i haven't written much about day to day life here in awhile so i thought now would be a good time for some updates. first of all, everything is fine and i'm feeling quite positive about the whole situation. so anyone who is worrying should stop! strangely enough i am finding myself quite busy these days and have caught myself a few times wondering how i'll manage to get everything done. old habits die hard. i've taken on a whole lot of projects – i won't get into the details here but let's just say that they involve a lot of reading in dim light and writing with tiny little pencils.
so what's been going on here lately? not much, really. yesterday we had a search. none of my stuff was taken this time. after the strip search as we waited to come back on the range we played a very entertaining game of “who am i imitating?” with some pretty hilarious guard impressions. there have been a lot of searches lately on this unit- we haven't had many but 2A and 2B seem to get them on a regular basis, and once they even brought in the sniffer dogs. it seems like a lot of people have been going home these past few weeks and there is a lot of turnover on the range now. i have new people at my table almost everyday and spend a lot of time getting to know them and answering questions. thankfully i've had the same cellie for a few weeks now and she'll be here for another week and a half. cellie turnover is way more annoying than table turnover. i've been playing a lot of chess, at least i was until my main opponent got out last week. now i am looking for people who play or want to learn. and i am really looking forward to the European Cup (i know, guilty pleasure) and hoping that the game times work out with our locked in/locked out of cells schedule. i've already started to set up strategic soccer alliances on the range in case we have to fight the jerry springer or music video die-hards for the TV.
hmmm.... what else? i've been making some progress on one of the goals i set before coming in here. i told myself i would use this time to learn about Indigenous history and politics in north america, and to get a handle on the major treaties and the development of the Indian Act and other noxious legislation. i hit the jackpot with Peter Kulchyski's book “the red indian: an episodic, informal collection of tales from the history of aboriginal people's struggles in canada.” it's full of concise information and references to other books, treaties, articles, commissions and reports. if, like me, you want to learn this stuff but are feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to begin, you should check it out.
for obvious reasons, i'm feeling quite inspired these days. a huge shout-out to friends and allies in the streets of montreal! you're amazing! i've been comparing the Globe and Mail coverage to the stories i'm hearing from people on the ground and folks who are plugged in to alternative media sources. predictably, there is a lack of understanding of the extent of the student strike (the numbers of people involved, the level of community support) and the politics informing it. so if your main source of information is the mainstream media and you'd like a bit more in depth news and analysis i hear the following links are helpful: Ten Points Everyone Should Know About The Quebec Student Movement, CUTV, Spread the Red Square Everywhere)
this week my thoughts are with Kelly, who will be sentenced soon. i'm sorry for not knowing her court date had been changed when the last blog post went up. i believe it's now on May 28th but don't quote me on that. in other news, May 15th BYRON WAS AQUITTED OF ALL CHARGES! i wish i could have seen the crown's face. i am sure nobody apologized to Byron or his family for the loss of time and money and the emotional toll, but that's the “justice” system for you. the other day a guard poked her head onto the range to ask if anything needed fixing - “the criminal justice system!” i replied. i don't think she got right on that because as far as i can tell it's still shit.
so today is may 25 and it has been over two weeks since my last post. sorry. i'm working on the long anticipated one about food – it's coming, honest! if you have a suggestion for a topic or a question you'd like answered send it my way and i’ll do my best. for now, here is something i wrote back in january and have been holding on to.
They call jail “corrections” but it's not correcting you
On January 23 and 24, 2012 I conducted an interview with an inmate living on my range. She was serving a seven month sentence for breach of probation, fail to appear in court and indecent exposure. Her 2/3 release date (at four months and 20 days) was March 14, so she had just under a month and a half left to go. Many thanks to Kim, I hope you're doing well wherever you are.
