It's been quite the celebratory month here on unit 2F at Vanier institute for women. First was Easter, which we observed by eating huge hot breakfasts on Friday and Sunday. Some guards were perhaps a little too into it: I counted three of them wearing pink bunny ears. That's right, bunny ears. This got mixed reviews from the inmates but my favourite comment came from a woman sitting at my table who said, "They'd better be shitting out chocolate eggs or they can take those fucking things off." Indeed.
On April 13, I marked the passing of my third month in this place. At lunch I handed out jellybeans to all the tables, and I drank hot chocolate instead of tea (wild, I know... but we have limited options in here) at dinner my table split a Caramilk bar and in the evening I ate a bag of Lays barbeque chips. As you can see, my celebrations are all about food.
April 16 was my 38th birthday. In the morning I came out of my cell to find a card signed by most of the people on the range. Two people offered to clean my cell for me so I could sit and relax after breakfast and throughout the day I was given all kinds of things: five rice cakes, a muffin, a Vitamin E capsule, another card, four sticky buns, a cookie, two U.S. and two international stamped envelopes, and a Monopoly game of sketchbag origins -- no joke! At lunch I had hot chocolate instead of tea again, and I switched to the new pair of shoes I had been saving to mark the occasion. Simple pleasures, you know? I didn't do any work all day. When I came out from post lunch lock-up some folks were singing happy birthday and there was a jail cake on my table. It was made of two sticky buns, one on top of the other with jam in-between, covered in a melted arrow bar, crushed Oreo cookies, nibs and licorice Allsorts. It was delicious. At dinner I had a coffee (I never do that) and that evening I finally won at Scrabble. All in all it was a really great day and as always I found myself surrounded by some pretty fantastic people on my birthday :)
The next day as I was working out at some horribly early hour a guard doing rounds tapped on my cell door window and wished me a happy birthday. Later that day my cellie was taken to unit four and I got a new one who had come over from 2A (Leah's range). She told me there had been people outside the jail making noise the night before -- and true enough, I later confirmed that there was a noise demo/birthday party complete with happy birthday banner. So although I didn't know it at the time, it turns out I was celebrating with outside friends after all. Party on the inside, party on the outside!
Thank you so much to everyone who sent birthday wishes, had a drink for me, and helped organize or came out to the outside party. And to the folks in here who managed to pull off a celebration even in a place like this. I'm feeling the love!
In fact, I'm apparently so special that even the Ontario Corrections Intelligence Unit came to say hello. On April 18, I was called off the range in the morning, which is unusual for me and made me immediately suspicions. "Is it the cops?" I asked the guard, who replied, "No, it's an internal guy." I'm brought into a professional visits room and proceed to check out the ID card hanging around the guys neck: OCIU.
"Do you remember me? We spoke awhile back. My name is John."
"Why are you people all called John?"
He had no response to this. He wants to ask me about the noise demo. Apparently he heard that I told staff that 30 or so of my friends would be coming by... um, yes, my staff buddies and I were at the bar, shooting the shit, and I thought I'd give a heads up... that can't possibly be what he said. Why would he make up such a ridiculous lie? Maybe he said he heard from staff that I'd been telling other inmates that 30 or so of my friends would be coming by -- still a lie, but at least slightly more plausible -- that is if I'd know about the demo before April 17.
"Um, no. I didn't even know it was happening."
"Well don't worry, it didn't get written down on paper or anything."
"Okay, well that's all."
That encounter was only slightly less weird than my first one with OCIU John, on Jan. 16, which went like this:
"I want to speak to you because of your recent media notoriety. We spoke to Alex when he was here last. You've been quite outspoken. How do you think it will effect your stay here?"
"Um, I'm assuming not at all."
"No trouble with the other inmates?"
"No, people are very nice... who are you with?"
"The Ontario Corrections Intelligence Unit."
At this point he went into a long spiel about noise demos and how they can endanger the staff and the inmates -- for example, a roman candle could hit the roof and the place could light on fire. Ummm, not bloody likely, pal. His main concern seemed to be for my safety (how very sweet):
"These demonstrations interfere with prisoners' visits. People will know they are associated with you."
(yes, because no demo ever happened before I showed up)
"Your safety could be in jeopardy."
We looked at each other awkwardly, until he finally spoke:
I thought a lot about that visit since that day. As I see it, he came because:
A) He was concerned for my safety. I find this highly unlikely, especially since he never mentioned it on his second visit after a noise demo actually happened;
B) Vanier really wants to keep me on maximum security but they have no real reason to so they thought they'd put a bogus safety concern on the record;
C) I am an executive/ringleader of the anarchists, with my very own minions and foot soldiers (it's true! Just ask crown attorney Jason Miller) and therefore can stop these noise demos from happening if only I could be made to believe that they pose some sort of threat to me.
Although B is plausible, I am inclined to believe the answer is C. The state hates any show of solidarity with prisoners, and the idea that it puts anyone in danger is horseshit. I'm reminded of a chat with a friend and co-"guilty" who spent time in central north correctional centre in Penetanguishene; when a noise demo came his range got locked down.
"Shit," I said, "that sucks." But "No, it was awesome," he replied. "The guys were banging on the windows, they loved it, and afterwards we had a great conversation about why anarchists support prisoners."
I had a chat with an inmate on my range a while ago who had done some time at Grand Valley Institute, the federal penitentiary in Kitchener. When a noise demo arrived there a bunch of the inmates were out in the yard and could see it through the fence, until the guards freaked out and called a lock down. I asked her if people were mad.
"No, of course not. we just went inside and opened up our windows and we could still hear them. It was great -- why would we be mad? They were out there for us." My new cellie told me the same thing last week: "That was so nice of people to come here and do that for us." So the inmates love noise demos and the jails hate them... keep up the excellent work, folks!
Okay -- that was a big digression from celebrations. but there are a few more. On April 20 my friend Claire was released after spending just over a year here. She walked off the range amidst hugs and cheers, and while we were glad to see her go, we miss her. When someone gets out, I inevitably think, "one day that will be me." And that day is getting closer! I've already passed the 100-day mark. And on April 29, I'll have completed a third of my time. Two more of those and it will be December 3 and I'll be the one saying my goodbyes. I can't deny that it seems really far away sometimes... but it's really not. I'm already planning the party.
Before I go, some logistics.
1. Two packages and one letter were withheld by security last week and I don't know who they were from. Don't be offended if I don't write you back! As always you can check if I received your email at email@example.com.
2. Here is an excellent G20 2010 legal update. It's from March and I have heard it might be missing a B.C. woman and a couple of Montrealers, but it's the most comprehensive and up-to-date one I know of. Check it out: http://guelphabc.noblogs.org/post/2012/03/18/guelph-abcs-g20-repression-update-march/