Odd Jobs: Interview with a Prison-Hotel Guard

Travel Interviews: David Farley meets a Latvian whose job literally includes abusing the guests

05.22.09 | 12:33 PM ET

Photo courtesy of Einars Meiris

What do you do with an abandoned prison once used by the Nazis and Soviets? If you’re Latvian, you turn it into a prison hotel complete with screaming guards who interrogate guests. Welcome to Karosta, a gulag-style prison hotel in Latvia where guests sleep in cells. And who’s one of the lucky Latvians paid to abuse guests? Meet Einars Meiris.

World Hum: What’s your job title?

Einars Meiris: Tour guide.

What, exactly, do you do?

Sometimes I work in the interrogation room where we scream at people and recite their history as a Soviet dissident. When I am a guard, my main duties are locking the guests up in the cells, making them clean the latrine with a toothbrush, and taking them to their medical check-up. Oh yeah, and screaming at them.

Be honest: Do you take any pleasure in doing this?

Not exactly. It’s not to make ourselves feel better.

How long have you been doing this?

Just over six years, but I mostly do it in the high tourist season.

How did you get the job?

My education was to be a tourism manager and while I was studying we thought up the idea of creating a tour of the prison and trying to make it as realistic as possible.

Who are the best guests?

Some people just want to be treated really badly. That’s fun when we get one of those people.

And the worst guests?

In my opinion, Spanish and Italian. It’s difficult to be really mean when the guests seem indifferent. The Italians and Spanish don’t react the way I hope they will.

What’s the best part about your job?

[Laughs] When you’re angry about something, you can always take it out on the prisoners.

What’s the worst part about your job?

The prison itself is not very cozy, you know? You get tired of shouting all the time and being mean.


David Farley

David Farley is the author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town and co-editor of Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic: True Stories. Hes a contributing writer at AFAR magazine and his writing appears in the New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, and Gadling.com, among other publications. He teaches writing at New York University.


5 Comments for Odd Jobs: Interview with a Prison-Hotel Guard

Mikeachim 05.22.09 | 6:05 PM ET

And how do most Latvians feel about this place, I wonder…? Especially the ones with long memories.

Kristine 05.23.09 | 9:10 AM ET

I am not a Latvian with a log memories, but I find this iniciative very inovative, interesting and positive. There is no need to grieve everywhere and all the time! We have so many commemoration days, memorial sites and many events, that sometimes we can afford to do things differently also!

Tim Patterson 05.25.09 | 8:47 PM ET

Ha - how the heck does Farley keep finding such entertaining weirdnesses?

US State Parks 05.26.09 | 2:51 PM ET

Do people pay for such a place?

Love2SeeNewThings 06.13.09 | 12:37 PM ET

Sorry, just found this article today - but I’m with “US State Parks.”  Do people really pay for such places?

Not to turn a fun piece morbid - but about 10 yrs ago when I took Abnormal Pych I think there was a study that was done w/ college kids, which was based on a mock prison.  The study found that the kids “playing” the prison guards psychologically stuck to the role!  I’m wondering if sooner or later it will be the same for the workers in this hotel.

So, Einars, are you absolutely sure you don’t enjoy your job?

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