving the ways of social reforms with reason and tolerance. They emphasized the necessity of keeping the right to doubt about the authority of institutions and Churches.
Cesare Bonesana Beccaria, an important thinker of The Enlightenment, condemned torture and the death penalty in his treaties On Crimes and Punishments which was recognized as a founding work in the field of penology and classical school of criminology.
You have to know that, during 66 years from 1800 and 1866, Sweden was second worst after Spain in crucifying 644 criminals. With centuries’ effort of The Enlightenment, the Swedish concept of punishment has changed greatly, especially since Långholmen became associated with the justice system. In the mid and late 19th century, Sweden abolished all kinds of cruel and extreme punishments, together with other countries in western Europe. In 1839, she put en end to Burning, and about twenty years after, she abrogated Hanging.
In late 18th hundreds, death penalty was starting to be abolished in Western Europe. Though it wasn’t outlawed in Sweden in its great judicial reform on punishment in 1864, it was closely controlled. Capital punishment(death penalty) was abolished for all crimes committed in peacetime on June 30, 1921, and for all crimes, including those committed in time of war, on January 1, 1973. The last Swedish execution in history happened in Långholmen prison on November 23rd, 1910, to a man called Johan Alfred Andersson Ander, done with the Guillotine which was used only once.
Nevertheless, the long term or infinite incarceration in place of death penalty is said to be the reason for the decrease of extreme crimes according to researches. Desperate People who suffered pathetic living conditions in the unfair society and the loss of freedom and abuse in prisons would prefer to have their heads chopped off and die immediately. Furthermore, they would rather die instead of being thrown back into the cold societies where they no longer belonged, having no skills to survive anyways.
Per Vilhelm Lundgren spent forty long years in Långholmen Prison out of his fifty years of prison life. The day of his release, at the time of regaining his freedom, he tried to run twice back to the prison. The pastor, feeling sad and perplexed when witnessing this, described: “What a disturbing experience to see, this otherwise tough man who had for so many years so desperately longed to never see the prison again”.
“The Renaissance” served as the bridge between “The Middle Ages” and modern society, “the Enlightenment” laid the foundation for reasons and sciences, and “French Revolution” has profoundly altered the course of modern history. The continuous effort of the thinkers, poets and writers, slowly, but surely and completely changed human beings’ relationship with God and the content of crimes, for example: women without husbands were no longer criminals.
The old concept of punishment was fundamentally chattered and it gradually shifted from the biblical righteous vengeance and frightening the populace to analyzing the causes of crimes and giving them chances with an eventual goal of returning them back to society. At the same time, efforts were made to prevent crimes on the social system scale, aiming at reforming the society by improving and evolving the environment to a humane（VS barbarians and divinity), logical and kind concept of mutual improvement of humans and the society.
（source: wikipedia: Justice VS Crimes, Les Misérable）
Covering the heads up hiding the identities was for the protection in case the suspects were not found guilty. This was a popular way of protecting the suspects’ human rights from 1840 to 1935. It was one small but important example of the effort to achieve social improvement and evolution and a very subtle icon of Swedish civilization.
A society in which human rights are respected and which turns “bad people” into good ones is a civilized respectable one. This plain cloth mask had provided an soft cultural veil of human fraternity for those possible “bad people” to return to their normal life without aftermath trauma. The conversion of Långholmen Prison into a modern, comfortable, beautiful and one of a kind Hotel and Hostel is another unusual proof of Swedish civilization!
All these don’t mean that Sweden is perfect and has stopped her effort in solving internal social problems. It continues. More ever, under Sweden’s initiation, UN has established An European Crime Prevention Network to contribute to and help develop crimes prevention measures internationally , and also assist crime prevention measures on local and national scale .
（source: Långholmen Prison Hostel website）
Some photos, data and information come from, and that I acknowledge:
Information verification anecdote:
In the text from Långholmen Prison Museum, it says: “In 1594, Swedish King George III pronounced a death sentence on a 16 years old boy…”. I checked on George III on Wikipedia, but it says George III died in 1592.
So, I wrote an e-mail to Långholmen Prison Hostel inquiring if they could forward my mail to the person in charge of the Museum in order to verify the date.
The weekend after, I received a response saying that George III DID pronounce the death sentence in 1584, instead of a printing mistake of 1594, which makes all the sense.
Here I share the three e-mail exchanges.
I visited Stockholm and stayed one night at your Hostel last year. We like your hostel so much that we will surely go back one day.
