random musings - september

september 8, 2012

laundry day!

on this unit we're issued clothes, bedding and towels on arrival and they're ours to keep for the duration of our stay.  twice a week we have the opportunity to wash them – everything except the blankets, which are exchanged once a month.  laundry days for my wing (C) are tuesdays and saturdays, and this is how it works: we line up our laundry bags along a wall in the common room, and shortly after breakfast a guard calls “LAUNDRY!” over the loudspeaker.  there are four washers and four driers so we work through the line four at a time, with switchovers happening every 45 minutes or so.  the laundry room is in the basement.  a guard at the desk keeps track of who comes down, and two laundry workers (inmates) supervise the process.  this is to make sure people aren't washing blankets or pillows, or using cold water or short cycles or half-load settings (as always, Vanier doesn't care about conserving water or energy), or using shampoo.  Tide is available off canteen, and Bounce sheets, but jail issue detergent is available for those who need it.

this is all very different from Unit 2.  on maximum security dirty clothes, towels and bedding are replaced with clean ones on a not-always-regular schedule.  “clothing exchange” happens twice a week (well it's supposed to but doesn't always, due to delays, shortages or the guards not feeling like monitoring it) during one of the daily lockups.  the guard opens the hatch in your cell door, you throw out your dirty items, one range worker picks them up while another takes your order and then brings you back clean stuff.  (you have to hope they've got what you need because otherwise you end up with nothing or stuff that doesn't fit – unlike Unit 4 with its well-stocked room down in the basement, Unit 2 often runs out).  the only thing you don't throw out the hatch is underwear – that gets washed in the sink along with socks.  there are never enough socks for a clean pair every day unless you hand wash them.  if it'd been a while since the last clothing exchange i'd wash my t-shirts in the sink, too.  it's not ideal because there's nowhere in the cell to hang them properly and not all guards let you dry them over the upper tier railing.  as well when i left Unit 2 Tide was no longer available off canteen for inmates there – why? nobody knows – so we were all forced to use shampoo or soap or body wash.  apparently there used to be laundry facilities on maximum security until a piece of metal went missing from one of the machines.  there used to be access to bathtubs, too, until one inmate tried to drown another (so the story goes, anyway).  so no more bathtubs on Unit 2, and the dirty laundry all gets tossed into a cart and wheeled over to Maplehurst, where it's washed by the guys.  suckers.

september 10, 2012

i just came back from a “professional visit” with a lawyer.  because these visits are in a room with no glass divider separating us and the lawyer's allowed to bring stuff in, there's always a strip-search afterwards.  this time i got the cranky guard.  i was being friendly – i'm in a particularly good mood these days, i guess i still high thanks to my newfound freedoms and privileges – so her snarky, disdainful manner and her unprovoked rudeness really offended me.  now why is that?  i've grown a pretty thick skin in here, it's been awhile since i've cared about being treated like dirt for no reason – i adjusted to that pretty quickly, actually – so why do i feel so unfairly disrespected now?  Unit 4 must be getting to me. . .

i always used to wonder why people from Unit 3 and 4 would chat with guards and each other on our way down the hall to a visit, while those of us from maximum security were completely silent and stared straight ahead.  now i'm starting to understand.  i'm getting used to the guards being around (not behind glass) and while it was weird and uncomfortable at first, i'm getting used to them making conversation.  they talk to us more because we're in the same space.  when they come onto the wing they don't have to have a guard on backup, radio at the ready, eyes locked on them at all times.  they don't pat us down before we go to yard.  generally speaking, the procedures here don't make it seem like we're always being suspected of something, like we're always on the verge of violence.

i didn't really notice how the atmosphere on Unit 2 was affecting me until i came here, like a weight that i couldn't really feel until it was lifted.

even now i find that i can't really put my finger on what exactly makes this unit so different.  the interactions with the guards are part of it – but that can't be all.  when i try to explain it to people on the outside the differences sound small and a bit silly: the window opens!  we're allowed to have tape!  i can stay up until 9pm!  even though i never watch them, there are movies in the basement!  they don't lock the cleaning solution away!  see what i mean?  but put them all together and they do make a difference in how i feel: i feel more like a person.  more like a person and less like an annoyance, or worse, a potential threat that has to be kept in check at all times.  i've always wondered why prisoners fight so hard, to the point of hunger striking and rioting at huge risk to themselves, for things that seem insignificant in the context of the huge injustice that is incarceration.  now i think i get it: the little things affect how we see ourselves.  every right, every small freedom that's taken away, strips us of a little more of our dignity; every one that's granted or restored brings a little of it back.

september 11, 2012

today we had a moment of silence for 9/11.  i was trapped in the common room when they called it over the loudspeaker so i just had to stand there fuming. when it was over, i crankily said “so we'll be having another one now, for all the people the Americans kill?” - that was met by confused stares all around.  <sigh> i wish i'd had this poem handy.

