Going to Jail: The Incarceration Experience
by Robin Sharpe, firstname.lastname@example.org
This book is intended in part as a consumer's report on British Columbia's correctional system based on my personal experience as a client. I would note that the system is separate from, and has different objectives from the other components of the criminal justice system. Essentially the correctional system's role is to see that sentences handed down by the courts are carried out, in this case a custodial sentence. Superficially, if no one escapes, or brings harm to himself or others, they have successfully performed their function. However, while you have a captive audience, you might as well do something with all these people. Programs! And they're a good thing for the guards as well.
It is much easier to write about my insider investigation of British Columbia's correctional system than to write about the trial which led to it, so readers may have to wait a while for the latter. As an inmate I kept an occasional journal in the form of letters I wrote to a sociology professor at Simon Fraser University who had followed my case from the beginning and had studied sex offender programs in the federal prison system, and others were written to a poet and old friend of mine. This journal has been transcribed from the handwritten letters I wrote, and edited, revised, rearranged to eliminate redundancy and make them more readable. The original journals did not include all the details I might have wished as mail to and from inmates is read, and where the correctional authorities deem it appropriate, censored. In fact I was not allowed to receive three letters addressed to me while in jail. Aware of this ongoing censorship I was not as candid as I would normally be in order to avoid problems with the administration. There is no discussion of some incidents and some of the more prurient thoughts that occurred to me while incarcerated have been omitted. I have however tried to spice it up a little from remembered incidents. I began writing at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, Maple Ridge, B.C. on July 20th, 2004 shortly after I was sentenced.
Tenses are not consistent and may indicate whether the text is verbatim from the letters or later additions and rewriting. I have not tried to eliminate all these inconsistencies. The names of the inmates have been changed in all cases.
After being convicted and having a sentencing date set, I decided that I needed a lawyer to represent me at sentencing, and after consulting with a lawyer I had minor dealings with in the past I chose Deanne Gaffar. She was a woman which I and a couple of friends thought might be helpful; my thinking was infected with false concepts of correctness tactics. I certainly don' t think this helped, and being a woman (but not a proverbial whore) she was probably less open to understanding or even listening to me. I met with her when I retained her and again minues before the sentencing hearing. Although we spoke on the phone a few times we had very little discussion of my sentencing. For example, she never explained the difference between provincial sentences, up to two years less a day, and federal sentences, two years or more. Federal institutions, I found out later are much to be preferred. Two inmates I talked to said that when I got a deuce less, my lawyer should have asked for an extra day so that be in a federal facility.
I did however meet two friends of hers from Switzerland whom she was showing around Vancouver and brought to the hearing. I felt my sentencing hearing was an inconvenience to her. From the beginning she saw her job as keeping me out of jail, which is of course the primary concern of most defendants. I told her near the beginning that I would prefer a short jail sentence in preference to as long period of probation. I had been through nine years of bail supervision and wanted to free of legal constraints so I could live where I wanted and associate with whomever I wanted. She said she would try for a conditional sentence, a bracelet and essentially house arrest with a few hours off to do my shopping and appointments. I gave her medical records and a statement from my clinic doctor outlining my condition. These proved useless. She spent a lot of money getting official transcripts of my preliminary hearing and trial but she never discussed my case in any depth and didn' t bring up any of the points in the trial. She may have been more convinced of my guilt than Mr. Poll who was only doing his job aggressively.. I also said she should point out that the ‘offence' occurred over twenty years ago and that I was over seventy years old which also suggested that I was unlikely to re-offend. However, she wouldn' t ask for less than a two years conditional sentence, as she feared she wouldn' t be taken seriously by the judge. She explained that she was very busy.
Things did not go well. Mr. Poll got what he asked for and my lawyer's arguments were ineffectual. Deanne Gaffar put too much emphasis on a conditional sentence. She gave only perfunctory mention of points I had raised. It is true that since pressured by feminists, the statutes of limitations for sex offences was eliminated (before it was only murder that was exempt) elapsed time since the offense has no legal significance.
I had told her early on that I would prefer a short jail sentence rather than a long period of probation. I had no moral qualms about going to jail. So many of the heroes of my youth, good friends of mine and people I had great respect for such as Edward Brongersma had been to jail so I felt no shame in it. She and many others felt that my health problems would carry considerable weight in this respect. She had been claiming she was busy and it was only immediately before my sentencing hearing that she told me she was going to suggest a two years conditional plus three years probation. I think it was to counter the continuing danger argument. She was focusing on the prosecution's arguments and not the facts of the case. I was quietly outraged; I emphatically told her: No probation.
Mr. Poll pointed to the vigour with which I defended myself and said there was no evidence that my medical problems were a problem for a jail sentence. Gaffar had obtained a letter from my clinic doctor, which summarized my condition. She did not enter it because for one, she told me, it erroneously said that I was formerly an intravenous drug user, but the letter also essentially confirmed Poll's claim.
Two years jail would I believe leave me totally free in 16 months whereas Gaffar's suggestion would have tied me down for 60 months, five years. I feel that if she had not pushed for a conditional sentence - two years, but suggested 6 months jail I might have ended up with one year and been free in 8 months. It was the denunciation factor that Poll stressed (and also deterrence) that seemed to impress Judge Edwards. Only jail denounces! One year jail sentence might have satisfied the blood lust.
I am not sure that even if Gaffar had studied more than the transcripts and had presented better arguments that Edwards would have given me a lesser sentence. I am thankful that I stopped her from mentioning probation or I might still be tied down to restrictions on where I can live and who I can associate with until 2009. I would likely have done just as well without Ms. Gaffar.
My sentencing was a triumphal occasion for the Righteous Right. Chuck Cadman, the cancer stricken independent M.P. was there with Mr. (the complainant) and Mrs. Layton North along with Noreen Waters and two of her cronies. Cadman had attended my trial on the days when Mr. North was testifying, presumably to give his support. The media and press were well represented. Two of my friends, a poet and an artist from Victoria whom I' d known since she was a teenager attended. When I went out for lunch with them we were swarmed by reporters and TV cameramen. You may have seen it, I haven' t. The Vancouver Sun reporter Ian Mulgrew had a write up on it which I was informed captured the spirit of the event.
Judge Robert Edwards sentenced me to two years less a day which meant that the sentence would be served in a provincial facility. The sheriffs immediately grabbed me and led me out and placed me in a holding cell. Later I was cuffed and shackled and transported to the North Fraser Remand Centre, known as Poco on the street, where I spent hours in a holding cell. I remember meeting this guy there with amazing tattoos who said he' d previously completed 6 years in the pen and just wanted to be processed and admitted so he could watch TV. I was eventually placed in Alpha East, a PC unit and assigned a room. The next morning I was greeted by a young friend I knew from the East End and we had breakfast together.
Fraser Regional Correctional Centre
Immediately after breakfast I was cuffed and shackled again and transported to the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, FRCC in Maple Ridge, a maximum security prison which houses four hundred odd inmates. I never heard anything of my friend since. Again I spent several hours in a holding cell without my glasses and dentures.
Eventually I was put in 4A, the medical unit. Quite a few of the inmates seemed to have mental problems. My first cellmate was a cool young guy who knew a few downtown people I'd met. He says he has spasms and has to have the lower bunk. Many of the sixteen inmates in my unit refuse to speak to me; a newspaper clipping about my sentencing was passed around the unit and I am known. When it came to me I put it away. The unit is run by the clean up crew, three tough young blondish skinhead types, who have their own section of the unit defined by a line painted on the floor. I found this out when I sat at a table to read a newspaper there. The cleaners who have the privilege of hanging out in the guards' office are bossy but not threatening perhaps because of the pervasive surveillance. My initial nervousness fed by a couple of verbal incidents receded after a couple of days. I got along with several of the men and avoided confrontations with the few I didn't. The two senior ‘cleaners', who were sort of like trustees, made their dislike of me clear but the situation was too controlled for much to happen. One of these blond alpha males was an overt racist who drew a swastika on the phone booth in the unit and claimed he only did business with his own race. On the side of the shelves in my cell there was a crude swastika with world, wide, white, pride lettered in the quadrants.
I was eventually able to talk to most of the inmates but except for listening to the problems of a couple of the more disturbed inmates the conversations were mostly topical. Being thrust into close physical arrangements with an assortment of men with whom I had little in common made it a challenge to establish friendly relations. This coping was new for me, a novelty, like when you move to a new town or job. I soon had a new cellmate, a native artist and carver Sammy who was more interesting to talk to as we shared an interest in woodwork. He had a drinking problem and was in and out of jail three times during my sentence.
As soon as I could get the court documents I began working on an appeal of my conviction. Working was difficult as each of my cellmates was dependent on TV spending fourteen days watching it. The last even insisted on eating in our "house" as the inmates call their cells.
Things soon became routine. Food is a major preoccupation. I would trade my sugar for coffee creamer and give away my bread. I bought instant coffee packs and mostly used them for trading. Men save sausage and Sunday bacon and mix them with rice which they buy to create new dishes. Cooking in the microwave is something to do, one of the few things there is. There is a lot of formalized jail etiquette like not passing your cup or food tray over someone else's. There is an almost obsessive cleanliness and tidiness, and modesty. Inmates are forbidden from entering another's cell. You can stand in the doorway but part of you must remain in the corridor or common area. This rule is to protect inmates from assault and unwanted attention but it also discourages intimacy and sharing. I also learnt a few practical things such as using toothpaste to mount photos and cards on the small display boards allowed in each cell.
I got on well with the two most obviously disturbed men; a delusional, withdrawn guy in his thirties who talked knowingly of Jesus and others, and who wanted me to pat his head in some sort of blessing. I'm not sure who he thought I was. Several times he asked and I gave him a neck and shoulder massage but this was reported and a guard told me it was prohibited. The other was a paranoid Polish plumber subject to outbursts when he felt his person or dignity was violated. If someone touched him or stood too close he would claim they were trying to sexually assault him. I think it was him who brought me the article in The Province about my sentence the first day along with a bit of moral disapproval. Twice I had lengthy conversations with him where he did over 90% of the talking. He couldn't stop once he got started. I didn't see much of him as most of the time he was locked down for getting upset and shouting. There was an 80 year old man with a withered arm in a wheelchair who also serving a deuce, a two year sentence for an offence with a boy which allegedly occurred in 1950 when he was a merchant seaman. He can't recall the incident. We talked frequently but it was almost impossible to talk privately. He had been at Ford Mountain but after a fall where he fractured his hip he was returned to FRCC. His family was in Alberta where he has a farm but which made parole impractical for him. I only became aware of his offence just before I left FRCC. I am curious about his case.
I could see myself getting accustomed to maximum security. There is a feeling of security in being locked up, it is the ultimate in protection, a thought that disturbed me. There's a certain fatalism about jails. On the advice of other inmates and the placement officer I applied for a transfer to Ford Mountain camp, a medium security facility near Chilliwack in the eastern Fraser Valley. Things were much better I was told. Processing me meant more tedious time in holding cells or tanks as they are called. A couple of RCMP officers came out from Vancouver to take my fingerprints again and a DNA sample, apparently at the discretion of Judge Edwards who may have deemed me a risk. The graffiti in the tanks, laboriously chipped out of thick paint on metal doors and frames was uninteresting. Most was names, or so and so is a rat, etc. The only one that amused me was: fuck the free world. After two weeks in FRCC my application for a transfer to Ford Mountain was approved. I would return to FRCC for a few days when I had a hearing in Vancouver Supreme Court for a funding application.
Ford Mountain Correctional Centre
It took about two hours to be transported to Ford Mountain camp, cuffs but no shackles, and I enjoyed the trip which went through parts of the Fraser Valley I'd not seen before. The camp is located a considerable distance up the road to Chilliwack Lake in a scenic mountain valley. Jagged peaks, one of which still retained a trace of snow when I arrived in mid August, surround the camp which is in a fairly flat forested area. It is a beautiful location and I believe being surrounded by nature makes difference in itself. I was placed in Holloway House, a newer structure that was originally built as a medium security facility separated from the older minimum security camp which was unfenced until about 2000. Today they are combined as one facility although unknown inmates and those thought to need more surveillance may be placed there. I found out that many inmates preferred to live in the simple huts of the older ‘Downtown' part of the camp.
The maximum security FRCC was a pressure cooker compared to Ford Mountain where inmates can walk around outdoors in their free time and have a choice of ninety inmates to relate to rather than just fifteen others. The camp comprising perhaps thirty acres is surrounded by double fencing, the outer one curved inwards and topped with coiled razor wire. There are also motion detectors and cameras covering the perimeter and most outdoor areas.The perimeter is brightly lit at night. There is a sports field with a baseball diamond, a walking path around it and a horseshoe pitch.
Over half of the ninety inmates (which increased to one hundred and fifteen while I was there) were housed in four wooden row huts, something like a 1950's motel in the main Downtown part of the camp. The others were housed in a modern one storey semi panopticon structure where I lived for the first half of my sentence. This has 28 mostly single occupancy rooms in two units. The small rooms contain a steel bunk, minimal shelf and storage space, a TV with headphones and a prison toilet and basin. The place is quiet with music only available from the TV headphones.
The units have a large common area with a kitchen, tables and a lounge area. One day I was in the lounge reading a newspaper when a noise from control came over the speaker asking if Sharpe was there. I didn't understand quite was being said. With my poor hearing and all the hard surfaces, I often have difficulty making out what is said. Others told me to get up and stand in front of one of the cameras covering the lounge to show that I was there. It was interesting to learn that there might be a blind area in the lounge. I felt a bit like Wilfred Smith in 1984 when he discovers a corner in his room where he can't be seen writing things down. A failure of panopticism?
Downtown includes an admin building with the ‘Bubble' at the front where inmates go to make requests or wait to see the doctor, nurse, counselor, etc. The Bubble in no way resembles a Bubble but I'm told the term derives from the central domed part of prisons which served the same function in the radial panopticon layout of penitentiaries of a century or more ago. Off the admin building around a quadrangle are the Library, laundry and the dining hall or the Kitchen as it's called. The Library has a several hundred books, three video games, a piano, and also serves as a chapel and meeting room for programs. There is also a gymnasium building and a woodwork ‘Hobby'shop plus a few industrial structures including a small sawmill and a plastics recycling (chipping) plant.
Things were bewildering at first as except for Sammy I knew no one, and he was immediately welcomed by old Native friends and I seldom spoke to him after. I did not feel welcome and was initially anxious about my personal safety. I was assigned to work at the recycling shed and found Sidney, the old Fijian in charge interesting to talk to. The other worker there a young body builder type slept much of the time hidden in piles of plastic sheeting. I was also interviewed by the staff psychologist, Dr. David Weibe.
Life with its routines soon became rather normal, perhaps too normal. The days at Ford Mountain are regulated by horn blasts; for wake up, meals, work breaks, medications and programs. There are no lockdowns, and in Holloway House the doors are only locked during working hours. Men living in the huts in Downtown, the older part of the camp have keys to their rooms. For those not receiving meds the day begins with breakfast in the Kitchen, followed by military like room inspection and then morning parade assembly, roll count, announcements and work assignments. There was a five hour workday with a morning coffee break with all inmates going to the quad for a count. There were five, I think, formal counts on work days as well as guards regularly moving through the camp taking counts. After work there was an afternoon parade and count, mail distribution and some banter, and possibly a lecture. I felt like a kid in elementary school back in the 1940's. Except for programs it was free time until dinner and again after. I looked forward to the newspapers. Each unit received copies of the Vancouver Sun and The Province daily. Incidentally, the day I arrived at Ford Mountain there was a picture of me in connection with an article about the BCCLA in the Sun.
Sometimes I am amazed by how busy I am. If things were more efficient, rational and not so circuitous I would be horribly bored. As it is there is always something to do or look forward to. A tolerance for absurdity helps. Trivia becomes magnified, giant mountains out of little mole hills grow if I may mix my metaphors.
The week is organized. Monday is canteen day. The orders that inmates put in the previous Wednesday for tobacco, toiletries, and confections like chocolate bars and junk food were distributed after dinner. Protein supplements are popular with the weight crowd. There will be a line up and inmates will go to the med window to pick up their bags of goodies. Many smokers who have run out must pay back two, three or even more rollies for each they borrowed previously. I typically get some peanuts, hot chocolate, a few chocolate bars and some toiletries. Monday evenings are the equivalent of Welfare Wednesday on the streets of East End Vancouver. People have their canteen and everybody has enough to smoke and the mood of the camp is merrier than usual. I am usually repaid for loans and services, such as letting others use my phone card, and have more chocolate bars than is right for a diabetic. Monday is also doctors parade and I may get my monthly blood tests and weighing. I lost 15 pounds while I was there. Most inmates, especially those who were strung out on hard drugs, gain weight, sometimes as much as sixty pounds.
FMCC describes itself as a treatment based facility. All inmates have to take programs related to their offence. For addicts who steal to support their habits or commit offences related to booze the SAM, substance abuse management programs are a logical and may even be an effective policy. The implicit theory behind FMCC policy is that the inmates offences are caused by treatable conditions or thinking. There are no crooks or at least no programs that claim to deal with simple dishonesty. Maybe there is no such thing?
