I work on a freelance basis for Bodmin Jail and so when they were having a media evening recently with lots of top journalists, they decided that I should gate crash the night and come along. This was my first experience of an After Dark evening at the jail.
Thirteen journalists, photographers and bloggers went into the jail…… and thirteen very tired ones came out.
Everyone keeps telling me how brave I was to go there at night, but in all honesty, it wasn’t the spirits of those who lived before us that I was nervous about. It was the journalists who walk among us. Having been blogging for less than two years, hanging out with professional writers had me wracked with nerves beforehand.
My company for the night was as follows Andy Jones – Daily Star, James Dadzitis – Daily Star photographer, Lou Whealen – Muddy Stilettos, Leah Harper – Guardian, Antonella Lazzari – The Sun, Neil Hope – The Sun photographer, Jo-Anne Rowney – Daily Mirror, Laura Barnes – Tasting Britain, Keeley Walker – Tasting Britain and Lee Trewhela – West Briton. There was also Sue Bradbury, the really lovely PR who did such a great job arranging the night and the photographer working with her Bernie Pettersen
Unfortunately for those around me, when I get shy and nervous unlike most people I don’t become quiet. Oh no, I talk and talk and talk a bit more. Often complete random crap, that I am powerless to stop spouting out of my mouth. So I apologise to those who got to sit near me at the table to start with, whilst I was at my most nervous verbal stage.
We started the evening as all After Dark experiences are started, with a three-course meal. As we weren’t eating until 9pm, I did regrettably have a snack at home before I left. By snack, I mean that I stole a lot of Chinese food off of other people’s plates at home. Therefore I could barely eat.
Which is a shame as the food was delicious as always. I was sat opposite a photographer named Bernie Pettersen who was in the same predicament of being faced with such delicious food without much of an appetite. We soldiered on, though.
Bernie was fascinating to talk to over dinner, his stories of being in the forces had me laughing through the meal. We were eating in the Governor’s Hall, which is a beautiful room. There was even a small band playing in the corner.
Bodmin Jail often has free music nights, where children are more than welcome to come. You might think it odd to bring children to somewhere like the jail at night, but the front building is actually really rather beautiful and not scary at all.
Once we had all been wined and dined, it was time to head into the jail. To start with we had a chat with Mark Rablin and Kirston Honey. Kirston has been working with Mark at the jail for the last year and helps out on After Dark evenings.
They talked us through what would be happening for the evening and set us up in ‘base camp’ where all the tea, coffee and hot chocolate making facilities were. This was where we returned for as many hot drinks as we wanted through the night. Considering the events last from 9pm until 5am, this is definitely a popular part.
We started with a personal tour of the jail with Mark. The tour of the jail was fascinating, as Mark told us tales and facts about the jail that I hadn’t heard before. He really brought history alive and his passion for the place was obvious.
I have interviewed Mark Rablin before, for the Bodmin Jail Blog. We did this over lunch, which although enjoyable I found it difficult to get the sense of the real man. I suspect that Mark has been interviewed so many times over the years, that he understandably almost goes into auto pilot when answering inane questions from people like myself.
This meant that before my After Dark experience, I was expecting a very serious night and worried that if I laughed too much that I might insult Mark. His beliefs are very strong, as I found when I interviewed him. However, I could not have been more wrong.
I already knew Mark was a nice guy, but I didn’t realise what a great sense of humour he had before. He had me laughing a lot during the night. That said, through the workshops and activities, it was always obvious when we should be quiet and turn off our lights and be a little more serious.
Once the lights go out at Bodmin jail, Mark is in his element. He was so much more relaxed than when I interviewed him. He has said to me before, that the jail is where he feels he belongs and he feels that he is doing what he should be doing and I can well believe it.
The jail itself looked beautiful at night-time, which I know seems a weird thing to say considering what the building was used for and that so many people were hanged there. architecturally it is just stunning, though. I can see why people choose to be married there.
Going into the more run down parts of the jail at night-time, was a very different experience than during the day. In the daytime, the green colours of the plants above you make it look almost whimsical. At night, in the darkness with only the sound of the occasional pigeon or bat (or random journalist) moving around, the atmosphere definitely changed.
In the dark, you become so much more aware of your other senses, and weirdly although I didn’t feel as though I sensed any ‘spirits’ outside, I was rocking back and forth on my heels some of the time without being sure why.
As you go around the jail, Mark does explain to you that a lot of what you feel can have a scientific explanation. He also refuses to tell you what you may feel, as he says that is stepping into the realms of suggestion.
He doesn’t want to tell you what you should experience, he just wants you to be open to seeing what you do experience. This is what part of the workshops you do are about.
In one of the rooms we were in, I did see some strange lights. Mark pointed out it could be something or it could be our eyes adjusting to the darkness. Other people reported seeing similar.
We all had different levels of scepticism as we went around, but even the most adamant sceptics seemed to not want to go off to the toilet on their own. In one dark room, one of the photographers actually had to leave the room. Supposedly for a glass of water, but he left pretty quickly and at the darkest most intense time of the evening.
At night-time, with motion sensors on in one part, it really did look eerily beautiful. The sensors activated a walking talking projection of Selina Wadge in one of the cells. Having been hung for killing her own child, this part was slightly chilling but impressive all at the same time.
The projection is a new addition to the jail and it was the first time that I had seen it. Such a brilliant idea, but like I said definitely creepy at the same time.
There are a lot of steps at Bodmin Jail and it does get very cold, so if you did decide to do an After Dark event there, definitely wear plenty of layers and sensible shoes.
I won’t tell you about the techniques Mark taught us, or the workshops as such because if it will be your first time going I don’t want to ruin it for you. However, I will say it is definitely nothing scary, intense at times, but Mark makes it fun.
The last thing we did that night, was the glass table. I was expecting a table made of glass, but it was actually a glass on a table in one of the rooms. Here’s Kirston re-enacting it a little for one of the photographers.
This was the bit where the night got a little strange. With some of the other women in the group, I had to put one finger on the glass very lightly whilst Kirston tried to speak to the spirits of the Jail.
She asked questions and asked them to move the glass in response…. and the glass not only moved a little, but it actually flew around the table taking our fingers with it. Now I can’t promise that not one of the other people were moving it on purpose, but what I can say is that if they were, then they were very good at hiding it.
At times it was hard to keep your finger on the glass, all of ours kept crossing over each other as we were touching it so lightly and the glass was moving so fast. Like I said, I can’t promise that someone wasn’t moving it…..but I can’t see how they could have been. No doubt there is a scientific explanation, but personally, I have come away from the jail with less scepticism than I entered it for sure.
Overall the night really was a lot of fun. Learning facts about the jail, having the free run of the place whilst it was empty, the food and the company all made for a great night. I really do recommend it. It was more fascinating, fun and one of those bucket list experiences to tick off.
Have you ever been to the jail yourself?