I visited the Prison Museum and I was greatly and surprisingly impressed by a photo of two suspects who had cloth masks on their heads to hide their identity in case they couldn’t be found guilty.
I am writing an article called: “The Suspects In Cloth Masks”. It’s about your Hostel, the prison the Hostel once was, and the great improvement and achievement in human rights in Swedish penological history.
I took some photos of the texts in the Prison Museum. In one of them, it says that: “ In 1594 Johan III pronounced sentence on a 16 years old who had committed manslaughter. etc. etc. “
I checked on Johan III on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_III_of_Sweden and read that Johan died in 1592.
I have to hold on my writing until I straight up this information.
Would you please be so kind as to ask the person in charge of the Museum to get in contact with me so that I can finish my article?
My article will be re-written in English. If you and the Museum would like my article, I will be glad to provide you with a copy.
Thanks a lot and I await your kind help.
Have a nice weekend!
Christie Hai Bo Wang
6th ans 7th were weekend days. I awaited a possible response from Långholmen Prison.
Two new e-mails came in while I was still asleep. They are from different addresses. Here is the reply.
Thanks for your report from Långholmen. And thank you for being very observant.
Regarding the date you are so right about it. There has been a misprint and the year for the grim punishment was 1584.
The date is taken from the book：
Att dömas till döden, Tortyr, Kroppsstraff och avrättningar genom åren.by the author Jonny Abrius. (Free translation)To face the death penalty , torture, corporal punishment, executions during the years.by the author Jonny Abrius
Good luck with you report.
All the best
The mails came in at 5:17am, it was 12:17 lunch time in Stockholm.
My brief thanks letter”
Good evening, Karl Johansson:
Thank you very much for your prompt reply which I was not expecting arriving so fast at 5:17 this morning!
I understand very well the meaning of you sending it twice. In this case, redundancy is such a lovely noble behaviour！ Nothing makes me happier than people who respond AND within the shortest delay!
Have a nice evening!
Christie Hai Bo Wang
▷Introduction to Madame Hai Bo Wang
Consultant at Jiulin Education
Resident of Canada and Québec in Montréal for 15 years
Writing subjects: immigrants and Chinese and western culture
Writing languages: Chinese, English and French
Répresentante de Funds Mutuals du Québec, Canada
Membre de L’AMF (L’Authorité des Marchés Financiers du Québec)
Mortgage Broker/Real Estate Broker in Québec
Membre de L’OACIQ ( L’Organisme d’Autoréglementation du Courtage Immobilier du Québec )
Member of CMHC ( Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation )
Member of CORPIQ ( Corporation des Propriétaires Immobiliers du Québec )
Writer for “Osservatorio Asia” (albertoforchielli.com in English ) and for Alberto Forchielli’s Caixin blog ( in Chinese )
Italian Impregilo，French Dumez and GTM
Germany Hochtief, Hoffmann, Voith and Siemens，
Canada GE Hydro
Rep. in Kunming or Germany Penstock Lining Noell GmbH
Director and owner of China Hualong Consultation Company -（Rep. for ISO /Contractor for Canada GE Hydro )
Lecturer of Yunnan University and Yunnan Normal University
Hai Bo, born and educated in China, worked 9 years for universities(1983-1992) and 10 years in China for European and North American companies (1992 to 2002). She became a Canadian Permanent Resident in 2001 and started her financing career as a mortgage broker and real estate investor in Montréal in 2003, obtaining success as one of the few first Chinese mortgage brokers and real estate investors in Montreal.
Hai Bo was an English language and literature major, thus allowing her a decent obtention of French language and melting into local societies with efficiency and profundity. Not only she works wholeheartedly for her clients in financing, she senses and recognizes with great empathy the difficulties of Chinese immigrants integrating into a new multicultural society.
Besides financial work, she wishes to further help people in spiritual ways with her positive, energetic and enlightening writings. She writes constantly about her professional and personal experiences in Canada and cross-cultural issues on her blog.
In 2012, she was honourably invited as one of the writers by Mr. Alberto Forchielli, among whom there is Romano Prodi, the previous Italian Prime Minister. Her writings are published mainly on Alberto’s blog on Caixin website (Beijing based financial/commercial blog in Chinese) and on Albert Forchielli’ s Osservatorio Asia and albertoforchielli.com in English. Her story “Consuming Economy, and why? in Chinese ” broke the visiting record on Caixin and “China’s Antibiotics Addiction” was also well liked.
She will never stop writing and being a bridge between China and the western world.