Thursday is a program day. Early on I was in the deniers', Sex Offenders Awareness Program, or SOAP. Later I was enrolled in the Substance Abuse Management program, SAM, not because I currently had any substance abuse problems, thanks to my liver and lungs in part, but because Ford Mountain is a treatment facility and one has to take programs to justify being there rather than Fraser Regional which is Hell.
The policy of fixed meal times was probably good for me. Not that I look forward to eating but certain days are better than others. Breakfasts: Saturday is bacon and fried eggs day, Sunday is scrambled eggs and sausages day, Monday is a boiled egg day, Tuesday is oatmeal day, Wednesday is pancake day, Thursday is Cream of Wheat day, Friday is another boiled egg day but not quite the same as Monday's. The meals were quite adequate and I often gave away part of my dinner. Weekends were when some inmates were running low on smokes and they would trade the choicer portions for a rollie or puffs.
Inmates are an odd community, an involuntary community whose membership keeps changing according to external factors. .As most men were serving 30 day, 90 day & 6 month sentences there was a high turnover. I try to think of a comparable one, but can't. Where else are people with little in common aside from gender thrown together so intimately? It's a community but no other segregated community is so diverse in age, education, life style, skills, etc. Some inmates may not want to keep in touch with family or friends while in prison although they may want to restore their relationships after. Keeping in touch with their friends and families may make it harder to adapt to incarceration. Others have no personal resources outside beyond the street. Jail is a world of its own.
Not long after my arrival at Ford Mountain it was Prisoners' Rights Day, August 10th 2004. This I was told, honours inmates who have died violently in prison and celebrates the advances that prisoners have won such as access to telephones, the right to vote, medical treatment, dietary concerns, television and more respectful and humane treatment by staff. We were supposed to fast and refuse to work on this day. Some told me they were eating anyway and some who have little money in their canteen do not want to forego the two dollars or more they make working each day. I decided not to work and truthfully there was very little to do at the recycling shed where I was assigned. The commemoration does not seem particularly organized. No inmate made a speech that I know of and participation was voluntary, "Only if your heart is in it", one experienced inmate told me. I noticed little unity or solidarity among the inmates although being in the small minority of older ones and a sex offender I may not be aware of much that goes on. After breakfast I overheard a small blond muscular youth tell another inmate, "I bet the guys who were killed were all solid dudes, not fuckin'skinners". After a month or so I briefly thought that my experience in jail had been sufficiently interesting and stimulating to be almost worthwhile but that assessment did not hold up very long.
My first job was working at the recycling shed and I collected old newspapers, cardboard boxes, plastic and pop cans for recycling, and I picked up garbage bags and emptied the outdoor ash trays. This only took two to thee hours and allowed me to wander, with an excuse, over much of the camp. I could pick up the cigarette butts from the staff smoking patio which made me popular with the most desperate scroungers. The senior inmate at the shed was a middle aged Fijian Sidney who had been convicted of a welfare scam. He has a business as an immigration consultant and is able to keep it running through his wife without revealing his whereabouts. He says he spends $500 a month on phone bills. His welfare scam would pay ten thousand for each month of his sentence if they were unable to seize any of his assets, properties owned by family members. About all he did was to sweep the shed and sidewalk in his role of proprietor. The other shed worker, a husky young tobacco and crack addict slept much of the time. I had plenty of time to read newspapers and anything else I could find.
The main inmate obsession at Ford Mountain is tobacco. Being able to smoke is a major reason why some inmates sought transfers there. Bumming, borrowing and sharing tobacco and cigarettes are the basis of social life and the most common topic of conversation. The Fijian who claims he never smoked before he came here now indulgences, but claims he will stop when released. He also deals and I suspect turns a profit from dealings. Inmates drop by to ‘buy' rollies. The price in exchange rises towards canteen days. Just as crackies outside, nicotine addicts here debase themselves with their pleading and persistence. Tobacco, one could argue, is the equivalent of crack and junk on the outside. If the righteous succeed in prohibiting tobacco as they have other drugs we can expect the social consequences to be equally disastrous. I can't see that preventing inmates from smoking in prisons serves any correctional purpose. For some it is a form of self medication. The very real benefits of smoking have been obscured by anti-tobacco propaganda and hysteria. Money would be better spent on developing less harmful ways of delivering nicotine.
One thing that I noticed was that the men in jail were a lot happier than those on the street in the East End where I lived for several years. More than a few were the same people. The inmates were generally a cheerful bunch. Today after morning roll call a guard dryly told a group of inmates "No laughing. This is jail." It was funny. Another time at the end of work afternoon roll call the senior guard announced, "Don't bother us at the office unless you're ratting out on someone." There is a fair amount of good natured banter back and forth and I have heard very little in the way of resentment towards the guards who are available and courteous. They can still be pricks however.
Inmates are not allowed cameras and it's probably a good idea although I would have liked to record some of what I saw. Aside from the everchanging mountains, I recall several powerful visual scenes, some that would have better been recorded on canvas than film. Ninety odd inmates lined up on the parade square with the sun making their bright prison reds brilliant in contrast to the deep green of the firs behind. One image that was etched into my mind was this tall, very blond and very slim, still teen inmate who wore his loose prison reds like a fashion model, and looked quite sexy as he lounged and slouched in the common area. I heard that his avocation was stealing muscle cars.
There were a few boys, or rather young men in Ford Mountain who aroused my boylover instincts. As the oldest inmate in the camp I could only be helpful and where practical generous. I prefer to care about boys rather than care for them. I had an ersatz ‘love' for a Native teen from the eastern end of the Fraser Valley, no idea what he was in for, but he was handsome with big dark eyes and chiselled features which is not typical of the local Salish people. When he arrived he had no canteen money and was faced with bumming smokes for over a week so I bought a small pack of tobacco for him. He repaid me the first chance he had. I also relished the play, horseplay, the fooling around that the younger inmates engaged in. They were being young males and I surreptitiously got off on it. I remember two who fought in savage play, eagerly smacked each other around, and next day displayed their blue bruised torsos. I can see where a more orthodox minded person would have missed out on the perverse delights available.
Sex did not seem to be an important factor in Ford Mountain but then I was not in a good position to know. There were condom dispensers but I have no idea how many were used for sex. I know some were used for smuggling tobacco. If someone knew he was going to be transferred to FRCC where smoking was totally prohibited, a few ounces of compacted tobacco stuffed in triple condoms inserted in his rectum would help him get off to a good start. I was approached for sex by two different inmates in my early months and being over seventy I found it very flattering. One guy who vaguely connected me with pornography sought my advice about making pornographic videos and big money. I explained that I didn't know much about making videos and asked him if he knew how to operate cameras. The technical aspects did not interest him: He just wanted to fuck women and get paid for it. The gym, before it was renovated and the washrooms and showers were eliminated, was where much of the action happened. Much of the gym was, perhaps deliberately, not covered by cameras. It was also where inmates sometimes administered beatings to others if they were felt to have violated the inmates' code. There was also a large area of stacked firewood which could provide concealment for sex but care would be required to avoid the surveillance cameras which covered almost all the outdoor areas.
A young and entertaining guy in my unit is to be released tomorrow. I sometimes gave him the apple that was included in my diabetic snack. On the night before there was a minor, occasionally loud semi party for him with teasing and horseplay. By tradition he was subject to some hazing the next morning. As I followed him out the building for breakfast he was doused with two buckets of water, something I'd seen happen before. At morning roll call I found out another man was also being released. I know him by sight and the two went in to get their ‘personal', the possessions they had when jailed, and change into their street clothes. Inmates as far as I know can only keep their spectacles and dentures in jail and these may be initially removed ‘for their protection' Those being released are taken to Chilliwack and given a bus ticket back to where they were sentenced or other agreed location in the province. We noticed an RCMP car pull up to the camp gate and back around to park. The men immediately assumed that one of those being released would be gated. Gating is the much resented practice of arresting an inmate on other charges just as he is being released. Often the inmate could have been charged at the time of his previous case with everything dealt with then. The possibility of gating may encourage offenders to confess to other crimes at trial. In other cases it is nothing more than malicious discrimination. I never found out if either of those released was gated.
Six weeks after my sentencing I am not a satisfied consumer of Ms. Gaffar's legal services. I am not sorry that she is no longer my lawyer although I may still need her for certain things. Today, six weeks after my sentencing I wrote Deane Gaffar a letter requesting copies of her sentencing book of authorities, the eleven cases she used to argue for a conditional sentence at the hearing as I did not get a chance to look at them before the hearing. Mr. Poll submitted a book of 30 authorities which I thought was a lot of effort for my case. As you know I am very unhappy with the way she handled her submission — her narrow focus on advocating a conditional sentence for a sick old man. I want to examine them if only for what I might write about the case later. I feel that she failed me by not explaining sentencing alternatives and their implications, not listening or taking seriously my preference for jail if it shortened the time I would be tied down and generally being professionally perfunctory.
Later I talked to two inmates who've been in the federal system. They both claimed things are much better there; the food, the rooms and the service. They also say it's much easier to get parole. I may have mentioned it before but one said that my lawyer should have asked for two years after I got a deuce less. Maybe next time I'll try the federal system.
Ford Mountain turned out to be a much mellower place than I expected after FRCC. While the inmates are less likely to be violent there is far less supervision and more opportunities for things to happen. Twice in my first week an inmate told me that if I am bothered by others to tell him, rather than the guards I presumed. At no time at Ford Mountain did I experience any really threatening behaviour and I felt more or less accepted. I saw angry words and heard obscenities but for months I never saw any real confrontation, and that never got to blows. It looked like horseplay that went too far.
After six weeks I suppose I am getting over my thinking stage about being here and that I should just get down to doing my time. My appeal makes that impossible. Earlier I'd been thinking that jail time is like a coma; it has a beginning and an end but is indeterminate in between. It's sort of like the beginning is over. I am here. The outside has largely receded. My urge to write and phone friends has diminished. In some ways my life is not all that different. My social standard of living has been impaired ever since my bust in 1996 and got worse with the publicity that came with my initial acquittal. There have been interludes of excitement and rewarding times but on the whole it has been, to adapt a phrase, a low intensity hell. My mind has been too focused on my legal problems and less free to wander. Poetry doesn't happen like it used to; I've barely written any since 1995.
Prison reduces my standard of life-style further. And it's a break, an immense non sequitur that doesn't meaningfully relate to what went on before. And after, I had long decided I would move to Montreal to join a friend. Ford Mountain is like living with a bunch of kids in some ways. Most of the men in my unit are in their twenties and not your stereotypical criminals. They're generally quite ordinary guys who horse around and are sometimes loud. There are a few nasties and mental cases amongst them. I spend most of my time in my room as do most of the others do although I don't watch TV. There are six channels: Muchmusic, TSN a sports network, CTV, a religious channel and others selected by inmate vote and rotated. CBC is never selected. The only inmate in my unit that I know, the husky young desperate smoking addict, who supposedly works with me at the recycling shed, is an intelligent body builder guy who is profoundly depressed. And addiction prone. He struggles with tobacco, quits for hours and then goes around scavenging miniscule butts and begging puffs. He did shop lifting and B&Es to support his coke habit, and prospered for a while. I picked up a few tips about boosting although I doubt if I ever try them out.
In September I found we were losing our camp pet. Today is Blackie's last day as tomorrow he's to be put down (the ultimate put down?). Everyone knows. When I first saw Blackie I thought he was a vicious guard dog. He had that stance, head low and forward where you expect growling and hackles up. I soon found out he wasn't threatening and later realized he was lame, half dragging his rear legs. Word of Blackie's demise spread and today it seemed everyone was petting him. I've never known a dog to get so much attention. Something must have come up as his demise was twice delayed. That left only some resident cats who been around for a while.
Soon raccoons started turning up in the cages attached to the units where people smoked; I saw as many as eight at a time, including little ones. They were scavengers and we began feeding them. I am diabetic and on medical advice I receive a special evening snack from the Kitchen. It is always an apple and a sandwich, which is almost always jam and peanut butter, not a favourite of mine. Inmates are always hungry and I often gave away my apple and sometimes my sandwich. I had to be careful as giving away my apple was an offence. It would be contraband in anyone else's hands. The raccoons liked the sandwiches but not the apple. They really liked the junk food some inmates fed them. They became quite tame and would take food from people's hands. I and others fed them out of our hands but after a couple got bitten and went for treatment, the administration set about getting rid of the raccoons using poisoned bait. Months later there was still a few around.
Occasionally I feel I have more fun that I have had in years, or at least since my best friend left town over two years before I was sentenced. Today I was fooling with the guys painting the recycling shed. My prison reds ended up with gray daubs and spatters. I felt like a boy. I seem to have adjusted and am involved with my life and the people here. My life is not all that different than before and I do not acutely miss the things I most thought I would; my computer, mobility and booze, and some pot would be nice.
This evening I saw Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ; the film was put on by the organized Christians who see it as useful propaganda. The movie is very indulgent. The flagellation scenes are both gory and excessive. They go on and on. The indulgently sadistic flagellators, Roman soldiers, are entertaining at first but eventually become tedious. Not my cup of S&M. You can only get so much sarcastic pleasure out of whipping one messiah. A lot of the bit parts were well acted, I liked Pontius Pilate and a lot of the devices were clever. The inmate audience was impressed by the gore — that Jesus guy could really take it — and would verbally flinch at times.
I just had a talk with a guy of Caribbean origin but speaking Canadian English. He was happy as he was unexpectedly getting out tomorrow. He got 90 days, has served nearly a month and his lawyer has got him switched to EMP. He was convicted of spanking his six year old daughter with a plastic coat hanger, a child's one I think. The family split up over a year ago when he was arrested, and he spent a year desperately taking anger management and parenting programs to impress the court. He thought he would get a conditional sentence as the judge (a woman) seemed sympathetic, but she gave him 90 days. I asked him if he got anything out of the programs; he didn't think so. He had been working as a drug and alcohol counselor at the time and believes he can tell if programs are any good. He is an outgoing, cheerful guy and I must again wonder if the law isn't counterproductive. The charge was based on the girl's comment to a social worker. I don't know if there were other concerns but presumably social workers were already involved.
Spanking a child with anything other than the open hand is illegal according to the 2004 Supreme Court's spanking decision. A child's plastic coat hanger did not sound particularly lethal compared to the guy's beefy hands. And the marks left by a hand may be easier to explain as some accident compared to those of a coat hanger. It is complicated by the fact that many Caribbean immigrants to Canada believe in what others might see as severe punishments, and this has led to conflicts. He may be one of the first victims of McLaughlin's new spanking law. I will refrain from saying spanking new.
Five new guys arrived today. Some had been here before and were given a welcome by other inmates. I overheard one man, a tall swarthy young man, being teased, "Did you miss the food and a warm bed?" He had been gone five weeks and some I am told are back in less than two. Many here are repeaters. I have to wonder when I look around at the boisterous young men, some still in their teens, playing hackensack or engaged in horseplay, laughing and bantering. It's a year round camp where the residents keep getting reminded that they are in jail.
The Meaning of Punishment
Unsurprisingly during my first few months in jail I wondered what it was all about. Incarceration is absurd, or a non sequitur as I've said before: That is how I think of being here. But why am I here? - For the benefit of the Righteous? What purpose is served by my continuing presence? I think it all ended when the “denunciatory” sentence was announced in the media. That's when the Righteous public got to taste blood.
Jail is an absurdity certainly, but what else could you make out of it? I had philosophical interludes and asked myself questions such as: What is the punishment of imprisonment? Here I am confined with ninety other, mostly young males spending about five hours a day working, eating well, having a range of recreational opportunities of which I mainly use the well equipped woodworking shop. I think I read that the essence of modern punishment is the loss of freedom. For most here that would be freedom of the street, the street which allows one to select one's companions and associates, and provides access to booze, drugs and sex. Jail is commodity deprivation for some. Much is made here of the good things, the bounty of jail; the food, warm beds and recreation. There are frequent returnees who are teased and welcomed back Being in jail, perhaps as something that happens from time to time, seems to be accepted fatalistically by many. Those who don't like it are often people who would be unhappy or depressed anyway, or those who have something; family, girl or affluence to miss. The latter won't want to come back.
Basically jail is punishment, and time is its principal currency. How do we punish? We give convicts time; so many days, months, years: The time standard of punishment. Sentences are homogenized through the concept of time measured as deprivation of liberty. What the Kingston Pen, FRCC, Ford Mountain and the Club Feds with golf and horseback riding have in common is that time is served, the currency of sentences is redeemed; “debts are repaid to society”, at society's expense of course.
