Cobourg Jail
Credit: Kevin Callan

I’m pitching my tent in the old Cobourg Jail this week.

It’s haunted! I thought it was a cool idea at first. I’m not a strong believer in the paranormal and it seemed to impress my daughter that I was willing to spend a night with the undead. But then I found out how truly haunted this place, about an hour northeast of Toronto, is suppose to be. Clairvoyant mediums from around the world have come here to communicate with ghosts. There are countless reports of strange noises, floating orbs and an all-around sense of spookiness. The depths of prison — the dreaded basement, amongst solitary confinement cells — is where most of the bad vibes come from. That’s where I’ll be sleeping for the entire night. Alone! Many guests have stayed in the themed guest rooms (the jail is now an inn) — but NO ONE spends a night alone in the belly of the beast.

So, why? Why would I do something so foolish and risk gaining more grey hair than I already have? It’s to show how to battle something called “camping-phobia.” It’s on the rise. So many people don’t want to try camping in the woods for their first time simply because they’re afraid. My sleepover in the haunted jail will show how to deal with fear of the unknown. Rather than be spooked by bears or bad weather, I’ll be dealing with haunting cries from the spirit world.

People suffering from camping-phobia have the same symptoms that I’ll most likely be having during my night in the haunted jail. A physical and physiological anxiety disorder that causes one to sweat, become nauseous, have their blood pressure rise, feel a tightening in the chest and experience difficulty breathing. Panic attacks can happen during an overwhelming sense of fear, dread and distress. Depression soon sets in. Yup, the same fear first-time campers have will be mine to experience while sleeping in a jail cell.

The cure for camping-phobia, and to help keep me relatively sane during my sleepover, is something called cognitive therapy. It’s a fancy term than simply means facing your fears will cure what ails you.

Fear and anxiety is a part of everyone’s life. We are all afraid of something, whether it’s bear attacks, ghosts... or just eating broccoli. Avoiding the things that you’re afraid of is also quite normal. Your body and mind is in protection mode. Problem is, we can all live normal lives without ghosts and broccoli. However, having a life with no connection to the natural world isn’t a good idea. It’s not good for us and it’s not good for the natural world. The more people that don’t visit the wilderness, the less desire we will have to protect it. And we absolutely need to protect it.

That’s why sleeping in a haunted jail cell will be good for me. It’s also why people who fear camping should at least try to survive one night in the woods. Ghosts could possibly be something to fear. The same goes for a bear wandering into camp at night while you sleep in a flimsy nylon tent. But it goes for driving on the highway, going to a busy shopping mall or walking a dark street at night. Life is full of dangers. But it’s also full of beauty. Surviving one night in the woods will open your eyes to a lifetime of connecting to something that really matters to all of us. Wilderness is not a place to fear. It’s a place to embrace. Of course, I’m not sure a haunted jail is the same. But my stay there will at least impress my daughter and her friends at school. That’s worth a few more grey hairs, I guess.

Stay tuned...