Con Dao Prison or Con Son Prison is located offshore Ba Ria - Vung Tau province. Con Dao Prison is a complex of prisons in Con Dao Island. The prison system was built by the French colonists to detain and torture political prisoners who triggered the danger to the French colonial regime. This place locked up Vietnamese patriots and many key political cadres who fought against the colonial government. Con Dao Prison system used to detain and exile nearly 2,000 revolutionary fighters. The communists were brutally tortured by jailers, but they were not deterred or discouraged. The prison system with shackles, chains and all the utmost brutal tortures were built in order to pull down the blaze of revolutionary fighters. Currently, Con Dao Prison is listed in special national monuments of Vietnam. The most famous place in the prison is “Tiger Cages” area. Nowadays, Con Dao is not just a historical site in Con Dao beyond all the time, but also an attraction in Con Dao appealing many visitors from all over the world. Coming here is to find the root, to remember the revolutionary tradition of forefather’s generation, and to express gratefulness for the sacrifice of the country.
Visiting Con Dao Prison, all images of a severe prison with tiger cages, byre, farms, Phu Hai Prison, Ma Thien Lanh Bridge, and limekiln area...appear along with the brutality of the colonialism and imperialism. Indeed, when visiting these prisons, you might be shuddered when witnessing hot and stuffy cells with the forms of slavery, most grisly tools of torture applied for people by people.
The Con Dao Prison System consists of 11 areas: Phu Hai Prison, Phu Son Prison, Phu Tho Camp, Phu Tuong Camp, Tiger Cages, barn, Phu An Camp, Phu Binh Camp, Phu Hung Camp, and un-finished prison No.9. Con Dao Prison system over two periods under the French colonialism and U.S imperialism has 127 ward, 42 cells, and 504 “tiger cages”. Besides, there are other prison grounds built to kill gradually prisoners as well as serve comprehensively all fields in life of the colonialism and imperialism.
Phu Hai Prison, also known as Prison 1, was built in 1862 and restored in 1896. The prison has an area of 12,025 sq. meters. There are 10 collective cells divided into 2 rows, 1 special cell, 20 stone cellars, 1 rice milling cellar, and 1 breaking stone area. Besides, there are other typical areas as club, dining area, chapel, warehouse, and gardens. Phu Hai Prison is the oldest and main prison in Con Dao. Here, the jailers used the psychological methods to “educate” and persuade patriotic soldiers to fight against revolutionary movements. Jailers failed in using “sweet” words, and demagoguery, they turned to imprison and torture prisoners. In this prison, there are playground, wells, toilet, kitchen, chapel, and clinic for prisoners, but the prisoners were never allowed to use once. All these things were built to deal with international monitoring groups on human rights and misleading public opinions.
Phu Son Prison (Prison 2) was built in 1916 with an area of 13,228 sq. meters. There are 13 collective cells, 1 separate area with 14 stone cellars, and 1 dark room near jailers’ office. Also, there are works of clinic, dining area, kitchen, and club. Bagne 3 is Phu Tho Camp (Prison 3). It was built in 1928, about 1 km from Phu Hai Prison. It has an area of 12,700 sq. meters. This prison consists of three blocks of cells with two collective blocks and 1 separate block, a dining area, and a clinic. In the American imperialism, there were two blocks of cells built behind the clinic.
Phu Tuong Camp is sub-Bagne 3 (Prison 4). It was built in 1941 with an area of 5,804 sq. meters, 8 collective cells divided into two rows, kitchen, warehouse, clinic, and garden. The camp has a vegetables garden. When monitoring group of international human rights visited, the jailers said that vegetables were planted by prisoners to improve meals. It is one of thousands of tactics to deal with the public opinion of the jailers. In fact, behind the vegetable garden is a prison system styled tiger cages with barbaric-torture cells and chambers.
The first “Tiger Cages” was constructed in 1940 with an area of 5,475 sq. meters by the French and the State of Vietnam. There are 120 solitary cells divided into two rows. Besides, there are 60 cells without roofs called “sunbathing rooms”. Sunbathing rooms are places of torturing prisoners. The second cage was built under the power of the U.S and the Republic of Vietnam. This “Tiger’s cage” is also called Phu Binh Camp. It has an area of 25,768 sq. meters with 384 cells. This is a special prison built of concrete, no pedestals to sleep; prisoners must lie under the damp cement floors. Being imprisoned in this camp, political prisoners all became mad and died.
Nowadays, the system of Con Dao Prison is no longer used to jail or torture, it is open to visitors, and recognized as a special and important national historical site. With unforgiveable evidences about the crime of the French and American in the past, Con Dao Prison is the place where more and more visitors come to explore and to understand about the patriotism of Vietnamese people and the brutality of colonialism and imperialism.