The Americans amongst others also have a life standard usually preceded by lots of time on death row. Some former British colonies in Southeast Asia and Africa, and some Muslim countries flog convicts, a pain/misery standard. We should perhaps add hard or tedious labour which has been used as an additional punishment. Nineteenth Century English prisons made inmates operate treadmills and pick oakum used at the time in life belts. Inmates were sometimes fed deliberately meagre low protein diets which made them easier to control and which stunted the growth of young offenders. More altruistically, sensory deprivation was employed: in some early penitentiaries. Inmates were not allowed to talk to each other, or read anything other than the Bible in order that they could reflect on their crimes and reform themselves, or more likely go insane. The famous etching done by Gustave Doré in Newgate Goal showing inmates walking in a circle is the best known illustration of this approach. It was made into a painting by Van Gogh. In some penitentiaries inmates were hooded so they couldn't see each other or have any human contact. This must have delighted the randywhites of the day. I try and imagine this. I think it beats Abu Ghraib hands down.
Time. The meaning that the public imputes to length of sentences as in “He should have got more than five years”, and the time as experienced by the inmate may bear no relationship to each other. For the disappointed commentator it's a statement of his outrage and presumably his superior morality. For the inmate, the pain and suffering of the sentence, the stuff that the Righteous presumably get their jollies from, depends largely on himself. Of course he may be less able to do anything about the suffering due to mentally disturbed, hateful and Righteous inmates.
There are problems with time as the currency of punishment. When some irate citizen fumes, "He should have got more than two years for whatever", the speaker is probably only trying to quantify the moral outrage he or she feels, or should feel, about the offense, and often with the worst case scenario in mind. As families erode, and adult fraternization with the young declines, children have increasingly become the focus of public concern. In a society of close loving families where children are seen through the eyes of parents and the adults they interact with, rather than through the intervening eyes of often self appointed experts, pedo hysteria would find few supporters.
Moral outrage arises out of ignorance, including the deliberate suppression of facts, and guilt over neglect which is exploited by activists. Harsher sentences are a substitute for empathic involvement. Legislators under pressure, and likely inspired by the zeal of ambitious police officers, various victims' rights advocates and the Righteous generally, have lobbied for draconian sentences especially in the USA. This has been done with the connivance of therapists and psychocops boasting credentials as shrinks. Sentences reflect the degree of moral outrage that can be induced by populist politics.
I personally did not get off lightly at my sentencing: Mr. Poll with his book of sentencing authorities essentially got what he asked for. It was victory for him. Nine months seemed to be standard for my type of conviction according to those I met in jail. Denunciation was an important consideration in my case; I was high profile and there was a populist demand for it. Can you blame them? I was probably topping Canada's Most Vilified list for a year or so. And I deserved it because I am me. I am still fortunate. An American friend whom I met while he was awaiting deportation ten years ago ended up receiving two life sentences as a result of an overheard conversation between two twelve year old boys about blowjobs. He is still filing briefs and appeals.
With time as the official currency of punishment somebody has to administer it. While the courts, the media and the public think of time, often rationalized as deprivation of freedom, as punishment, the prison officials who have to deal with the bodies sent to them are not likely to see their jobs as punishing inmates. Their job is to carry out sentences, not letting them escape, and increasingly providing certain programs for designated types of inmates. The guards and the occasional whiteshirt that inmates deal with want things to run smoothly, but of course their way. Some may want to lay their particular personal trips on inmates, but they can still be reasonable about job related things. Despite their power the guards are seldom real pricks.
While there may be sadistic and power tripping guards in prisons, I haven't encountered any at Ford Mountain and they probably wouldn't fit in very well anyway. It is in the interests of correctional officials to have contented and compliant inmates. It makes their jobs easier and jail more pleasant. However it could be argued that the more pleasant a jail is, the less effective it is as punishment, and a deterrent. Could be, but I don't think that's important. Much, probably most criminal behaviour is connected to things that prisons can't deal with. I believe there are many criminals, young guys into petty crimes and a criminal culture of sorts, for whom even a place like FMCC is not a deterrent. In fact, I gather it is a good place to pay your criminal culture dues.
There is an apparent conflict of interest between the courts and at least some of the principles of sentencing, and the more practical perspective of correctional authorities, at least in Canada. A rational prison system would use high cost maximum security (and less pleasant) prisons only for those few inmates requiring it. Prison administrators may assume that their role in punishing inmates is purely custodial.
Places like Ford Mountain, which are not punitive beyond the essentials of deprivation of liberty (a consideration that may not be very important to some inmates) and the demands of secure custody probably have a positive effect on inmates even if they do not reduce crime.
Prison and Crime
I don't think prisons do much to reduce criminal behaviour beyond the fact that the inmates are temporarily off the street. In the USA this argument is used to justify extremely long sentences and the three strikes and you're out laws. This is in one sense both a defeatist and hysterical approach. It also is extremely cruel and wasteful of human lives and resources. The current American experiment with draconian penalties, especially as regards sex and porn offences, is similar to that of the English in the 18th Century where children were hanged for petty theft. Now as then it largely depends on hyped up moral outrage. Laws in English speaking electoral democracies are increasingly made on the basis of moral outrage rather than sober analysis of the problems they supposedly address. Society seems to have remarkably little concern about the extreme cruelty inflicted on those men caught up in it. Draconian laws and penalties have created interlocking vested interests and nowadays we have psychotherapists to assuage any qualms in the public consciousness. They're “experts” and the public goes along with their pronouncements, just as they used to with assorted priests. They advise princes, sell indulgences and enrich themselves. “Science”, moral outrage and profits miraculously coincide to uphold and perpetuate draconian laws and penalties.
Rehabilitation is something that can best happen outside prisons although having captive subjects free of drugs, alcohol and tempting situations is often, not always, an advantage. For many developing self control will help them lead non criminal lives. The crimes that “substance dependent” criminals commit are primarily economic ones. What they want is money, not to physically harm people. Non violent crime is generally to be preferred over violent crime. I think what places like Ford Mountain do accomplish is to encourage a more responsible criminal culture and to develop more acceptable standards of criminal behaviour: “Good” rather than “bad” criminal behaviour. Inmates can be as righteous as anyone and it's not just the “last resort of scoundrels”. Just as it may be argued that we are better off with an enlightened dictatorship rather than an unenlightened one, so it may be that we are better off with good criminals than bad ones. They are likely to be less violent, more sensitive in their choice of victims and commit their crimes more efficiently. Laws that increase penalties for the use of guns or violence in the commission of crimes encourage less dangerous criminality.
While I certainly believe that courts should show a certain leniency towards young offenders, I also think young people should be treated with the utmost due process. Guilty or not they should have the full protection of the presumption of innocence, something that juvenile courts from their inception have not respected. A charge against a young person should be regarded as an opportunity to instruct that person in the “majesty of the law”. Young people often have strongly held concepts of fairness and these should be respected and not be violated. Concepts of fairness and proportionality have been eroded with the contemporary rule of moral outrage.
Acquittal of a guilty person can reform him (a close call) perhaps more effectively than a conviction. (While an awkward subject to research, I believe there is some evidence of this. How do the recidivism rates of those “let off” compare to those subjected to the incarceration experience?) The object of the criminal justice system should not be to convict as much as to ensure that the person charged refrains from similar behaviour in the future. Vested interests and electoral democracy favour a tough law and order approach.
The debate about what prisons can and can't do has been around since the beginning of the use of incarceration as the standard punishment two centuries ago as Michael Foucault points out in Punishment and Discipline. Progressive reformers and randywhite types have been around since the beginning.
Perhaps you could define punishment not from intent but by effect: The things that inmates don't like. Or do? This would vary by inmate. Looking at jail as punishment, one thing I personally don't like is arbitrariness, and the stupidity that usually accompanies it. No doubt part of the reason is that I can't do anything about it. I sometimes forgot I was in jail. For example, my job, effectively running the recycling shop, led me to arrange and organize things for something to do as well as to increase efficiency. I knew some of the things others might need and set them aside; certain kinds of boxes, reusable sheet plastic and material suitable for packing for example. Then one afternoon when I am away a guard says clean everything out because the electricians are going to do some wiring, and a gung ho inmate tosses out all the things I'd carefully arranged, and the electricians don't need the space for another week. Arbitrariness may not trouble most inmates who do not question the order of things. They make good inmates, and probably good criminals too. I had.
another reminder of the absurdity of this place, and I suppose of authoritarian regimes generally, when one rainy Saturday I noticed a pile of cardboard boxes behind the Kitchen getting wet and started to move them to the nearby recycling shed. Part of my job is to pick up empty boxes, take them to the recycling shed, flatten them and bind them in bundles. Mine is defined as a five day a week job. Anyway, as I went to retrieve them I got stopped by a guard, Mr. Fenson I believe, for going out of bounds. I explained my “mission”. He said that I should not do this out of working hours although he could see it made common sense to do so. Henceforth I let weekend boxes get soggy.
The unit where one of my tablemates lives lost their fridge for two weeks when contraband, margarine and cheese slices, were found in it; an example of collective punishment. No food may be removed from the Kitchen. Everything served must be eaten there which means that people in the rear of the line up must gobble down everything quickly; nothing can be saved for later on. I once just managed to prevent my unit from losing their fridge when the guy I gave my diabetic snack sandwich to put in the fridge. I convinced Mr. Gamme that I had done it. At FRCC much could be and was saved for later on. Many inmates at Ford Mountain cook noodles, rice, Kraft dinners and other food they can buy through the canteen in the evenings. Many are perpetually hungry. They can buy and make coffee and tea, and milk and whitener, but they can't buy sugar out of concern for illegal brewing so there's a great incentive for them to sneak minipacks of sugar out of the Kitchen. Being the victim of pettiness, and stupidity can be punishment for those who don't adapt to it.
Punishment and Suffering
How do inmates suffer? Certainly not equally from the same sentence. I' m sure there's negative suffering in many cases. The amount or quantity of punishment that a sentence inflicts depends more on how it is taken, adapted to, or endured than it does on its duration and severity. Jail is a very hard experience for those who are depressed (more than usual) or who have trouble adapting. Adapting subverts the punitive side of incarceration and makes the job of the guards and administration easier. If we want to pursue equality of punishment for the same crime, we should to be fair, give the resilient, naturally cheerful, and also those who can obtain some martyrish or masochistic satisfaction from jail, much harsher penalties. Think of the shrinks it could employ!
Ah, but the punishment is not for the offender, but for the moral satisfaction of society, the jollies the Righteous receive from denunciation and closure. This is the payoff. I explored this theme in my recent transgressive novel, BLOOD & SEMEN where those judged guilty are turned over to afflicted ‘survivors' for bloody punishments. The public stoning of adulterers (by those offended by such behaviour) is one example. Punishments could also be for the victim, perhaps proportional to their suffering: Two eyes for one eye? Five years for each fondled breast? Where a child may conceivably have been traumatized no sentence is too harsh even if the boy really enjoyed the blowjobs at the time. Often in such cases it's the community's presumed sense of decency that has been violated, not the young ‘victim' which makes child sex crimes particularly heinous. It is commonly the case in non traditional crimes for penalties to be harsh to educate the public that these are indeed heinous crimes. How else would the public know, or be convinced? That is a big reason why heresy in theocracies and anti-state activities in totalitarian countries often meant death. It also helps explain the draconian penalties for child pornography in many American states. This is the proof of the evil of child pornography. Demonization is useful in promoting new crimes and for unprovoked attacks on countries. The problem was that almost all the material now deemed kiddieporn was commonly seen as merely ‘naughty' in most people's minds a few decades ago. How were people be persuaded that it is now a powerful Evil force endowed with mystical mindbending powers? Part of the reason is the severe penalties and the compliant minds which without thinking start filing things in different mental categories.
Sometimes I think inmates should suffer, or at least appear to for the moral satisfaction of the Righteous. The old Fijian I work with, Sidney, goes for his parole hearing next week. He had a problem with taking a program. He didn' t lack communication skills, he wasn' t a sex offender, a school dropout or a drug addict. He didn' t fit into the programs offered. He does, however, drink moderately I understand, and perhaps fortuitously he picked up an impaired driving charge some years ago. So he took the Substance Abuse Management program. He can see no relevance but he hopes it satisfies the parole board. I have studied two of the SAM program's workbooks, and it targets hard core junkies and crackies. I hope the situation is not as stupid as it sounds.
Sidney has worked in law offices for many years and has some smarts as well, and I suspect an innate deviousness. He, like others, anticipates the questions that members of the parole board will likely ask. I' ve heard a number. One possible question he's heard is how imprisonment has affected you, punished you. Has it made you aware and remorseful? The question of the benefits from participation in programs is separate. Sidney has suffered, he's a minor family patriarch and he misses his wife and children and phones them every evening. His grandson wants to know when he's going to come back from his business trip to Calgary.
Having seen things from below or inside, the legal judicial concepts of sentencing seem unreal. They only make sense in the context of their arbitrary assumptions which is the basis of popular and media wisdom. One of them is simply assuming that criminals are deviant. The other is that they share but reject their rationality. There are various ways of expressing it. I think it is probably accurate to say that no judge sentencing a man or woman to jail in Canada (or US/UK/AU) has ever experienced incarceration themselves. Unless pardoned they wouldn' t be eligible. Judges who gave flogging sentences were much more likely to have experienced that penalty, in school or the military for example, and be more realistic about its impact on offenders. Perhaps we should have inmates lecture judges on what the effects of incarceration are? Or hire a bunch of sociologists?
We could also ask victims how they expect offenders to suffer from incarceration. Most wouldn' t care although a few might prefer to offer juicy details. Would they be more understanding and kinder than our judges? Perhaps virtual games could be developed where victims could dismember their virtual assailants in three dimensional holography with realistic blood. Or maybe have randywhite type politicos give talks to the men in jail about what they expect from sentencing. "No more mollycoddling, no colour TV, no video games and no more teaspoonfuls of plum pudding with Christmas dinner." I never heard the latter but to the Righteous our job is to suffer. Mind you some would love to forgive us after we' re saved. It may be difficult to find the proper means of bringing inmates and their ideological enemies together. Prison policies are always confused and simplistic diatribes, we should keep it that way.
I wondered about the punishment of jail when a couple of new arrivals were welcomed at coffee break. It was like a homecoming. "Couldn' t stay away, eh?" It's no secret among the inmates that some men more of less deliberately return. Winter, when it's cold outside is a favourite time. They may hope after they' re busted, that they' ll soon end up at Ford Mountain where they feel comfortable. The attraction is more the ambience than any mollycoddling or luxuries in the sense that the randywhites of the world have railed against, such as colour TV. In fact I heard a tale that some years ago one jail felt obliged to replace their colour TVs with black and white models which even then cost more. The problem with making things harsher from an outside perspective is, one, the adaptability of the inmates, it's only as bad as you allow it to be, if you remain in good spirits and have the right attitude even restrictive regimes become tolerable.
The second is that in any prison situation hierarchies naturally develop, and one's place and advancement in the hierarchy has a great effect on one's overall satisfaction. This is probably truer in federal institutions with longer sentences and slower turnovers. Harsh regimes may encourage stronger hierarchies. Hierarchies under adverse conditions mean that some people win or prosper in their situation. Traditional crime repeaters or recidivists, the ones society may most want to reform, have considerable status in jail and generally high positions in the inmate hierarchy. I think jails would have to be a lot harsher to have much effect on discouraging people from using them. One inmate I met thought that periodic stints in jail helped people to live longer. And commit more crimes in total maybe? I wondered. I think this is true, and a valid function of our jails. We should treat ex-cons on the street decently.
Society should find ways to weaken the criminal culture even at the cost of appearing soft on crime. Jail can serve as a boozeless, relatively drugless, womanless, structured environment: An R&R facility of sorts for portions of the criminal underclass. Decriminalizing retailing and possession of all street drugs would be a good place to start. So many other things become possible.
I got into trouble and had to see the Senior Correctional Officer, SCO, which is a rotating position among senior guards. I discovered some small puffball mushrooms on the softball field, ate a few and showed them to a couple of others. If it were possible to fry them in butter they would be delicious but raw they're rather bland. I was warned that admin would not understand and I didn't bother picking any more. A few days later someone I'd told about them brought me a handful of little puffballs and I ate a few. While I was away from the shed one of the psychologists, Schimpf, on his way to give a SO Program noticed them near where I sit and expressed concern about them being poisonous. They were trashed. Later I was called to the SCO's office and warned. I explained that I know a bit about identifying mushrooms safe to eat and she seemed reassured. I get a note in my file but not otherwise penalized. She told me that magic mushrooms also grow in the camp, something I already knew, and that they could be a problem. I related my mushroom story to my preppy looking tablemate who'd had his own problems with admin being found to have pasted pictures to the wall of his room. I knew he was religious and fairly conservative but I was surprised how righteous he was about drugs. Mushrooms could lead to all sorts of problems he told me. He feels himself above most of the inmates who he describes as addicts. To change his direction I made my standard speech about tobacco in camp being as bad as hard drugs outside. He agreed and said he looked forward to tobacco being made illegal. I hardly ever meet anyone who strongly favours drug prohibition.
