Remember this house? There's no reason why anyone should since it was the filming location for the barely-watched 'The Real World: D.C.' that aired back in 2010. But those days are long gone and it is about to open its doors to the public as the newest home for the Laogai Museum—a museum focusing on China's forced labor prisons and political prisoners. Of course it took a bit of refurbishing to go from a swanky pad no regular group of twenty-somethings could afford to a place chronicling human rights abuses, but since this place has previously been a lesbian bar and a church (amongst other things) it has proven its versatility.
"Before we were in a row house on M Street and there was not as much foot traffic or as many other things going on, says Lisa, a Program Administrator at Laogai. "It was also very narrow and you couldn't fit a lot of people or host events easily. Now we have a theater-style room, places for interactive touch screens, and more room for artifacts from prisoners."
"There was some pretty outrageous wallpaper that might have been left over from 'The Real World' that had to go," says Lisa. "But it was pretty bare bones when construction started. The goal was for this space to provide context for the history of prison camps and to feel powerful. We kept the concrete floor so it has a cold, industrial feel and there are few window coverings. It definitely has an eerie feel when the lights are off."
Laogai is a Chinese word most closely translated as 'reform through labor' and the museum showcases some of the products prisoners make during their incarceration (including paraphernalia for U.S. companies) as well as first person accounts of their time in prison. The launch event for the re-opening is April 7th at 6pm and is open to the public. The director, Harry Wu, will give a short presentation and is himself a survivor of a prison camp. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Early readers of this post might notice that the last name of the museum employee has since been removed. Upon further reflection, the museum decided it would prefer not to identify their employees completely given the sensitive nature of their work so we have taken it out as a courtesy to them.