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Bored but not broken: Ten days down, 314 to go

It's Sunday, Jan. 22 and this is my 10th day. So far things are going well, there haven't been any problems and I have no regrets about my decision to do this time.

Since I got here I've been taking it easy and learning the lay of the land -- which hasn't been very complicated since I'm in Unit 2F, the same one I was in while waiting for bail. Not much has changed since the summer of 2010 -- just some little things, like now we get compostable "ecotainer" cups instead of styrofoam, and instead of real soy milk there's this horrible "Smart Milk" non-dairy milk replacement powder. Kosher, vegan and gross.

The days are short and very structured, which makes them go by quickly and predictably. There's more than enough food (although I'm grateful to my parents every single day for not raising me to be a picky eater) and lots of time to sleep (although it gets quite cold in the cells at night and the lights never get turned off). There are ways to exercise too, despite not having access to a gym: I stretch and do yoga, pushups and burpees in my cell, and I walk in circles around the range for hours every day. So it doesn't seem like it will be too difficult to stay healthy -- although contracting Hepatitis C is a concern, living in such close quarters with so many people who have it.

The only really shitty thing is how seldom we're let outside and how little time we get to stay there. In the 10 days I've been here, yard has been called only three times, one of which I missed because I was in a meeting about parole. I'm pretty sure there's a rule about how much outside time inmates have to get, and I bet it's more than three times every 10 days for 10-20 minutes each. According to the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions, issued by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and posted on the wall here: "Fresh air or outside exercise is normally offered every day. The Superintendent may cancel it due to bad weather or a security concern." Uh-huh.

There are a lot of really nice people here, and luckily my cellie is one of them. We have some pretty interesting conversations and play a lot of games -- backgammon, checkers, dice and cards. I just bought paper and coloured pencils off of canteen too, so maybe there's a Settlers board in our future.

All the people here -- guards and inmates -- are pretty chill. For the most part the inmates are friendly and we hang out, or they keep to themselves and we don't. I haven't met everyone yet but I'm slowly getting to know folks. There's a fair bit of turnover since maximum security is where people come to await bail (which they sometimes get within a few days) or to await transfer to the penitentiary. People who are sentenced and will be doing time in Vanier usually get sent to Unit 3, the medium security work unit, after a bit of time on maximum. The people who stay here longer term are those deemed "inappropriate for a less restricted environment and people on immigration hold who are assumed to be a flight risk regardless of their offence (or lack thereof).

Like the gym and many other good things, the library cannot be accessed by people on Unit 2. There's a bookshelf though, and a library cart comes around every so often to switch up the books. One thing that's changed since the last time I was here is the quality of books on 2F. My fears of a shelf full of Harlequin romance novels and Danielle Steel were unfounded!

My fears of total disconnect, however, were not. There are no newspapers here and the magazines you can buy from canteen are not very helpful. I got the New Yorker but it's so American; Maclean's is so bloody conservative; the rest are smut and fluff. Our only news is Global or CityTV for 20 minutes after dinner -- i.e. nothing worth hearing about. So while I know that a cruise ship almost sank recently I have no idea what's going on at Occupy Anywhere, only a shallow understanding of Rob Ford's exploits, and completely skewed information (if there's any at all) about international affairs of any kind. For someone who used to watch Democracy Now! every day and read the Dominion on a regular basis this is quite a shock to the system.

It's not just the news, though, and it's not just not being able to be involved in anything. We're cut off in so many ways in here -- from not being able to see outside through the frosted windows, to the two visits per week limit, to the lack of phone access. Prison calls are collect and that can be expensive, they can only go to landlines or TRAPP numbers, there's no easy way to schedule them. The phones are always busy and there's a pretty screwed-up system when it comes to getting a turn. It's also hard to justify a social call when people are desperately trying to get in touch with lawyers, emergency pet-sitters and potential sureties. So mail is where it's at. Thanks so much for your letters! I promise to reply although it may take awhile.

I'm staring down another 315 days in here. It seems so impossible, but obviously it's not. On Dec. 3, 2012 I will be walking out of here. Hopefully healthy and definitely more clued in when it comes to this beast we call the Prison Industrial Complex.

My biggest fear is that I'll become a cynical, nasty person in here -- not in the way I'm crusty and bitter now but in a way that makes me unpleasant to be around and a drain on the community. Please help me to not let that happen!

In solidarity,
Mandy :)
 
(Update: this week, after some wrangling, Mandy will begin to receive a daily newspaper subscription.)

This blog entry was orignally published on Mandy's blog Bored but not broken.

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