The administration sees mushrooms as a serious problem. The previous year they had the camp sprayed with a fungicide which I was told by a guard, "worked just fine". I don't know what fungicide was used but I tend to think of the paraquat scare in the late 1970's when the Americans sprayed Mexican marijuana fields with the herbicide Paraquat. Mexican growers would harvest their crops immediately before the plants withered and rush them to market. Paraquat damages the lungs and liver in particular, and has caused deaths. It is banned in the USA. Of course being poisoned by sophisticated modern chemicals is nothing compared to the evils of the weed. The Americans are totally unscrupulous when it comes to their War on Drugs. Anyway, when the mushroom season begins after the first good rains in the fall all “grassy areas” in the camp are placed out of bounds. Inmates caught picking mushrooms or apparently stoned on them are disciplined. They may lose part of their 1/3 remission time and be sent back to FRCC, a very heavy threat. Picking is a way that more audacious inmates can earn currency.
There are rumours that the administration considers mushrooms such a serious problem that smoking may be prohibited in the camp. This would be the cruelest possible punishment they could inflict on some here. The resentment would create more problems. The rationalization is that some inmates are picking mushrooms to trade for tobacco and that prohibiting smoking would remove an incentive to pick. It reminds me of one police argument against marijuana grow-ops, is that the product is traded with Americans for cocaine. There are many inmates, who only have their 10 to 15 dollars a week wages to spend on canteen, and a small red bale of tobacco is $13 and a large green bale is $18. I've heard boasts about making a green bale last a week. It had been many years since I'd done magic mushrooms. I bought some tobacco to trade for a hit, waited until a weekend, told no one, played with and enjoyed the visuals, and did some writing on my Pagunan ethnofiction.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of tobacco at Ford Mountain. I had stopped smoking some years before because of my health and felt no urge to start again. However in camp I was somewhat tempted for social reasons. Treating, sharing and lending smokes is probably the main social glue at Ford Mountain. Informal estimates suggest between 80 and 90 percent of inmates smoke, and I knew of few who didn't. Smoking is perhaps the best way to talk to and get to know other inmates. It is an excuse/reason for verbal intimacy of which there are few others. For offering, sharing, bumming smokes you have to go outside of the units to smoke. Two or more people share a purpose for a period. Smoking sounds real neat.
The nature of smoking has changed since its suppression. I can remember years ago smoking on buses, rear seats only, and in the smoking lodges of movie theatres. Smoking was not just cool, it was an intellectual drug which enhanced one's wit and self esteem. The latter quality was most effective with only occasional use. Others have noticed how smoking now forms sub groups; those who hang around the “smoke pits” of high schools or huddle outside the side entrances of office buildings. It creates a certain cohesiveness which did not exist around smokers before. With no health concerns I would have gladly joined in.
Contraband is another concern of administration. One guard told me that according to the regulations anything not issued to inmates is contraband, and they could be charged. As a technical example he used a snowball. This is tough talk that they will back up if put on the spot. Food from the Kitchen is contraband. Inmates leaving after a meal are sometimes searched for apples and sugar, jam and peanut butter mini-packs. They are usually let off if they own up when questioned. Staff butts are contraband and inmates hovering around the patio at the rear of admin waiting for the staff to discard their cigarette butts have led to reminders that the area is out of bounds. I, as chief ashtray emptier, can pick them up as part of my rounds, although I never find anything worthwhile by the time I get there. The patio is close to the recycling shed and when some nicotine junkie seeing a guard or one of the women in the office put out a cigarette, he will implore me to go pick it up for him. I usually did but once he became slightly irate when I refused.
We had a little excitement when an inmate tried to escape. He climbed into one of the big palette boxes containing chipped plastic from the recycling operation here. About two dozen boxes are sent out at a time. One person said he was caught by a surveillance camera while others said the fork lift driver noticed him while loading the box on the truck. He will be sent back to Fraser Regional, FRCC, probably put in the “hole” for a while and will have his sentence extended. I found out that I know him having had a long conversation with him a few days earlier. He worked at the plastic shed and told me about the operation and the quantities they processed. He was an intelligent middle aged man and I had hoped we could be friends. I heard later that someone had informed on him. You don't know what to believe in jail.
There was an actual escape several months later. A special parade and roll call was held one afternoon and we all had to wait in our lines for what seemed like hours while the camp was thoroughly searched. Two young inmates had made it over the double fence by putting together a makeshift ladder using tools from the Hobby Shop. They had no outside help and two days later they were found by a helicopter on a logging road up a nearby mountain. They were cold and hungry and ready to give up.
The Hobby Shop became the center of my non-work life at Ford Mountain. The shop included all the basic woodworking equipment including an excellent table saw, a planer and a lathe. Aside from a pricy commercial do-it-yourself shop it was the best facility I ever had access to. I made several jewelry boxes, three pieces of furniture, carved eighteen masks and turned as many maple bowls for gifts as well a number of projects for the camp and the Native Brotherhood.
I was quite impressed by some of the projects of other inmates. They ranged from large wardrobes, heavy Harley Davidson style tables, rocking horses to fine cigarette cases with sliding tops made out of exotic woods which were the most popular project. Some inmates make things to sell, mostly to other inmates. Prices, often expressed in terms of rollies or bales were very low. For some, woodworking is a time passer, and for me an excellent one. One older guy, a gnome-like frequent returner, made beautiful miniatures of fire engines, antique cars and other mechanical things out of various kinds of wood which he finished naturally. When he was discharged he sold his work to another inmate for very little. Prices are generally very low in the jail economy. Wages, often for fairly heavy or semi-skilled labour, are from 2 to 3 dollars for a five hour day. This excludes the “free” room, board, clothing and medical. Canteen prices are a bit higher than outside and phone calls given Telus's monopoly are outrageous.
Not quite half way through my sentence I got myself transferred to Hobby Shop which gave me more time to work on my own projects, not strictly allowed but something all the other Hobby Shop workers did. Most of my time was working on camp construction projects and making drum frames and feather boxes for the Native Brotherhood. Twice I had run ins with a guard and was banned from the shop ending up working in the recycling shed again near the end.
Ford Mountain has an economy of its own, it is a work camp and working is part of the overall program for inmates. It is a highly subsidized economy but an economy nevertheless. It has industries: There's a sawmill which uses logs from the surrounding area although at the time I was there I do not think the inmates did any logging but this may have happened in the past. Some lumber is used for camp construction and projects, and some, I am not sure how much, is sold. There's a plastics recycling (chipping) plant which may be the most important money earner; There's a firewood operation mainly to serve Provincial Government campsites and there is also contract bucking and splitting of hardwood logs for private fireplace fuel companies. A small stone cutting operation making decorative tiles closed while I was there. The kitchen does some catering, or at least food preparation and cooking for outside events. In the past the camp also produced a small amount of food for its own consumption. Outside the double fence there's a small barn now used for storage. The camp's economy is a command economy, decisions are centralized and bureaucratized. It is like the descriptions of the old Soviet Bloc countries. Efficiency and profit is not the criterion. Like the former Soviet countries corruption, or rule bending allows the system to work as well as it does. Security is the equivalent to an ideology in that all things must be rationalized in terms of it. It leads to silly situations. I made a large pine toy box, and while I can buy urethane to finish it with, I can not buy thinner which is recommended for cutting the first coat and clean up. Presumably there is some dubious use it might be used for. Another example is coffee, we can buy ground coffee by the pound but not paper coffee filters and must use cloth or socks instead. Hobby projects can only be given away, sold or taken home if the inmate can show that he paid for the materials. This has some logic, but materials may be acquired through trade or gift. Not long after I arrived here I “bought” a very simple carving from a young Native inmate for a small bale of tobacco which I purchased from the canteen. It is made of red cedar which for I cannot get a receipt. I may not be able to take it with me when I leave. He was criticized for having dealings with me and avoided me after.
There is a large native population here, at least 30% offhand. I can remember reading about how they are over-represented and that this represents discrimination and an injustice. Think of the current fuss about racial profiling, the latest anti-racist twist. Racial profiling is probably unavoidable. I know that I am hardly typical but I have only met a few Native people in recent years, and several were young men dying of AIDS. Aside from some low end bars, the beer parlors I used to frequent, I have noticed very little fraternizing between whites and Indians. By the way I do not think that Indian is a pejorative word. Here things are different, I am becoming jail friends with a few. One is the guy in charge of the tool room who knows a lot about fixing things and woodwork, I seek his advice and he's fun to be around. He fixed my glasses for a small bale: I didn't know better at the time. The Brotherhood which is not exclusively Native, is an important inmate organization. They hold sweats on Saturday mornings. I was invited but never took part. I have not noticed any friction between natives and others and Ford Mountain at least would seem to foster fraternization.
I read a lot of books in jail, far more than I usually read outside, and I read books that I usually wouldn't bother with due to the limited selection in the Library.
I read vampire and western novels, biographies of people I'd barely heard of. I also discover some beautiful literature such as Thomas Tryon's Night of the Moonbow. The library operates on a simple honour system. You just take out the books you want and bring them back when you feel like it. The material keeps changing. The books are donations although few are allowed to donate. Christian groups supply many. There seems to a whole genre of books about criminals, mostly hard core, who find Christ in jail and turn their lives around and subsequently help others. Quite a few books came from a prison in Walla Walla Washington including a twelve hundred page historical novel about the American Civil War that I wished were longer.
I found out early on that you couldn't have books sent to you, apparently over concern of smuggling contraband. I was told that in the past it was possible to have books sent directly from the publisher but as most no longer sell books directly this is impractical. I wanted to read Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish. I knew about it vaguely having come across an interesting review many years ago. I was impressed by his History of Sexuality, which I read many years ago. I tried to have a friend donate Discipline and Punish to the jail library — couldn't be done. I talked to Director MacIntyre about it twice. At first he thought it might be porn but finally he arranged for guard to buy it at a Chilliwack bookstore and deduct the cost from my canteen account.
The book is difficult going but rewarding. I was surprised to learn about the sudden appearance and acceptance of the prison system, complete with issues, criticisms and proposed reforms, all within a short period about two centuries ago. There has been surprisingly little change since. Prisons in France were not part of the revolutionary debate, were not proposed as a reform, and can barely be said to have evolved. Once states abandoned torture, maiming and death as common penalties there was no alternative. From the beginning prisons had problems which drew attention and funding and thereby ensured their success.
Foucault spends some time on theories of punishment, and chronicles ideological and utopian concepts of public executions, offences against the prince and how things changed. While long sections of his book are skippable others are heavy and rich. The last chain gang from Paris to the coastal prison ships in 1836 he describes as a festival and theatre performed by convicts.
It is depressing to read accounts of familiar contemporary debate with the same points and attitudes as those that took place in the distant past as if nothing has changed — or can change. At the end of progress there are only competing values. Foucault's accounts of the reforms of the 17 and 1800's suggest that judicial thinking was more sophisticated then than now. Of course there is what we now “take for granted” but in doing so may cease to appreciate it. The rants of the Randy Whites and the “Reform” minded that all parties often seem to endorse and call for a return of past abuses suggesting a lack of understanding..
Reading Solzhenitsyn's descriptions of prison camps in Cancer Ward, I can understand some of his points acutely: The lack of darkness; Ford Mountain was brightly lit at night and you could never get a good look at the brilliant winter stars. I followed the Moon and Venus and got to know where to look for them. He mentioned that. His harshest criticism was for the common criminals, those we could call “skinhead punks” in the derogatory sense of the term. He had a conservative's disdain for riff raff. He seemed to hate them more than the administration. A camp is a camp, although mine was much nicer. The administration, if not all their fears and rules, was reasonable at Ford Mountain. Staff may encounter ex-inmates on the street which a reason to be reasonable.
When I finished Discipline and Punish, I had a better idea of the penitentiary (I had too simplistically connected it to penitence), and how the system of discipline it entails has spread well beyond prisons, and rather than punishing offences it seeks to redefine a wide range of behaviour as delinquent, in effect creating it, and treating it. This happens through the continuous extension of criminal law to more and more actions. I couldn't agree with him more.
In Cancer Ward Solzhenitsyn describes his stay in hospital after being released from a prison camp. I can relate to some of his descriptions of prison camps. The lack of darkness; the camp was brightly lit at night and you can't ever get a good look at the brilliant winter stars. I followed the Moon and Venus and got to know where to look for them. His harshest criticism was for the common criminals, those we could call punks in the derogatory sense of the term. He had a conservative's disdain for riff raff. He seemed to hate them more than the administration. A camp is a camp, although his was hell compared to mine. The administration, if not all their fears and rules, was reasonable at Ford Mountain.
Perhaps for the violently righteous and morally outraged the incarceration of offenders may provide a substitute for the bloody spectacles of executions in times past. Some become vigilantes and become famous and hated. The Righteous must believe that inmates suffer, that they are paying some price for their crimes. It's all about jollies.
I also read Justice Denied about the Donald Marshall case. He had been sentenced to life for murder and had spent eleven years in jail before his appeal went forward. He was on parole at the time and would have been released years earlier if he had pleaded guilty or subsequently admitted his guilt. I was told by more than one inmate that I would have been out in eight to nine months if I had been in the federal system. Marshall was given compensation, and the guy who actually killed the victim eventually got one year for manslaughter, which wasn't as out of line as it might seem. The real culprits, the detectives who pressured the young witnesses to perjure themselves, got off scot free as usual. Our media, courts and politicians provide the police with near immunity for crimes they commit in pursuit of convictions.
Programs and Parole
The thing with parole and programs is that they assume recent offending and ongoing problems. Neither relates to historic offences. How do you provide a program to treat an alcoholic who hasn't had a drink in twenty years? For early parole, parole boards insist that you prepare a Release Plan which "allows you gradual re-entry into the community". It assumes that there is some problem that makes re-entry a concern. It is a first step in your "managed return to the community." It is as if you cannot get day parole unless you have an ongoing problem that you dealing with such as substance abuse, or anger or impulsiveness problems. It would seem that day parole could be denied because the inmate lacks a problem which makes his return to the community problematic.
Today I attended my first session of 'my' Sex Offender Awareness Program, or SOAP. Dr. David Foreman told us the program would explore legal and cultural issues surrounding sex offences and consent, and that it is designed for those who do not accept their guilt. There is however a presumption of some sort of culpability. The other participant is a young guy I'd already met, Brad. His girlfriend is expecting his baby around the end of the year. I know little about his offence except that it involved a sixteen year old girl and that he was apparently set up by a jealous ex. He is horrified about being labelled a sex offender. I can't think of why he is here. It isn't doing him any good, he should just be closely watched. He says he didn't have sex with the girl and he is appealing his sentence. I thought he should appeal the verdict. I found him plausible but not very articulate. He sometimes speaks up and seems to adhere to a fairly conventional, somewhat macho, sexual morality. Brad avoided me after he found out who I was.
Dr. Foreman, is knowledgeable and bright, but a bit of a motor mouth. Today he led us in a discussion of the wrongness of child sex abuse. He tends to present it as a universal and absolute thing at the core - as a moral truth. I tried to make some ethnological points but he is very conventional and Eurocentric in his thinking.
The weekly sessions lasted two hours and each supposedly had a specific topic. We were soon joined by a laconic middle aged Native man who had apparently gone too far with a woman he picked up in a bar. He simply denied that he had forced himself on the woman. Foreman tried to get him to contribute to the discussion with little success.
Near the beginning of a session I usually bring up some absurdity I've come across in the press, things like wanting to prevent children under 18 from attending movies where the actors smoke cigarettes. (Apparently they have some sort of study to back up the idea, and want the government to take over the role of art overseers.) Or not allowing people to take pictures of their children in playgrounds or at swimming pools in case they get into the hands of pedophiles. Foreman agrees that things can be taken to the extreme but I sometimes push him to the point where he falls back on his authority. I pursue 'gray areas'; I prevent the group moving on.
Foreman is a reasonable man. However, I cannot see how his program can benefit anyone except himself. Having a general idea of professional charges my therapy was very expensive for the taxpayer, and only mildly entertaining for me. Well, it's possible that some really clueless people who lack common understanding could benefit, but then what they mainly need is social skills, not his lectures. What those 'in denial' really need is legal knowledge.
Today, this morning, I got called into Dr. Schimpf's office. He gives the regular Sex Offender Program, or SOP. He told me that what I had said about having sex with the complainant was enough to get me into his program. He was like a merchant offering a cut price. It seemed to be a reversal of the benefit of a reasonable doubt principle. He would give me the benefit of being culpable without me admitting my guilt. I told him that I had been truthful at trial, and did not think I was guilty. I said that the truth may not have been a good idea.
He went on to imply that for an older person to have sex with someone under 18 was an offence. This must have been his morality, as it is not specifically so in the law. For someone my age, he postulated that a partner of 30 or 40 might be too young. He advised me that I should choose older partners. I was shocked, and amused. His personal morality and the law seemed confused, or maybe not. He felt my parole chances were poor in any case. One reason he offered was because I was a high profile case, which seemed to suggest that he felt the parole board was influenced by political considerations. He also felt that was part of the reason, along with my not guilty plea, for receiving a long sentence. Nine months was common in cases like mine, he informed me. He readily admitted that there is an "element of extortion, in the system". Like Weibe and Grypuick, the parole coordinator, he minimized the historic nature of my alleged offence.