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Kim is 29 years old. She had her first run-in with the law at age 12 when she tried to break into a friend's house. She was put into foster care open custody for six months. Since then she estimates that she's spent over 1500 days in jail on charges ranging from mischief and theft under to indecent exposure and prostitution, possession of cocaine and assault. The majority of her convictions, however, have been for breach of probation – 32 of them. How did she breach? By not reporting to a probation officer because “I was too high.”
She has been using drugs for the past 15 years. “Think of something you love most in the world. Now you smoke crack and that thought doesn't mean anything to you anymore. It makes you forget about all the consequences.” She's pregnant now, and clean. “It takes a very strong willpower and years of learning how to quit if you've been a long time user. So all my failures were actually successes, because I'm trying again, you know? I don't think I'll ever go back to smoking crack. In the last three months my whole perspective has changed, because of this baby and what my life has been and what I want it to become.”
I asked her if she felt jail had helped her. “Yes and no. It's kept me off drugs, taught me how to stay clean and sober. I've learned some life skills through the programs. It's taught me not to come back to jail. But it's a lot of time wasted. I could've had my GED by now (it's too hard to do it in here). If jails were more like treatment centres it would've helped me more. They have groups, therapy. They address the underlying issues: addiction, depression, low self-esteem, abuse, trauma. Everybody has a problem, most crimes are committed because of these problems. They call jail “corrections” but it's not correcting you – it just teaches you not to get caught. There's not enough in-depth programming here. There are more opportunities in a federal pen. You can get a welding license there, or become a lawyer.”
She's very familiar with jails - “I know the system so well I could run it!” - and has some advice for people starting their sentence. “Get on a work range, make sure you have money for canteen, and get involved in things. The more you get involved, the better it is for you. Make sure you have support on the outside and try to correspond with people on a regular basis. Getting mail is a huge thing.”
As well as advice, she has some horror stories to share. She recalls an incident that happened to her a few years ago while serving another sentence in Vanier. During a work shift cutting grass, a male guard propositioned her – a pack of smokes for a blow job. “It's sexual assault – he's a professional, he's in a position of power. There things are not supposed to happen, this is supposed to be a safe environment. I think the system is corrupt and fucked. I'm in jail for prostitution, and the guy made a proposition.” The guard no longer works at Vanier but it didn't end there for her. She received no counselling, although she asked. And then, upon her return to Vanier for her current sentence, she was moved after one month from the work range to Unit 2 “for my own safety”. Apparently this was because of comments other inmates had made regarding her accusations against this male officer. Since then she's been trying to get off the maximum security unit and back to a less restrictive environment. In fact, as I write this up, she is settling into Unit 4 (usually reserved for people remanded into custody) after a transfer earlier today. The process took three weeks.
Understandably she's excited to get out of jail and not be on probation. I asked her about her plans and she reemed off a long list. From jail she can enter a treatment centre for a 35 day program as long as she granted the Temporary Absence Program (TAP), which will allow her to leave Vanier five days early in order to make her March 9 bed availability. From there she'll live with her parents until she can find a place – she's on a waiting list for subsidized housing, with homeless priority status. She wants to get one-on-one counselling for trauma, grief and loss. And to finish her GED and get her driver's license. And then there's the baby, due to arrive in the summer. She plans to take a parenting course. Her cell is full of baby magazines and catalogues, and she talks about – and to – the baby constantly, so I'm not surprised when I ask if she's excited that her answer is an enthusiastic “YES!” Mostly, she's looking forward to “having a good life. I've had lots of abusive partners in the past. I know the difference between a healthy relationship and a violent one. I will no longer have a creep tie me down – no dirtbag will treat me like shit and bring me down to the whole I was in before.”
She's confident and determined, but still has some concerns. Money and housing – will she get a start-up allowance through Ontario Works? How long will it take to find an apartment? And of course, “Am I going to be strong enough that I won't relapse? I know I won't re-offend, but once a drug addict always a drug addict.” She worries about triggers, but feels the treatment centre will adequately prepare her to deal with them and that the after-care program will help.