Finland’s first cell prison, the previous Hämeenlinna county prison, was completed in 1871, and on 2 May 2019, the National Museum of Finland will open it to the public. At the same time, the National Museum will begin a reform of the prison exhibition and the visitor experience to bring up the fundamental questions of humanity and many kinds of feelings. The county prison was used as a prison until 1993. The county prison was opened as a museum managed by the city of Hämeenlinna in 1997. The National Museum of Finland is now opening the site under the name The Prison. The reform is carried out in two phases, and many people who have experienced the prison from various perspectives will participate in the planning of the contents of the exhibitions together with the National Museum. The Finnish Cultural Foundation supports the reform.
The city of Hämeenlinna has always been known as a prison and garrison city, because these activities have been tightly connected to Häme Castle since the Middle Ages, when it was built. The Castle was used as a prison from the 1830s until 1972. In 1979, the Main Castle was opened as a museum managed by the National Museum of Finland.
Many criminals known from history have served their sentences here, such as murderer Matti Haapoja and Ostrobothnian knife-fighters Isoo-Antti and Rannanjärvi. Poet Elvi Sinervo and sleeping preacher Maria Åkerblom are among the best known female prisoners of the Castle.
In the early stages of the operation of the Prison, which was also called the Hämeenlinna penal labour prison, an example was taken from American prisons, where cells were grouped on either side of a central corridor. Previously, the prisoners had lived in shared dormitories. Today, the history and stories of prison life live on in the writings on the walls, the items, and the lived-in cells.
In May 2019, the Prison will open as a barren complex of facilities and stories. The grim prison building also offers an excellent setting for hosting events, discussions, and private functions. The visitor experience will be completed in summer 2020 through new kinds of audio-visual and digital methods of representation. The reform of the exhibition contents aims to highlight the memories and stories of those who actually experienced it, whether prisoners, guards, or other people related to the prison. For example writer and escapee Jan Jalutsi has participated in the manuscript team of the Prison.