Dr. Schimpf expressed things very simply. Programs are necessary for parole. Presumably they make a big difference. The Parole Board puts a great deal of importance on programs. Do they have a high rate of success? Would it be possible to determine this? He ignored my questions. Programs that can be tied into the offence are all but compulsory. If an inmate does not take programs he does not get his full good time remission. He loses one third of the 15 days a month he usually earns. A double-blind test anyone?
An offence is an offence and the best policy is to play it safe. I got the impression that he sees things without subtleties much like Dr. Foreman. My appeal was clearly prejudicial. Schimpf indicated I should drop it if I wanted to be in his program. Still making his pitch he told me that it's a twelve week course on Monday's, initially just the afternoon, but later, all day. He almost sounded tempting when he mentioned that it would be warm and dry, and maybe I could have fun in the discussions. Actually I had been getting tired on the job lately because I'd been taking over some of the renovation work on the recycling shed as the carpenter had been recently released. Again he mentioned that a new SOP was starting soon, but that if I were interested in taking it I would have to abandon my appeal. I declined and he pointed out that I would be here for a long time and should maybe take it next time.
I suggested that he was in the business of selling indulgences. He said he wouldn't put that on his card, and equated what he did to the issuing of licenses for people to drive cars. He confided to me that he sometimes sped. But when he was caught he would admit it, implying that because I testified I had sex with a young person whom I wasn't sure was over 14, I should have admitted my offence. I should give the Crown the benefit of doubt? He compared driving mountain roads and how he used to push the limits, to me having sex with young partners.
Soon after I arrived at FRCC in July 2004, the classification officer told me I could get day parole as early as November 17th, in four months time. He showed me a chart which suggested the possibility. This was bullshit, it was a theoretical calculation, and unless the officer was horribly naïve his words were perhaps made to give me a false sense of hope, but then he probably tells most inmates the same thing. Partly to find out more I have decided to apply for early parole, what they call day parole, anyway. Nobody thinks I have a chance.
The camp official in charge of parole applications was Mr. Grypuik, a veteran of many years in the correctional services. He told me that parole was premature, I've not completed any programs and the 'denial' program would not impress the parole board. I tried to explain my case, that I would be unlikely to re-offend as I was seventy one. When I mentioned that the alleged offence was over twenty years, Grypuik replied that it would be a new offence for the victim when he came forward, so it did not matter if it happened many years ago. On the basis of his argument one could argue that historic offenses should be double offenses. I would like to think that people like Mr. Grypuik are merely hypercynical but I suspect the opposite may be true.
Many inmates have no interest in parole; it isn't worth it. Parole lasts until the end of one's sentence. An inmate sentenced to a deuce will typically be out in sixteen months, likely with no conditions or reporting. Another inmate also serving a deuce who gets parole after nine months will be under supervision until the end of his two year, 24 month sentence. This may seriously affect his life style in terms of associates, residency and other conditions imposed such as remaining sober. In addition if he does violate his terms of probation, found drinking for example, he may have to return to jail to finish his full sentence. Most inmates want to be free when they are out. A few inmates may not want to indulge in the hypocritical bullshit involved in applying for parole. I don't regret my attempt at early parole but I had no intention of trying again.
Inmates tell me that sex offenders don't get parole, period. Some have been here for a year, and two years less a day, sixteen months with standard remission, is the maximum provincial sentence. I am also told that regardless of the offense, those who plead not guilty and show no remorse, do not get parole. I am still appealing my conviction. I am told that you have to complete programs (substance abuse, schooling, respectful relations, sex offender programs) to be eligible for parole. I am taking a Sex Offender Awareness Program, SOAP, for those who deny the guilt which even the psychologist giving it, Dr. Foreman, says it's of little value for parole. I feel the program is of little relevancy to any of the participants, anyway. I read the parole guidelines and believed that objectively I qualified. I was certainly not optimistic, but I thought it will be an interesting learning experience. It is, as they say: Interpretation is everything.
The parole requirements are set out in the context of a typical offender who is trying to rehabilitate himself. The offence is recent, he has ongoing problems he has to deal with, he is vulnerable to bad influences, he is struggling and the parole conditions are intended to prepare him and ease him back into the community. This had nothing to do with my situation, but I had to pre-arrange a place to rent with no children around and jump through other hoops to apply. I found some consolation in that I could argue that the lack of risk and re-entry problems should not be seen as an obstacle to parole. Kafka anyone?
My early parole application went ahead despite the discouragement of my case manager, Mr. Engh, and Mr. Grypuik. They believed, and each claims thirty years experience, that the parole board would not grant parole to anyone, especially a sex offender, who denies his guilt. They feel I am automatically disqualified. They may be right , but nowhere in the manual I was given, or the regulations is there any suggestion of this. I would have to change my approach if I was to have any chance of success, but they stop short of advising me to lie. I intend to play it candidly, to be upfront with them. They cannot expect that the hoops they set for typical, problem plagued, recent offenders are just as relevant for historic offences. Supposedly their primary concern is protection of the public and confidence in my being a law abiding citizen. I suppose my attempt is another test case I can entertain myself with. Mr. Engh berated me for applying, saying I could be denying others with better chances of success from applying, as they could only handle so many applications.
The parole board has to give reasons for refusal. Perhaps they will say that I have not benefited from the 'deniers' program I was directed to. Recent improvement is something they look for, but I have not recently changed or reformed in relation to an offence allegedly occurring over twenty years ago. And my appeal, I am not ready to be resigned to my time here, in fact less so than when the experience was novel. It is beyond absurdity,
I was given the opportunity to examine in Mr. Grypuik's office, the reports and documents that go to the parole board for my hearing on Wednesday. He is the parole board coordinator. The judge's sentencing statement was the most interesting. It gives what he believes the jury found. He states that, "It is implicit from the verdict of the jury that the jury found the Crown had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the sex acts occurred before the complainant was age 14." In other words they could be selective about what they chose to believe. As I recall the Crown Counsel did not specifically put the question of age 14 to the jury. Mr. Poll only said that the jury did not have to believe the tale of how we met. The judge may have repeated this in his instructions to the jury. He also states that I was a surrogate father, or at least big brother, the position of trust angle. This is also a basis for conviction. One of the reports had me listed as a "violent" offender. I asked Mr. Grypuik about that, and he simply stated that sex offenders are regarded as violent. What about voyeurs? I asked. Yes, he replied, they are violent because they assault people's privacy. Violence also includes words, verbal violence. I recall when I was writing my A PERSONAL ACCOUNT, I discussed a case where a judge read violence into sexual assault regardless of the circumstances. It was a well known case and I'm not positive but I think the judge was Rosalie Abella, the woman recently appointed to the Supreme Court. Mr. Grypuik is the most mealy mouthed person I've met in the correctional system. He reminds me of the KGB guy in Solzhenitsyn's novel, CANCER WARD that I'm reading, and he has the voice and appearance to go with it. He argued that I was at risk to re-offend because I had a high profile, and also a moderate escape risk for the same reason. In my condition? I'd have to have a gun to try. What I didn't know at the time was that he had a STATIC-99 rating that Mr. Weibe had prepared from my records and the admission interview he had with me where I was quite candid, but polite.
Recently (2008) I looked up STATIC-99, 'an actuarial risk prediction instrument', which supposedly predicts recidivism in sex offenders. It was developed by the Correctional Directorate of the Department of the Solicitor General Canada, and is also widely used in other countries. One of the authors had previously concluded that the opinion of experts was no better than chance in predicting recidivism. This may simply be due to the fact that chance avoids the charms of psychopaths who may con psychoforensic professionals.
A study involving prisoners convicted of sex offences in Pentanguishene, Ontario found an astonishing direct correlation between success in therapy and recidivism. This embarrassing result was explained by charming psychopaths who misled their therapists. I'm sure the psychopaths all drooled remorse, probably in considerable graphic detail, and shared the profound insights they had gained from their proud therapists. The same research group in a study headed by the renowned Dr. William Marshall affirmed the staunch moral fiber of the heroic Canada Customs officers who must spend many hours looking at dirty pictures and reading possibly pornographic text. He was impressed; the same material presumably caused others to offend, and incidentally helped provide him with a supply of subjects for his research. Lesser men, and women, would no doubt be traumatized, suffer moral breakdown, or rape their neighbour's daughter, or pat a boy's bum.
Mr. Weibe applying the STATIC-99 risk prediction instrument came up with a medium to high risk to re-offend, 26% within five years. When I looked at the schedule he would have filled in it was clear why I was rated as a medium-high risk. Age is only considered if the offender is under 25 which is a risk point. Being over seventy was irrelevant. Time since the offence is also irrelevant, again in part because the typical offender is young. STATIC-99 was designed for them. The fact that I had said that I didn't find the sex offender awareness program helpful, was noted in a couple of reports. I obviously said the wrong thing if I wanted parole. I was only half serious if that. Dr. Foreman did however qualify the STAT-99 assessment because of my age and other factors, and stated that risk was negligible
STATIC-99 is a simple schedule designed for parole, probation and police officers to use in making decisions about offenders. It is essentially a yes/no check list of ten factors including whether the offender is over 25, ever been in a conjugal relationship for over two years, having a criminal history including charges and acquittals, and whether victim was related and male. It does not require interviews with the offenders, I have also heard that some versions may include such things as a deviant lifestyle, deviant sexual preference, and attitudes legitimizing offending, but could find no evidence.
The authors admit only 'moderate' predictive accuracy and that it does not address all risk factors. Others may be considered but should not be added to STATIC-99 as this they say would reduce predictive accuracy. Clinical input apparently does not improve accuracy, and there is some debate about its value within the psychoforensic community.
STATIC-99 which only concerns itself with the risk of recidivism favours incest offenders who are always related to their 'victims' who are overwhelmingly female, and works against the young and those men who whose offenses involve casual sex with boys. This is true as far as it goes. Common sense will tell you that a man convicted of raping his daughter is far less likely to be convicted again - he won't have the opportunity - than one who has sex with willing street boys. Same sex individuals tend to be more promiscuous in any case. The use of STATIC-99 obscures the differences in the seriousness of the offenses. Murderers are much less likely to repeat their crime than those who are convicted of assault or drug trafficking. Should they therefore be considered more eligible for parole?
My moderate to high rating prepared by Mr. Weibe was, I believe, a result of my 'victim' being unrelated and male, and my previous pot and porn convictions. I don't think the correctional services attract the brightest of his profession and schedules make such jobs easier. I shouldn't be nasty, he was merely very conventional and by the book. Actually though the STATIC-99 rating is correct, I will certain commit pot offences in the future and be in possession of some juicy child pornography, at least in my mind. Interestingly, one of the authors has recently acknowledged that STATIC-99 is not predictive for advanced age offenders.
Grypuik argued that my high profile was a reason for not granting me parole. He mentioned the media and the public. It seemed to be an overtly political argument. When I questioned him he said all sex offences are high profile. I didn't know what to make of that.
When I had my parole hearing in mid December 2004 I was not surprised to have my application turned down. The members were Mary Bruce, a blond woman about 40, and Kirk Griffiths who had a background in the criminal justice system. After reading me their refusal they informed me that I am a danger to the public simply because I am an untreated sex offender. Such faith in treatment! Being an 'untreated sex offender' means they would become wholly responsible for any re-offending I might do. They couldn't excuse themselves by saying, 'well he was treated', and pass the buck to the therapists. It was all risk aversion and protecting thior own asses. One thing they told me was that they relied on was the STATIC-99 risk assessment instrument which put me in the 'Moderate-High' risk to re-offend category. They said it was scientific and had a very high predictive value. They did not give much weight to the qualifications offered by Dr. Foreman based on my advanced age and the length of time since the alleged offense was committed. I had heard about STATIC-99 from an academic acquaintance but knew little about it at the time.
Not long after my parole application was rejected I found myself talking to my case manager Mr. Engh who had been sort of an invisible man. It was only after I'd been at Ford Mountain for months did I find out that I had a case manager although I must have met him. A neighbour explained that my case manager was a guard who was supposed to look after my interests and added that they had a reputation as naggers. Mr. Engh was a glum cheerless man who often appeared self involved. After a couple of months seeing him occasionally I concluded that he suffered from depression. He was quite emphatic in saying I should take the SAM program to have something to show the parole board next time. I swallowed my pride, if not my integrity and agreed to take a SAM program. Mr. Engh said he covers a lot of areas. I'm not sure what that means but it is something to do. I have been a bit of a loner and might get to know some inmates better. I tried to argue that I didn't have a substance abuse problem; I hadn't done much drinking for years and that it was a regular Friday night social thing. Mr. Engh said the fact I used to drink more could be taken into consideration. And marijuana, I had a cultivation conviction and had admitted to still smoking pot. That was sufficient in itself.
The instructor was a very reasonable older guard named Mr. Fenson and not Mr. Engh. Mr. Fenson has been in corrections for 26 years and giving the program for the last two which suggests that giving programs is sort of a perk. We started with a game where each inmate in turn made three statements, two which were true and one a lie. Interesting. The statements seemed to indicate that the other members were earnest. We also made anonymous comments on paper about our expectations and concerns. I was quite negative. I told myself that I could write about the program later to make it more interesting. I didn't really. Near the beginning Mr. Fenson told an anecdote about a guy who took the SAM program eight times before it got through to him. He says he was listening to recordings of inmate phone calls one night shift and this guy was telling his wife that he finally figured out why he drank. Apparently he sobered up for good. Of the twelve in the Substance Abuse Management group six have done the course previously. One of my tablemates in another group is doing it for the seventh time. He claims it is a good program.
The instructors realistically take a harm reduction rather than an abstinence approach. I had gone through discarded SAM workbooks when I worked at the recycling shed and had a good idea what to expect. The men in the course seemed to enjoy the program. For most of us it meant paid time off from our work duties, something very appreciated on rainy days. Some of the veterans recounted tales of excess from their past and were quite entertaining. They knew the course and brought up things from previous times they had taken it. There were interesting comments about the things that triggered their relapse into addiction. Some said that while they had a better understanding of their substance abuse it didn't really help much when they encountered old friends. It was still a good program they maintained. I don't think they were being cynical. I completed the SAM program in due course and Mr. Fenson gave me a certificate saying I had completed the program. I was reminded of the old joke about the guy who was released from a mental institute and had his discharge certificate. He claimed he was the only one around who could prove he was sane.
I had heard stories and jokes about things that can happen to sex offenders in jail, especially 'skinners', those convicted of offenses against children. Early on I had been exposed to the venomous taunts and rage of two punk toughs when I was being transported in a sheriffs wagon. I was glad of the heavy metal grill separating us. Years ago a close friend in a similar situation was viciously beaten with chains and thought he would be killed. He has scars on his scalp. I always felt a bit uneasy the times I was at Fraser Regional but I usually felt fairly secure at Ford Mountain. Not long after I arrived I was approached by this guy who told me that if anyone bothered me to see him. Later I heard that someone who had been hassling sex offenders had been given a beating by inmates who disapprove of such things. About half the inmates and most of the older ones and those with longer sentences were in for sex offenses. In most cases inmates may be ignorant of what you are in for, there's a lot of bullshit dished out, but everyone knew about my crimes, and once again my picture was in the newspapers the day I arrived at Ford Mountain.
I did however get harassed a number of times by other inmates. Occasionally I heard, was meant to overhear, comments by inmates expressing their outrage at people like me. Once I was sitting in the unit lounge along with two others. One of them had a newspaper in his hand and pretending to read from it said aloud to the other, "It says there's this old guy who sexually assaulted an eleven year old boy. Can you imagine anything that sick? And it says he's here at Ford Mountain." I said that was very interesting and could I read it. He made an excuse not to let me see the paper. There was of course no such article. A similar incident occurred a few months later with a career inmate reading aloud an imaginary incident and expressing his disgust. It may be an old tactic to use on SO's.
The harassment continues but bothers me less. I get some support when I berate those who bug me. Some of the worst are MDO's, Mentally Disordered Offenders, and they are very childish. One morning I had floor sweepings pushed in my room by this big husky oaf Parker. He also shouted at me while I was on the phone saying I had talked while he was using it earlier. In a different mood he would come my room to beg chocolate bars and hot chocolate. While I could counter his verbal abuse he was aggressive and a bit erratic, and I wanted to avoid violence. He wasn't particularly liked by anyone and harassing me may have been a play for status. The worst thing he did was slashing my laundry, my prison reds and bedsheets. After I took it out of the dryer and came back to my room I, door open, went through my laundry finding that every single piece had been slashed. Three guards doing a count came by and stood in the doorway. I was angry and let them know but didn't mention my suspicions. They said that they would see that I got new clothes in the morning. They contacted the Bubble, and said that they would go through the surveillance for the previous hour to see who had entered the laundry room. I never heard anything back.