@ @ @

someone just came walking around the unit with a couple of guards – i think it was a health and safety inspection.  i looked up at the ceiling where they were pointing as one of them said “yeah, that's bad.” black mould – lots of it!  NICE.

september 12, 2012

i used the Access: Defence phone today. Access: Defence is a teleconferencing system that allows lawyers (and only lawyers) to call us here at the jail.  they book a time slot of either 15 or 35 minutes, a guard informs us by giving us a Teleconference Appointment Sheet, and at the scheduled time we go to the Access: Defence phone, pick up the receiver and dial in our code.  it's a good system.  the regular phones on the unit are often in high demand and there's no guarantee you'll be able to make a legal call at a pre-determined time.  there's also the complication of all outgoing calls being collect and only working if you're calling a landline.  it can be really difficult to catch lawyers at the office!  finally, there's a "secure" option that makes the call confidential (not sure if i 100% believe that, but that's what they say) whereas the regular phones are tapped.

i've been wondering lately what those phone taps involve, exactly.  how many, if any, of our conversations are actually listened to?  there are a lot of phones here and they are in use for a large part of the day - i can't imagine they're all being monitored.  so i'm guessing they're being recorded and played back selectively.  which begs the question, who else is given access to them?  and how long are they kept?  hmm... sketchy. i should look into this.

september 15, 2012

i realize that i still haven't described my new surrounding to you.  i'll try to do that now.

you enter Unit 4 from the hallway that leads to Unit 2 and 3, the visiting area, and Admissions and Discharge (A+D), you can either go upstairs or downstairs, Unit 4 is not wheelchair accessible.  let's go upstairs first, since it's where i spend most of my time.

on your left, right inside the door, is the nurse's station.  at the top of the stairs in the rotunda, and as you enter it you're looking at a team of guards sitting at a desk at the opposite wall.  to your left along the wall there are four phones and four stools, to your right as well.  upon arrival we were told that the rotunda is the guards space - we are not to enter it without permission.  this means that every time we want to use the phone we have to get a guard's attention and ask (this is a bit of a pain in the ass, but it does prevent the line jumping and bullying that happens on Unit 2 where the guards don't give a shit who is or isn't getting a turn).  behind the guard desk is the bubble, in which yet another guard works the door, announces things over the loudspeaker, and - i assume - watches what the cameras are picking up.

so that's the rotunda.  it's where we get personal and cleaning supplies, hand in request forms, ask questions.

okay.  so now walk past the row of phones on your left, and on to C-D side. had you gone to the right you'd be entering A-B side. but don't bother, the layout is exactly the same.  Vanier likes symmetry.

now you are in C-D common space.  there's a mailbox, a sink, a tv, movable tables and chairs, a box of board games, and two bulletin boards covered with colouring book pictures from inmates long gone.

if you walk straight ahead you'll pass C-wing's washroom (toilets, showers, a tub, shitty mirrors, and way too many sinks) on your way to the wing itself.  C-wing is a long hallway with 13 single rooms on either side.  it sticks out form the common area, heading north.  had you turned left at the entrance to C-side/D-side, you would has passed by an identical washroom and a cleaning closet before entering D-wing's identical hallway, which jets out to the west.  across the rotunda on A-B side the wings point south and east, so that they all branch out at 90 degrees from each other.  it's all quite orderly.

the capacity is 104 inmates, but i've never seen that many people.  i don't think my wing has ever been more that three quarters full which is good, because it can get pretty loud in here at times.  one last thing: the wings are actually referred to as alpha, bravo, charlie and delta.  i'm not kidding.

so that's the upstairs.  now let's go to the basement!  go out the rotunda, down the steps, past the nurses station and the main door and the door to the yard, down some more steps.  a guard sitting at the basement desk will direct you to where you need to go.  off of the main area there is an office for people to meet one on one (for example with a social worker, or a rep from Elizabeth Fry, or a treatment centre, and so on).  there's also the library, the laundry room, storage rooms, inmate and staff washrooms, and some staff offices.  the main area has some tables, and some stools bolted to the floor.  but most of it is empty space that can be used for fitness classes or weekend movie screenings. two hallways stretch out from this area, they have larger rooms that are used for programs or yoga or to store extra library books in.

there.  that's the grand tour.  I hope you feel a bit more oriented in my little world now. :)

september 27, 2012

i was just informed that some incoming mail has been sent to security, “just to make sure it's okay for you to have it.”  intriguing!  apparently it was from somebody doing research into prison-related issues who wants to speak with me about Vanier.  yes, i can see how that is a security concern.

last week it was a copy of the Certain Days Freedom for Political Prisoners calendar that was deemed inappropriate and withheld.

the whole situation with the mail is outrageous, when you think about it.  a stranger opens it, reads it, then decides whether or not to interfere with the delivery of all or part of it.  on the road that's a criminal offence!  there are real problems with this system – other than the obvious ones, i mean. sometimes letters that are sent to security don't make it back for quite some time, for one thing.  more importantly, although the policy states that if mail is withheld the inmate has to be notified, their idea of “notification” is usually completely uninformative: “withheld: letter.  Date: 27 Sep/2012.” great, no name, no address, no reason. . .thanks. sometimes we aren't notified at all – i have a feeling that happens quite a lot.  i'm a bit excited, and a bit scared, to think of all the stuff i don't know about accumulating in my property bag.

the other really bothersome thing is that jail keeps a log of the names and addresses of everyone who writes to me and everyone i write to.  does that creep you out?  it should.

september 28, 2012

this is my new favourite jail snack: eat two servings of canned pineapples but save the juice.  separate the tops and bottoms of two raisin bran muffins.  crumble the bottoms into the juice and let them soak while you eat the tops.  eat the mush slowly with a spoon.

i actually get quite excited when i can make this.

i need to get out more.