Prison Turned into Luxury Hotel Sparks Backlash as Instagrammers Post About Stay

The discovery of a prison-turned-luxury hotel, which has become a hot-spot for Instagram users, has caused debate online after a Twitter user shared various posts taken at the location.

Gaining over 18,000 likes, the tweet sparked a flurry of disapproving users, disappointed in the use of a prison as a novelty and "profiting off of folks' trauma and downfall." However, one travel influencer has defended the hotel, and her pictures there, to Newsweek, citing historical building preservation as an important factor in its existence.

Twitter user Anna Seregina, @touchingcheeses, shared various screenshots of Instagram posts taken at the luxury hotel Malmaison Oxford in England, on September 20, writing: "Found a prison that has been converted to an influencer hotel."

The Malmaison Oxford is a part of the Oxford Castle Complex and was previously a prison, until 1996 when it closed down and the building was sold to the Malmaison hotel chain. The company focuses on converting historic buildings into luxury hotels, with former post offices and churches among its roster.

Other parts of Oxford Castle were restored by the Oxford Preservation Trust after it was awarded £3.8m by The Heritage Lottery Fund. Visitor attraction Unlocked – Oxford Castle was part of the refurbishment program and offers costumed guides to Oxford's lesser-known history with "tales of escape and romance in the ancient castle and prison," according to the Hotel Management Network.

Found a prison that has been converted to an influencer hotel 🥰

— Anna Seregina (@touchingcheeses) September 20, 2021

According to the hotel's website, its "95 rooms and suites were once your average basic cell. But they've done their time and are now reformed as luxurious locations to lay your head, thanks to super-fast Wi-Fi, super-comfy beds and powerful drench showers you'll want to surrender to. There are simply the most stunning and original hotel rooms in Oxford, meaning they're now on the most wanted list."

The building is listed, meaning it can't be demolished and rebuilt, but for many online the issue lies with its use as a trendy hotel, with suggestions of different uses it could have had, including a "center for betterment or schooling of ex-cons."

Visitors can stay the night in a renovated cell, with hallways that look almost exactly like they did during the time as a prison. The same spot is a popular location for images shared to Instagram, just like Seregina pointed out.

Instagram posts tagged in the location display the hotel in the background, often with prison-themed puns as the caption. "Lock me up and throw away the key," reads one post. "Could get used to prison life," reads another.

The viral tweet sparked divisive opinions on the hotel, and its apparent Instagramability, with users responding with their views.

"This is certainly one for r/boringdystopia," tweeted one user, referencing the popular Subreddit which documents, "how Advanced Capitalist Society is not only dystopian, but also incredibly boring."

For others, the hotel is just the tip of the iceberg of the rising trend of prison-themed experiences as a novelty. "There's a new dumpling spot in LA that's 'prison themed.' All the food bloggers are posting about it, as a kitschy fun experience. Was very weird to see it all over my feed," wrote one user.

Newsweek spoke to travel blogger Nuria Travels, @nuriatravels, who shared popular Instagram posts at the prison hotel and explained that it is more about building preservation for her. "The old prison is a preserved building, it's listed and in my opinion the hotel has done a great job in renovating but still preserving the building. In many countries like mine, they have demolished historical buildings or let them fall in parts. I am of the opinion [that we should] preserve historical buildings."

"Malmaison invited me and I really enjoyed the stay. The rooms are beautifully made but many things have been preserved so it's like going to a museum. They have left one of the old cells as it was before," she added.

Seemingly, the appreciation for the old building and history is seemingly shared by some visitors too, with captions with facts or tales of the prison in between the novelty-focused puns.

Newsweek has contacted Malmaison Oxford for comment.

Prison cells
Stock image of a prison corridor. Getty Images