A unit meeting was called. They are rare but it was the second one today, the first was to choose a new unit rep which was the first time I'd known anyone to be consulted. I thought the guards just appointed them. Some guys felt that I should not have told the guards and I was asked if I wanted to move. I recognized the intimidation but said 'no'. The suspect called me a "Rat". There were those who were vigorously defending me including the born again Christian. I was upset by the incident. Usually I was pretty good at sloughing off things and getting involved some work projects or reading, but it was difficult to deal with this irrational, vicious hatred that self justifies any nasty action.
Things came to a head a few days later in the Kitchen. Someone behind me in the dining hall had been sporadically throwing food at me. This day it was sausages and one was wedged between my back and the chair and another landed on my tray. I put one in the empty space beside me and an inmate who'd hassled me making some comment so I said to effect that the sausage was about his size, which brought a few chuckles. Then a few veggies landed on the table and I flicked off a green bean which landed on a nearby table. The guy across the aisle became loudly indignant, "You better not flick that at me" I got up and stood over him and asked where he was coming from. It was quite a scene and a guard came over. He asked to see me after and I explained what had been happening over the last few weeks. The guard, the senior one on duty asked me for names and said they would ship the ones that were hassling me. I didn't know the names of the worst and he said he would keep an eye on things. Their stated policy is to ship any inmates who give others a bad time. I do not think it is a firm policy. As it turned out the instigator and the guy who pushed me down were released the next day.
I had thought that with the previous incidents and the two being released that things would quieten down but the taunting continued. Confronting them doesn't seem to do any good. The harassers are almost always in groups and laugh when I do, and call and spit after me when I turn to leave. One cold day in the coffee line up I was hit with a snowball and a plastic mug. I couldn't see who threw them although there were maybe sixty around at the time in the quad between the admin and the Kitchen. At lunch people were throwing food at me again, and for a while a guard was stationed at the back of the hall and it stopped. At roll call after, on my way a group sitting on the porch of the Sheen Shop made chicken sounds. I turned and asked who was the wise guy. They laughed. One was an older guy, sort of a friend although he wouldn't have been involved. A friend has advised me to report the men to the guards. They would likely be shipped to Fraser or so I thought. One problem is that I don't know their names, and could identity only a few of them. Being falsely accused myself, I don't like risking doing the same to others. I have gotten to the point where I may take further action. Twice I have put myself in others faces and it has had some effect.
There was one guy in his early thirties who I met when I first came here and regarded as a friend. He likes to fool around, teasing, horseplay and painting your clothes. My boots have green toes and my jacket has stripes and his palm print. I went along and was glad of the acceptance it showed. He even said I was a good sport. But he has no idea of when to stop and did not like it when I said that enough was enough. At one point he started teasing me about a tick I have where I move my neck like my collar was uncomfortable - in fact that may trigger it. He would make chicken sounds as he saw my movements as like those of a chicken. I explained that I had this tic since I was a kid and that there was nothing I could do about it. He kept it up going, "Puk puk puk caw" all the time when he would see me and in the line for coffee and meals. A couple of das ago I confronted him, and he told me to fuck off and said he didn't believe in punching out an old man. Others began doing the same thing. Today a bunch of guys including some tough types began doing the same thing in the coffee line up. Later in the Hobby Shop where I work he started in again and I confronted him. I asked him what he had against me. He replied nothing. Yesterday I suggested he could have a hilarious time making fun of crippled children and the blind. Today he started in again and again I confronted him. He pushed me knocking me over and said that if I didn't leave him alone he would flip out. Two others were present but pretended not to see anything. I wasn't hurt and half an hour later he returned and said he was sorry. I assume someone must have talked to him. He said he would stop baiting me and we shook hands. I hope that's the end of it but tonight he's baiting a Native guy who's chanting in his room.
While more bullying than the usual harassment, I got bumped from my place in the telephone line up one time. When I protested the guy said, "My muscles are bigger than yours."
I was a lot more open to knowing new people in jail than I am outside. One was a young Middle Eastern guy who told me that he had converted from Islam to Christianity. He was proudly 'born again'. In the common area he read me the first Chapter of Matthew and we discussed a few questions. I agreed to do some reading. It was the first time that I had read much of the BIBLE since my teens. For a while then I would read a chapter as penance for each time I masturbated, but I got so far behind I gave up. I am now at Chapter 18 and realize that Matthew contains many of the most familiar fundamentalist quotations from the BIBLE. Chapter 18 notably, Verse 6 contains the seed of much contemporary child abuse concern. The well known: “better for him a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” is there. It is not harming any child but, “But whoever causes of their little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would better a millstone etc.” It goes on to plucking out the offending eyes. But it's not all children, just the ones who believe in Him. Some people's faith is frightening. One answer fits all. After I finished Matthew I read the Book of Job: Ah, the games God plays. Although I like talking with Christians, I don't think I'll read any more of the BIBLE for a while. The nastiness and the intolerance of the Religious Right is all expressly laid out in the Gospels. The point is that this attitude permeates other aspects of life as well. The newspapers gave some prominence to a Conservative MP advocating a minimum 2 year sentence for possession of child pornography. What must his concept of the power and menace of child porn be? A type of radioactivity that corrupts the mind? The paper put it very uncritically. The same type of fundamentalist thinking or attitude or simply faith of some sort is there. A simple requirement of hard evidence, not moral posturing would save us from creating the worst laws. If there was at least some statistical evidence that child porn was harmful to those who use it, more harmful than masturbation say, it would be possible to rationally debate the subject. However as long as the evidence against it is testimonies of moral outrage, often by stakeholders in its prohibition, nothing can be done. Reason doesn't have a chance against aroused Faith. Sometimes it seems we have lost the ability to ask the basic questions. Perhaps most don't dare.
I feel that I have been marking time for ten years. I feel that I have been losing creativity, that my mind is not as clever, as original as it used to be. I don't compose poems anymore, I haven't since 1996. My mind doesn't roam freely, it's not as open. I have become focused on my problems and it's become deadening. I may also be suffering from old age. I have always prided myself on the agility of my mind.
In February I got a letter from the Deputy Director, Mr. MacIntyre, which left me very curious. It says:
A letter addressed to you was received at FMCC and some of the letter's content was considered to contain information related to an illegal act.
In accordance with CCCR&R, Section 20, Sub-section 2(B), your letter was seized and content forwarded to the police.
Portions of the letter considered to be appropriate were forwarded to you.
I've never been quite sure what it was about but it may have been an unsolicited European boylove newsletter. Maybe they thought I was re-offending already. A letter from a friend and former Ford Mountain inmate had sections excised with black felt pen and another letter was turned over when I was released.
My daughter visited me several times at Ford Mountain and I always looked forward to seeing her. Face to face contact is so much better than phone calls which are monitored. Early in 2005 when I was expecting a visit I did not notice my name on the list of those receiving visitors and phoned my daughter before she left. She confirmed that she had made an appointment. I went up to wait for her and spoke to Mr. Palmer a senior guard and asked him about it. He was insistent that if my daughter had made an appointment my name would be on the list. It wasn't, and that the visit would be denied if she showed up. He adamantly maintained that it is “absolutely impossible to make a mistake.” He said that in thirty years they had never made a mistake. “Mark my words,” he added pompously. I phoned her later. Anyway my daughter arrived but they would not let her in the gate. A guard who was not that pleasant took an envelope she was bringing me which I picked up at the Bubble later. She told me the time when she phoned and said as it was a long distance call she expects it will show up on her next telephone bill. She feels this will be proof that she did call. I don't think this proof, or any proof short of a confession, will get the administration to acknowledge that they, or one of the guards, made a mistake or mishandled things in any way. The burden of proof is something that can be applied in different ways. While it is theoretically true, for example, that guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt, it also true as in the case of Detective Water's search warrant of 1996, as contended in 2002, that police evidence must be accepted unless it is provably wrong or malicious. The search, and search warrant as I understand it, while flawed were accepted because it could not be proven (beyond a reasonable doubt) that Detective Waters acted with improper intent.
The inmate who had been giving me the most trouble, Parker, who cut up my clothes in the laundry room, who slams my door, deposits sweepings in my room, and bad mouths me has been released. He also stole from my canteen but I never asked the guards to look at the surveillance records. Unfortunately he was soon back having been busted again.
At times of major holidays like Easter and Christmas the camp has a series of tournaments; 8 ball, snooker, crib, horseshoes, and hearts. Prizes are awarded out of an inmate tax on canteen items. At Easter I entered the hearts tournament and was surprised to come second, and won a bag of goodies including half a red bale of tobacco. This is a problem as all sorts of people are on to me, to buy (with canteen items), to share, give for a story, or simply begging with a meaningless promise to repay. I don't need canteen goods, I will probably also get some things in the bag that I don't need or use. I am thinking of simply giving it away to people I know after rolling it up first. Then this guy who works at the woodpile tells he may be able to get me a burl I could use for a hobby project which interested me. I traded the tobacco for a big chunk of maple. Technically the wood belongs to the company that brings in hardwood logs that Ford Mountain contracts to buck and split for people's fireplaces. It is not only contraband but stolen. I could rationalize that burls are very difficult to split and holding the tobacco was a hassle especially as everybody almost was out it waiting for canteen. It was a beautiful chunk of maple and I got started on turning bowls in the hobby shop. The instructor who came in once a week demonstrated how to turn wet green wood which cuts more easily than dry seasoned wood. I turned eighteen bowls while I was there. By making a contribution to the Native Brotherhood I was able to legitimize my possession of the contraband wood so I could ship out the finished bowls.
Although we are allowed few possessions where to put them can be a problem. The rooms in Holloway House only have a cabinet about five feet high and 14 inches wide. The upper 19 inches has a door in which you are expected to store your things while the lower part is for hanging clothes and keeping shoes. I had a number of legal documents I needed and stationery and craft supplies. Using pieces of cardboard I appropriated from the recycling shed I divided the upper part into spaces for medications, pads and forms, and envelopes with a space for folded clothes, towels, etc. above. I also made a wooden shelf to support the TV set so the small desk surface was more usable. I made two more for inmates who liked the idea. One day I return to my house after work and find my things on my bed. It seems that Mr. Gamme and another guard removed seven shelves from our rooms including my divider. I was quite angry at the time. The shelves were correctly, I suppose, considered contraband. A couple of days later, Gamme removed my TV shelf and the other two I'd made. My TV is back under my bunk which is not a problem as I seldom watched it. I knew the TV shelves were vulnerable, but if everybody had wanted them and had them, in both the East and West units, 24 rooms, they might have been allowed. I had tried to get the inmate committee to push for them. Anyway I caught up with Mr. Gamme and he will allow me to put in a new piece of cardboard. The incident reminds me that I am in jail.
To FRCC and Back
In order to get funding for my appeal I had to go before a judge in Supreme Court in Vancouver. With the way things work in the correctional system it took four days for my ten minute appearance before the judge. I was first taken back to FRCC the day before my hearing. Moving is tedious: It means being locked up in tanks while being processed and I spent over two hours with six others in a 10 by 10 tank with seating for three, four if you count the stainless steel wall mounted toilet in one corner. One young guy related amusing but very rude tales of his life as a pimp. He could turn it into an act as a stand up comic. At FRCC I was placed in Range 3A a GP or general population unit and a classic high security set up. I was double bunked with a guy who barely spoke and was glued to the TV set. I had no clothes with pockets and had to wear or carry my reading glasses. I couldn't find any books or magazines to read anyway. The unit was not very friendly and I got several 'skinner' taunts.
The next day I was gotten up at 4:20 a.m., taken to North Fraser in cuffs and shackles, stripped searched and then taken to the Smythe Street Courthouse in downtown Vancouver. I spoke briefly and the judge granted my request. I was out of court by 10:30AM, held in a tank until 4:PM, taken back to North Fraser and tanked until about 8:PM before being returned to FRCC. I spent about 9 hours totally dead time with nothing to read, do, or except briefly, anyone to talk to. I calculated the dimensions of every holding cell by counting the 8 by 16 concrete blocks.
I was once again reminded again of the profound differences Ford Mountain and FRCC. The feeling and attitudes are different. The guards seem like different personality types, also the inmates. FRCC is like a pressure cooker. Things in Range 3A were threatening as soon as I got back. One of the young skinheads who had a mark below an eye began demanding to know my beef. After a MYOB reply he said it would be a good idea for me to ask for seg, or segregation which is mainly used for punishment. There is no TV and 23 hour lock down. There were more minor incidents. A few inmates told me to stay away from them and others refused to speak to me. I couldn't find a place to sit and eat my meals, or borrow a pen. I went to 'yard' after dinner to get some exercise and relieve my tension. It was unsupervised. I couldn't walk around the yard as guys were playing handball and basketball. Others wouldn't allow me to stand near them in the one free corner. At the end of the period the guy with the mark began throwing a football at me as hard as he could ostensibly while playing catch. I had to deflect them to protect myself. He kept it up for several minutes until a guard came to fetch us. I had nasty threats on the elevator back up to 3A. I decided I wanted out of there immediately. Then a guard came to my room and said he was moving me to a lower bunk in room on the upper tier. I had just written up a request to be moved out of the unit altogether and delivered it to the guard on my first trip to my new cell. Minutes later I was assaulted by my new cellmate. Nothing serious, the pain was temporary, but I had to report it. The guy already there ignored me when I brought in the first load of my stuff, but when I returned he demanded to know what I'd been charged with. I've learned detailed answers are futile and told him it was none of his business. He asked if I fucked little kids, I said no. He continued pressing his questions and taunting me. When I again told him again it was none of his business, he suddenly kneed me in the balls and I fell to the floor. He didn't kick me when I was down. A senior guard came in and I explained what happened. I was then placed in seg. The guy with the mark below his eye grinned smugly and leered as I was escorted out of the range. He had won.
Seg was bleak. No windows and just one other inmate in another cell. We didn't speak. Luckily I had managed to hold onto a book, HAWAII by James Michener so I didn't get bored. Early next morning I was told that I would have to spend the weekend at FRCC, and then suddenly as things seem to happen, and with no explanation, I was told to pack my things. I suspect that it had to do with the incident in Range 3A. I was very glad to be back at Ford Mountain. I couldn't get back my former cell in Holloway House and I was put me in an unfinished room in A Hut in Downtown with a mattress on the floor, clearly a special arrangement. The next day I was moved into a regular room in D Hut. The rooms in the downtown huts are not as large or modern, no basin and toilet of your own, and there's no indoor common area. A refrigerator and microwave are in the corridor. But the huts are more sociable and picturesque being situated around a grove of tall firs. On warm sunny days it is almost like a picnic scene with a dozen guys all dressed in bright prison reds lounging on the small porches and sunning themselves or playing games at picnic tables.
I read a series in the SUN about how inmates use their rights to manipulate the system. It was the usual shallow journalism with quotes from righteous politicians like MP Randy White of Abbotsford. Things have gone too far was the implied message of the series although there were a few pallid defences by officials who were defending themselves as much as anything. Buried in all this was a statement of an SFU academic that prison is not a deterrent, and that some see it as home. There was nothing new in this, but being incarcerated myself I found the statement ironic. I was profoundly aware of how true it is for many of my fellow inmates. While this may be particularly true for camps like Ford Mountain I'm sure it also applies to heavy regimented maximum security facilities like FRCC. It's not just the security, the bed, the adequate food and anything that various programs and activities offer, it's the Culture. Jail culture provides identity and status. Recidivism has little to do with how comfortable or pleasant jails may be. It's mainly the culture they provide, and that may be stronger in harsh institutions.
I began to notice after a while that jail is a world without 'Why?'. Explanations are unwelcome in jail culture, and I do have a tendency to explain things, to give reasons, especially if I'm refusing something, a request or offer. Here one does not ask why. In an authoritarian situation asking why may be seen as impertinent or subversive. It is questioning. I speculate that the children of experienced inmates, and others accustomed to such situations will be discouraged from asking why? But then it's me, I have always asked why, and wanted explanations.
I may have mentioned it before but I can't remember meeting so many people as I have in jail. When I think about it it's probably true for many other inmates. My age and notoriety cut me off from many others. I also miss out on a lot, probably most of the gossip that circulates here. I don't have good connections and not smoking and my hearing being so bad I miss out on a lot of conversation. For many, jail may provide most of their social contacts on the outside. It's not that jail is a school for crime as often claimed but that it determines people's associates, many of whom may be criminals. Jail forms communities. I know one former inmate of Ford Mountain who recalls it nostalgically and says he never had such a rich social life before or since.
There's an assumption that criminals/inmates have a homogeneity, and this may be true of those convicted of traditional crimes against property and persons - the tradition criminal culture of thieves, robbers, car jackers, fraud artists and some vice entrepreneurs. But with druggies, drunken drivers, sex offenders and fine defaulters I doubt if there is a criminal culture, it's their behaviour rather than crimes against others that is supposedly being dealt with. They may make up a substantial proportion of the population. In the 1970's I remember reading where a prison official welcomed marijuana users because they diluted the prison population and had a calming influence. I wonder if sending jay walkers and parking violators to jail would have the same effect.
Inmates are very apolitical. They see things in personal terms, they don't theorize about or hate the system but may blame their misfortunes on some cop, judge, or other official out to get them, or alcohol or drugs which jail programs encourage them to blame. No one questions the justice or wisdom of the law, or aspects of the political system. If you do the crime, you do the time. Sentences may however be criticized as disproportionate, but few seem to think they were treated harshly. Stories about crimes are the main news interest of inmates but I found it difficult to talk to them about the law or specific crimes reported in the media. It may be that jail reinforces their interest in crime; it's one thing that most of them have in common. Many experienced inmates see themselves in the context of tough conservative law and order arguments. They claim they would be deterred by more severe penalties and rationalize their crimes with economic reasoning. Getting caught is bad luck, a result of stupidity or a risk to be accepted. It's a rationalization to make them appear rational. Inmates fit into and accept the system, they generally believe they are guilty, and this is part of the bond among them. Maintaining one's innocence or claiming to be not guilty can alienate you. The various shrinks and counselors, as well as the entire system, encourage a belief in one's guilt. Some men later exonerated have pretended to be guilty in order to make things easier for themselves.
Playing along, and for many that means practicing hypocrisy, is what happens, and I would think, what is expected. What parole boards want to see is compliance, obedience, and acknowledgment of wrong doing and remorse. None of these have much bearing on re-offending or becoming a law abiding citizen. Despite their often fanciful caution I suspect that the board members representing the public are conned by charming applicants often enough to make things worse for honest pleaders. Parole caters to unprincipled inmates, those who will prostitute themselves however necessary to get out. Parole boards buy it. An inmate who takes an SAM program and goes to AA or NA is better situated than one without a substance abuse problem.
Guards are literally blue collar workers. Above them are the whiteshirts, and today a sort of paranoia reigns as the big whiteshirt Chief Warden Ritchie, is concerned about personal projects being worked on during working hours in the Hobby Shop. I am of course, along with others, guilty of this, although lately most of my working hours have been spent on camp and Native Brotherhood projects. The shop has been locked and we, the staff, are victims of a lockout. The warden doesn't understand the Native Brotherhood according to the guard responsible, and may think the drum frames I've been working on are personal projects. The mood is one of conspiracy between the inmates and guards (for self protection) against the senior brass. I decided to stay out of sight and I went to my house to read and write my journal.
March, 2005. I see where there's a serious proposal for a Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. The idea has been promoted by the Asper family, the dominant interest in CanWest Media, the Sun, Province and what have you. When they first put it forward it was in the context of the Holocaust. Holocaust museums may be getting a bit overdone and the example is not particularly relevant to Canada. According to the Sun today they may be adding the expulsion of the Acadians, the internment of the Japanese, and some other human rights violations and major genocides.
The point I want to make is that it seems inappropriate for the Aspers and CanWest to be promoting a human rights museum. Unless we define human rights very narrowly, and politically correctly in terms of validated victims and the respectable oppressed, the Aspers have done more than their share of promoting misery and death in this country. Despite their sensitivity to the historic suffering of their fellow Jews, they have a rather shoddy record if the official editorial policies of their media are to be taken at face value. As I see it their crusade against drugs, whatever its disguise, is ultimately a crusade against human rights. The Aspers and CanWest have staked out their position in terms of more enforcement and harsher penalties. The more than ten thousand Canadian deaths, mostly heroin overdoses due to unregulated potency, are the price some have paid for their righteous moralistic policies.
In early May I had my most disastrous day at Ford Mountain. A week earlier the visiting jail doctor concerned that my recent loss of fifteen pounds might indicate a reoccurrence of colon cancer for which I was operated on in 1973 got me to agree to have a barium enema test. It was arranged that I would go to a hospital in Chilliwack for this. After a day of restricted diet to help me clear my bowels I had to drink a bottle of Citromag which soon had my asshole squirting uncontrollably. My clothes were soon soiled despite wearing Depends, the adult diaper. I then had to go the Bubble to pick up a special dinner and drink more apple juice. While waiting there I soaked myself thoroughly including socks and shoes and I was literally dripping. With my sodden Depends weighting me down I went back to my hut and dripped all down the hall. I cleaned up the puddle in my room and put on a new diaper when I was called to the Bubble again to pick up clean clothes, socks, briefs and shoes. Returning to my hut I was assaulted. [Why they didn't bring me the things I don't know] This guy in my hut, a heavy, husky blond kid maybe thirty, demanded that I clean up my "fucking mess." I replied angrily and he hit me with his forearm knocking me down. I was dazed and sore but the most worrisome pain was in my neck at the back opposite to where he'd hit me.
I was beyond accepting this type of bullshit and I went back to the Bubble and was looked at by a guard with advanced first aid qualifications and a report of the incident was taken. I was asked if I wanted charges pressed and on the advice of the guard I declined. I refused to take two Dulcolax tablets to further clean me up despite being threatened that the test wouldn't proceed. I signed a refusal statement. By then I'd more or less dried up but I had been subjected to a more general harassment because of the mess I'd made including taunts about Depends, which unknown to them I was wearing at the time. A guard suggested that I be moved into one of the Holloway House units for the night where I would have my own toilet. I refused as it would be seen as running away from all the hassle I'd been getting from other inmates.. The next day feeling better except for a sore neck I was taken into the hospital for the test. I was glad to go into Chilliwack for the test today, not for the test, but to be away and for the credibility. The test was a rather messy affair. I was placed on a metal table for the X-ray, still wearing handcuffs and given the whitish barium solution w3hich oozed out around the enema as my position was manipulated for the X-rays. It was cold, slippery and uncomfortable and my neck was quite sore.
Things quieted down but my trouble with the induced diarrhea for the test made the rounds and I receive abusive and threatening comments for weeks. Old people are disliked anyway. One inmate told me he had children and didn't want me near him and similar comments happened occasionally. Inmates can be as righteous as the randywhites. Forty eight hours after I was hit my neck was the worst yet and I was taking a lot of pain killers. The guy who punched me suffered no consequences and remained in the hut.
The guard who drove me to the hospital, and waited in the X-ray room with me, which was protocol as was keeping me in handcuffs the whole time, told me there used to be three correctional camps in the area along Chilliwack Lake Road: Thurston Camp which had about 70 inmates and was an open work camp for GP's; Ford Mountain was all PC's at the time; and a youth camp, Centre Creek which was closer to the lake. These others, as well as a half way house, in Chilliwack were all closed when the Liberals came to power. I also learned that when the Induction Building at Holloway House where I was staying before my court appearance was pretty well separate from Downtown, and there was fence between them.
Changes at Ford Mountain
One thing that interests me is the history of the place. A friend had spent some time here in 1999 and told me what it was like then before the fences were installed. He was only at Ford Mountain for a few months but said it was one of the best periods of his life. An older inmate who was first here in the mid 60s tells me that it was a lot better then with more things for fewer inmates. There is a storage building here called the 'Studio' which he tells me used to be for painting and other arts. Next door is the 'Craft Shop' which houses a ceramics (not to be confused with pottery) workshop where inmates can purchase green ceramics, clean them up by removing the mould lines and sanding, fire in an on site kiln, glaze and fire again. There is everything from simple cups to elaborate sculptures of rattlesnakes, saints, gargoyles and vases. I did a cup because that is the only way to acquire a personal cup here aside from hand me downs. The same is true of clocks. The ceramics program was popular as one did not require the skills needed for working in the Hobby Shop. The ceramics program was discontinued and the instructor's contract terminated while I was at the camp. There was a rumour that the space will be used for programs such as cognitive skills, anger management etc. It's a cutback on things that inmates want and can do for themselves. The move is probably seen as focusing in on the core business of the institution — treating inmates through providing programs.
While facilities are being reduced, the showers and two washrooms in the gym have recently been removed, the capacity of the camp has been increased by sixteen inmates. This is being done by eliminating the common rooms in the huts in the old “downtown” part of the camp. The argument is that now that each room has its own TV set the common areas are unnecessary. Additional capacity is being added by converting rooms to double occupancy with bunk beds.
Other inmates mention the decline in other activities such as special occasions. There was no church sponsored picnic the second summer I was there. Christmas is apparently not what it used to be, not that I care. Even the adequate meals used to be better. What repeat inmate miss most is the lack of former opportunities for good times. No doubt selective cutbacks in expenditures could restore the availability of booze, dope and excursions down to the Hear But Never See (Chilliwack) River where I am told girls would sometimes meet the men. Less is more?
Geoffrey, not his real name, is an intelligent, kind and empathic, balding man in his mid-fifties who is surprisingly athletic for his age. He is an organizer with impressive social skills and a naturally reassuring manner. I have worked with him on carpentry projects, we've discussed a number of topics and he has become one of my better jail friends. He's a sex offender who fondled his mildly retarded, pubescent foster daughter whom he'd become fond of. He is remorseful and has begged forgiveness. His wife and grown up sons have stood by him.
He is also a convinced, evangelical fundamentalist; he takes the Bible literally and is a creationist: God created the universe in six days some six thousand years ago, although he admits that it is possible to believe in evolution and still be saved. His father was a Baptist minister and he was active as a lay ministry in his church. He supports the prohibition of abortion, drugs and pornography, and social conservative policies generally. Yet Geoffrey is a love-and-forgiveness Christian, kind and very open. I found this hard to reconcile with his religious politics. Faith and faith alone is the path to Salvation. Unlike many fundamentalists, Geoffrey is prepared to listen and debate the theological arguments. We spent hours in good-natured, often interesting discussion, mostly walking around the path that skirts the ball field. He has a very rigid and exclusivist idea of what is necessary to be saved. I told him his God has a personality and characteristics that in a human we would we would describe as egotistical, petty, narrow minded, savage and unforgiving. God of course was modeled on the character of the better tyrants of Ancient times
I gathered that very few people make it to Heaven. Only those who are born again can make it. He himself has been a believer since he was a small boy, he has never been estranged, and as for being born again he has reaffirmed his faith a few times since then. While Heaven seemed to be a very nice place, I could not see it as offering anything better than can be experienced on earth. Eternal ecstasy, bliss or orgasm does not sound attractive. As for Hell, it sounded like endless torture, eternal fiery pain. I couldn't figure out who was doing the torture, God or the Devil, or whether it was just a condition of not being saved. If the Devil was the one torturing the unsaved I wondered if he got any sadistic pleasure from it. What reason would he have? It was God who was offended by the unsaved's lack of faith. Yet torturing people, even the dead, didn't strike me as the type of thing that God would enjoy, although He does have wrathful tendencies. Why would they be subject to eternal torture anyway? It would be too late for any attempts at rehabilitation seeing as the people were already dead, and there's no mention of a second chance. Deterrence was out as the endless fiery tortures in Hell would not publicized on Earth unless through some hook up, live from Hell, we could see the unsaved suffer. Denunciation? I suppose if whoever is aware of what's happening in Hell needs convincing that lack of faith is very wrong, denunciation might make sense, but again who is? They'd have to get some moral satisfaction out of it. Finally I figured that all that torturing going on in Hell must simply be old fashioned punishment; an endless spanking.
The thought of billions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants, not to mention doubters, agnostics, atheists and those who don't give a damn suffering eternal pain for their beliefs or lack of them appalls me. I'm not sure what happens to little children but I don't see why they should get any special dispensation. To be fair, aren't they just as capable of feeling pain and suffering as adults? I also have trouble with God conceived in the image of an all-powerful, egotistical, narrow minded, pedantic, yet somehow loving and merciful tyrant. He does not sound like a nice guy, or particularly sane.
Geoffrey's charges were a heavy blow to him and have fractured his life. It was humiliating; his friends and religious associates were shocked, and many were shunning him. The foster daughter who inadvertently revealed their sexual activity had suffered, he readily acknowledges this, but realistically agreed with me that the harm flowed more from the consequences of exposure and the disruption of her life than from the fondling they engaged in. It frequently seems in child sex cases that the welfare of the victim is secondary to punishment of the offender. He was consoled by his conviction that while his church was not very forgiving, God is. His crime, he feels, was the biggest mistake of his life. He violated the law of the land, his marriage vows and the tenets of the church. He is remorseful but not pathetically so. He has made his personal confession to God and feels that He has forgiven him. This provides him with some comfort, a comfort that non-believers don't have. His wife, and grown up sons have stuck with him and she has visited him in jail and will pick him up when he's released. His church, however, has not forgiven him and he cannot resume his lay ministry.
While admitting what he did was wrong, he felt he was treated harshly. The sex was willing, essentially fondling with no penetration sought or occurring, although the law, in theory, and often in practice, takes no account of the nature of the acts or the willingness of the young participant. Since the mainstream feminists succeeded in having rape replaced by sexual assault in our laws, fondled breasts, or patted bums are not clearly distinguished from penetrative rape at gunpoint. Geoffrey felt a warning or probation would have been sufficient to prevent him from re-offending. I definitely agree, jail was totally unnecessary in his case, although his sentence is certainly lenient compared to mine.
He is honest; he admits he has a strong sexual attraction to young girls. I tried to explain that this was a gift to be used responsibly, that it could serve constructive social purposes and be part of God's plan. He could not go along with this idea and while he hoped he would never be unfaithful again, he could entertain the idea that if there were no legal, moral and social sanctions he might again pursue sex with young girls. Good luck!
I was interested in Geoffrey because, oxymoronically, he was an open minded fundamentalist. How often would I get a chance to meet such a person, especially one who has committed a socially perceived egregious crime? As I see it, his people, the Fundamentalist Christians, are among my most vocal persecutors, my political enemies, the likes of Noreen Waters, for example. I consciously saw him as a window into this alien world.
While Geoffrey was open-minded he was not widely read, and was poorly informed on many subjects. The world's fate is in the hands of God. He trusted God and did not follow current affairs or read the local newspapers. Twice I gave him religion-related essays I'd found, including an article by Doug Ward, the often interesting, religious affairs journalist on the Vancouver Sun. Geoffrey didn't seem able to get interested in any of them, or dismissed their arguments rather superficially. He answered questions about creationism by mentioning an article he once read about how all the fossils happened quickly. He was not interested in the physical world or science and read novels for escape. He said he found most inspirational material tedious. I saw his lack of curiosity as an unconscious defence.
A question, or the question I see for deeply Christian people, is how they strike a balance between this world and their presumed next world, or how do they compromise the welfare of this world in order to advance prospects in the afterlife. The extreme example is torturing and killing people in order to save their souls, but it also includes any decisions where moral or religious considerations conflict with practical, humane considerations. I tried to interest him in GODRIC by Frederick Buechner, a novel about a Twelfth Century English hermit that I was reading at the time. It explores the conflict between devotion and love of God, and behaving kindly towards one's fellows.
I tried to interest Geoffrey in how religion relates to public and political life, and how 'his people', an appellation he was not ready to adopt, adversely affected the welfare of outsiders and people like me with their activism. I have long had mixed feelings about Christians, or at least the true believers amongst them. While for some like Geoffrey, their faith gives them tolerance and calls for practicing forgiveness, for many others it is a license to be righteous and moralize. For some it is more than a license, it's an injunction. Understandably, anyone who feels they have an exclusive grasp of an all important truth may feel duty bound ethically to share this truth with as many as possible. The truth is: Faith will give you back your body — resurrection — again after you die. Resurrection not only gives you another kick at the bucket but you get immortality thrown in and a chance to meet old friends. And those who oppose this holy mission do not deserve their god's mercy. Moral outrage justifies hatred and cruelty.
At one point I saw a possibility that with his understanding as a result of his charges, he might moderate or make more intelligent, the policies of his people, his church. I suggested to him that he regard his experiences as a resource that he could use in his ministry. I don't think I succeeded. While he could see my arguments about the utility of child porn, and about the place of intergenerational sex, it was too much for him to handle; it was temptation. It all had to remain evil. He couldn't see any good coming out of his incarceration but thought that he might try working with young men released from jail and helping them get re-established in the community. He didn't think he could help sex offenders in particular.
Several days after he was released, a friend of his, Eddie spoke to him on the phone. Things have gone better than Geoffrey expected. He has been invited over for dinner at an old friend's, and his church allows him to attend services but, for the time being at least he cannot resume any of his other work.
Eddie, a man in his sixties who had been convicted of molesting a granddaughter. had suffered perhaps the most abusive childhood I have encountered. Starting at an early age he had been placed in a series of hellish foster homes. The worst was with an abusive family who allowed their own older children to regularly play punishment games with him. They would strip him, tie his arms above his head and whip him as punishments for supposed offences. The children would righteously condemn him as they took turns hitting him. The foster parents who also beat him sometimes watched and encouraged. The other children also sexually molested and fucked him but not when their parents were present. He didn't mind that so much. When a social worker became aware of the physical abuse he was placed with a farmer who would beat him savagely if he didn't work hard enough but otherwise left him alone. When he left the system he became very close to his sister and she had a daughter by him. He was convicted of molesting his daughter and did jail time. After he returned to live with his sister as man and wife. Recently he was convicted of molesting his granddaughter. Eddie was remorseful for his behavior and plans to live with his sister and stay out of trouble.
Aside from Geoffrey and Eddie I didn't get to know very many of the sex offenders partly as I refused to take the regular SOP. Some may have wanted to avoid me because of my notoriety. I would have liked to have talked to a young Asian inmate sentenced for child pornography but he kept to himself. Those convicted for child pornography are given the same treatment as those convicted of sexually assaulting children. This is part of a broad trend in law promoted by activists, psychocops and judicial bureaucrats to equate thoughts and acts; fantasy and reality.
I tend to believe most of what the sex offenders said about their charges but understandably prisoners are notoriously unreliable and selective in their accounts. I understand that those in the program have to make detailed confessions of their crimes. It could have been interesting. A man in the regular program I worked with, a Native guy in his fifties, told me he had been forced to plead guilty because of various pressures. He'd been to jail previously and possibly saw it as a refuge from other troubles. I can't be sure but spousal assault and incest seemed the most common sexual offences. Another man I worked with who had a bushy white beard lamented that he could never be hired as a Santa Claus again. He thought the ban was unfair because he'd never molested other people's little girls. In a way he had a valid point. Incest is different from other kinds of sexual assault, but theorists and clinicians have stubbornly refused to recognize this. The conventional understanding of sexual assault as developed by David Finkelhor, the leading American sex abuse authority, and promoted by mainstream feminists everywhere, is based on the incest model. All child sexual assaults are seen as variations of fathers raping their daughters, and just as traumatic.
I only met two inmates that I knew of who were in for offences involving boys. One man said he was having an affair with a teenager and subsequently hired him to work in his restaurant. The boy's mother who knew about the affair had him charged as he was now in a position of authority. He was concerned about what the police and social workers had done to make the boy testify. He expected to get together with his young friend again as he would soon be eighteen. The other was a Native man who had lived in a trailer park and liked to give blow jobs to boys who visited him. He told me that the judge explained or justified his 18 month jail sentence on the basis of protecting him from an irate and violent father. Again I wondered if the boy's interest had been served. I made a couple of fancy cocobola feather boxes with carved lids for him. We often walked together in the evening and became good friends. The three men I knew in the Sexual Offender Awareness Program, SOAP, two blamed malicious and jealous women for their problems. The other had picked up a woman in a bar who later claimed he had forced himself on her.
There was one slim, younger sex offender, I'll call him Patrick, whom I can see re-offending and not just because of alcohol, which he blamed for his current offence, or as what led him into it. I happen to know people who know him, his family and the young female victim. Initially he was a tablemate in the Kitchen but moved perhaps partly not to be associated with me, but more importantly to sit with big guys. He planned to work out and put on sixty pounds, but never did. I don't know many details of his offence, except that he claims that he was also convicted of sex with an animal. This way, fucking the dog was a cover for a more serious offence. Patrick fitted into jail quite comfortably, adopted its culture and values, and hung with the tough guys he seemed to admire. I found him a spineless, insubstantial man, full of promises but unable to keep his word. He has a wife and child but I can see him turning to a young girl if he has personal problems in the future. I can see him getting caught and returning to jail and its culture.
Mack lived in the house next door through much of my incarceration. He liked to talk, mostly about his theories of psychokinesis and the power of pentagrams. He had a website but no way to manage it. He spent much of his time writing a book about how he saw things. He was often ignorant but eager to learn studying through an encyclopedia he had borrowed from the library. He was cynical and apathetic about jail and shirked his job assignments until the guards just let him stay in his room. He was always polite. He said he would be perfectly happy in jail as he was, if he could access the Internet. He was bitter about his former wife who made "false allegations" concerning their daughter. He denied the allegations and refused to take the regular SOP. At one point he was thinking of joining Dr. Foreman's group. His malingering cost him some remission time but he got it back before he was released. Last I checked Mack's site is operating. The number of SO's I met was a tiny fraction of the total and but for my notoriety I would probably have met more.
While treatment or therapy may help some sex offenders understand and control their behaviour, it is doubtful if incarceration itself is helpful. (This probably applies to most kinds of offenders.) Other inmates, probably a substantial number, including I believe people like Geoffrey, do not require any treatment to prevent them from re-offending. Treatment may just be rubbing their noses in it. For some, treatment would not only be ineffective and but also counterproductive. Incarceration for them, it may be argued, will simply keep them off the street for a while. This line of reasoning is behind the extreme sentences handed out in some American states for sex offences. This hysterical reaction to sex offences is shared by many in Canada, and has become a populist political issue. Lengthy sentences discourage inmates from attempts to rehabilitate. For those striving not to re-offend, a supportive community is important. For Geoffrey, it would include his church and family. For others an on line support group for those attracted to minors, chat boards and self help groups, and even activist groups would serve a similar purpose.
Outside mandatory reporting laws limit the assistance therapists can provide those wanting and needing it. These laws provide penalties for not reporting possible indications of sexual abuse. People are not allowed to use their personal knowledge common sense and perhaps effectively deal with the concern on the spot. The belief is that any possible instance of abuse becomes the monopoly of the criminal justice system and their psychocops. The possible victim is disempowered. The law is black and white.
While morally correct, mandatory reporting is a vicious and counterproductive policy. Mandatory reporting means that many situations which could have been resolved without the intervention of the criminal justice system now lead to destructive charges which may benefit neither the offender nor the victim.
Sammy is back for the third time. Sammy is the native carver I came to Ford Mountain with. He was discharged, came back after five hours on the street and released after a few months. I don't know how long he was out this time. He is well liked and seems happy here. I think drink is his main problem but it may be untreatable.
My twenty year old neighbor Jason was in camp court today and lost ten days remission. He had already lost 85 days and has been in custody for eighteen months. He was due to get out four days before me. He was caught with contraband, a bowl of bulk coffee whitener. Being caught with contraband food; apples, oranges, minipacks of sugar, jam and peanut butter, and desert cookies is common. Inmates suffer no penalty if they turn them in on their way out of the Kitchen after being questioned, and probably get a “U” if they don't. Three U's in a month and you can be charged and lose days.) Jason was caught with a full bowl, however. Still, seeing what others get away with, even when they're caught, I thought losing ten days was excessive. I didn't think Jason was treated unfairly just because I happened to like him. He says “Hello Robin”, he brings the newspapers to my room, and often before bedtime comes into my room for a hug. I can easily see why guards, or some of them, don't like him. He can be very loud, in your face, hot-tempered and he swears profusely. However he is usually cheerful, polite, considerate, generous and friendly and does not go around putting others down. He says he's a 'nice guy' and tries to be one. He reputedly has a violent temper. This is the first time I can recall being bothered by the harshness of the discipline here. Usually they're pretty soft. My other neighbour, the loner who conscientiously avoids work stopping just short of taunting the guards, recently got back his lost remission days as he'd caused no trouble for a while. A few days later I sent a letter to Deputy Warden McIntyre saying I felt Jason was treated unfairly but I never got a reply. (Job titles changed from director to warden while I was there.)
Jason told me that he only lost seven days remission and that at 2/3 it became four. This meant that he was scheduled to be released the same day as me, November 18. He talked about me sharing his ride into Vancouver before he goes back to the Interior where he lives.
Then he got into a fight. I'm not sure of the cause but he was supposedly called a goof by this smaller, older Native guy Matt who seemed a shy quiet person and also lived in my hut. Occasionally I lent him lent him a small pack of instant coffee. It was Monday evening, a canteen night when there's lots of tobacco and people are generally in a good mood when the fight, or more of a beating, occurred, right between my hut and the next one. I had heard Jason loudly swearing and sounding upset, which was nothing unusual. It's like that's how he is and I did not take it very seriously although it was probably a bit louder and more sustained than usual. I was in my room sanding a woodwork project when I heard a scuffle outside, and after a minute I went out to see what was happening. Matt was obviously getting the worst of the fight and there was blood all over his face. I was quite upset, I didn't want Jason losing more time.
It was fairly dark at the time. I saw Jason knock Matt down and when he got up knock him down again and start kicking him. I went over to Jason and told him to cool it. He didn't and I was advised not to interfere, to let things take their course. The fighting ended soon after that, and Matt went to his room. I went back to my sanding for a while before going back out on the porch. Jason and a couple of others I know were there and I heard that the other guy, Matt, had been lipping off Jason, calling him a goof, which in prison lingo is about the worst you can call anyone. Jason said the other guy never even hit him. Apparently, when he first punched him Matt had said, “Is that the best you can do?” He kept lipping off Jason. We were all surprised that the fight had gone on so long without any guards arriving. They couldn't have been monitoring the cameras. I shared the general hope of those present that nothing would come of the incident. I felt Jason was in enough trouble already and didn't want him to get in any more. That's why I tried to get him to stop.
I wasn't aware of anything different next morning until after breakfast. Jason was there but I didn't notice that Matt wasn't. He had stayed in his room and was in bed sleeping. The guards came and took Jason away in cuffs and an ambulance came for Matt. Later I found out that he had three or four broken ribs, a punctured lung and internal hemorrhaging, probably from being kicked with steel-toed boots. A guard said he could have died and another, Mr. Magee told a friend that he was disappointed that nobody reported the beating.
The opinions of some I know was that Jason was too prone to get carried away. Matt was partly blamed because he didn't back down; he kept getting up and continuing to taunt Jason. It was felt that Jason shouldn't have beaten him, because Matt was smaller, over fifty, and had a heart condition. Jason is a strong, husky twenty-year-old in on assault charges.
The Native Brotherhood was very upset. I heard that some of them wanted to take Jason to the gym, which has no cameras, and presumably give him a beating. The gym is a more or less approved locale for fights. The Brotherhood also demanded that the President of the Inmate Committee resign, which he did. He lives in our hut and was present at the beating, and it was on his advice that I didn't interfere. He is from the same community as Jason where they were close friends. I've heard Jason referred to as his bitch, which I don't believe. Jason was shipped to Fraser, some say he wanted that, and may be charged with assault and could face federal time. It is the nature of jail that you never hear about things. It was a very sad and tragic business. One guy badly hurt and another more deeply enmeshed in prison and its awful culture. Nobody looked good. Jason had only had three months to go.
I've been removed from my job. I got on the wrong side of one of the guards, a Mr. Jones. He has temporarily had me banned from the Hobby Shop where I was working because he thinks/says I am unsafe. It goes back a few months to an occasion when I wasn't using a push stick operating the table saw when he thought I should. There were a couple of other incidents including one where I showed my exasperation with an insolent shrug and rolling of eyes which he may well have taken offence at. The Hobby Shop had been cut back anyway by the Deputy Warden's orders from four to one 'working' there. I had started working for the Brotherhood, I've done most of their woodwork, drum frames, drum cases and feather boxes, but then they were also cut back to one person. I protested to Mr. Jones and he went and saw the Deputy Warden. I have to get a letter from the outside instructor/safety guy, Mr. Munshaw who will recertify me before I am allowed back in the Hobby Shop. I have about $150 worth of wood for projects which I have started. The letter may be a face saving device for the guard who was being unreasonable. As a result I have been assigned to work up at the wood pile which is a common starter job for husky new inmates. I suppose there was some humiliation in it, but fortunately I am not expected to work very hard. After a week I am reassigned to the recycling shed, the job I started at.
Matt came back a couple of weeks later. While I had hardly talked to him before I get to know him when I help him write out his statement about the incident and take one from a witness who is also illiterate. I didn't find out until I asked him to read it to make sure it was correct. He has statements from four witnesses. Matt didn't remember too much after he was first punched. He had a concussion, in addition to his other injuries. A lawyer was supposed to come and talk to him but never did.
Jason, I heard, couldn't handle 'seg', or segregation at Fraser and freaked out. Sensory deprivation? I had been there but not as punishment. I also had an interesting book to read. Jason was subsequently transferred to Kamloops Regional, and despite the rumours that he would be charged in court I found that all that happened as a result of his beating up Matt is that he lost ten days remission. I doubt if either of the two inmates who assaulted me received any penalty beyond a reprimand.
Matt is not bitter. He told me that the next morning before the ambulance took him away Jason came to his room, said he was sorry, and hugged him. I get the feeling that while Jason is prone to blind violence, that jail culture encourages this extreme lashing out. The problems, the bigger problems are not drugs, addicts, cops and prisons, but drug culture, cop culture and jail culture! Each reinforces the other making change difficult.
The last week in jail dragged, I finished my Hobby Shop projects and made a few things for others, I stayed in my house reading most of the time rather than working at the recycling shed. Slacking off is common before release, and realistically admin can do little about it. Jail is ultimately a place of farewells although I told few I was leaving. I said maybe three personal good byes, and after on the street in Vancouver's East End I spoke briefly to two former inmates and saw three or four others in the few months that I was there before moving East.
Afterword (January 2006)
A huge majority of the guards at Ford Mountain were, given the fact it is a jail, reasonable, fair, and generally conscientious workers: I think of people like Messers. Brown, Jones, Magee, Epp, Fenson, Buchanan, Papineau, Madden, Polden, and even Mr. Gamme who was a bit of a stickler for petty rules, and Ms. Hansen and the other female officers. The guards were clearly father figures for many of the young inmates. This is not to say that these guards weren't sometimes ignorant and officious which one would expect in their kind of work. I assume they freely chose the profession. The only guards I would complain about were Mr. Palmer, whom I found to be pompous, insensitive and very arrogant, and my case manager Mr. Engh who appeared afflicted by depression, lacked the social skills to be an effective guard, and would probably be happier in another line of work. The only staff member I developed a dislike for was Mr. Grypuik whom I found to be insincere and partial. Many inmates would strongly disagree with my assessment of Mr. Grypuik who was in a position to be helpful to inmates dealing with the parole board and internal discipline. He had a personality that a solid criminal could admire. I had little use for the three psychologists employed at the camp. They are largely a waste of money, but are an expected component in the treatment of SO's. However forensic shrinks are generally in an ethically compromised situation being beholden to the interests of the correctional system which pays their fees, interests which may not be in harmony with serving the best interests of the inmates and society. That is about as nicely as I can put it.
I did not have a chance to get to know any of the staff at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, nor was I tempted to. Most of the guards there seemed to be distinctly unpleasant people, which reflected the overall character of the place. Maximum security, where any conceivable threat requires countermeasures and rigid control, must be very hard on the guards. The ones who survive may not be the best. Perhaps as has been said about social workers: The best ones burn out in a few years, and you end up with what is left. Maximum security must be as different for guards as it is for inmates. I remember one FRCC guard giving a randywhite type, law and order, pro capital punishment speech to the skinhead cleaner crew. It was surreal. While I was in Ford Mountain one guard, Mr. Madden was promoted to a job at FRCC, and inmates made an elaborate memento plaque complete with moving parts in the Hobby Shop as a farewell gift. Inmates celebrated again a few months later when he returned. Other guards who had worked at both places said that they much preferred working at Ford Mountain.
Unless you count the jobs created, I didn't see jail as providing much benefit to the larger community. Incarceration reduces an individual's opportunity to commit crimes temporarily but I don't know if overall it reduces crime. There is a 'revolving door' situation for many petty, usually addicted, criminals. During my fifteen months at Ford Mountain several young inmates returned three times and there may be no better way to deal with them available. Drastic American solutions such as three strikes and you're out laws address the problem in the crudest ways and are essentially personally and socially destructive, costly and inefficient and profoundly unfair. Incarceration may make some get fed up with a life of crime, some may settle down, but others may find a community, albeit a dysfunctional one, through incarceration. Many inmates benefit by the respite that jail offered from the ravages of drugs and life on the street. Some may even pick up skills and attitudes which enable them to lead crime free, or at least conviction free lives outside. Of those who give up crime, or in the case of sex offenders who don't re-offend, the mere fact of exposure and apprehension was probably sufficient in many cases to 'rehabilitate' them. It may be trite to repeat it but jail itself does not rehabilitate or cure criminals, and to argue that an eighteen month sentence is somehow better than six is to engage in an absurd intellectual process. The failure of the correctional system, the fact that it is of little effect in furthering the goals of reducing crime and protecting the public, is not of its own making. The main reason is bad laws, particularly laws dealing with drugs, prostitution, pornography and sex. This has resulted in a vast expansion of the prison population, a population with little in common with traditional criminal activities against persons and property. This failure is a result of legislating righteous moral attitudes and the concomitant moral cowardice of politicians, the media and the public. The courts are a relatively sane influence but the police have assumed a leading role in the proliferation of morally repressive laws. Sir Robert Peel, generally consider as the father of modern policing in the English speaking world, created a Frankenstein monster that has take over the powers of its erstwhile masters as politicians listen anxiously to the prescriptions of the police who always want more laws and powers. Their political activism has done as much as anything to exacerbate problems. As long as society is unable to contemplate alternatives to the current system of incarceration, and the mentality that sustain it, the criminal justice system will continue to thrive on its own failure.
‘Copyleft' by Robin Sharpe: that is you are free to copy, redistribute or use it for your own purposes provided you retain the present copyleft notice including my name and contact information, allowing others to subsequently reuse the material. Robin Sharpe, email@example.com. Robinsharpe.ca Robinsharpe.com