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Bored but not broken: Perks and privileges

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today i'm continuing my observations of the social interactions and dynamics of Canada Geese. they hang out outside my window every day, in various combinations, small groups and pairs merging and breaking apart in a never-ending series of aggressive, defensive and protective manoeuvres. i'm starting to understand the meanings of their calls and behaviours, and to recognize individuals. there are the bullied, the injured, the ones who are allowed at the outskirts of the group -- so close and no closer. it's fascinating and heartbreaking... i want to go out there and scold the jerks, take care of the weak, and replace this whole survival of the fittest thing with a community based on mutual aid and solidarity. hey, wait a minute, isn't that pretty much why i'm in jail? and since i'm locked up, there's absolutely nothing i can do about the shunned bird who can barely walk, who's constantly being driven off and who seems to have been abandoned by the partner who was with her until yesterday. and there it is again, the feeling of being powerless to do anything about the suffering all around me. ugh. jail.

i've been imprisoned for eight months now, and on Unit 4 for three weeks. aside from the terrible goose drama playing out right beside me, i'm still loving medium security. some of the inmates were here back in april when the noise demo showed up ("holy shit... you're THAT Mandy!? that was awesome! your friends rock") and people generally can't believe that i spent so long on Unit 2. i have random conversations with more people on this range -- partly because i'm more comfortable up here and partly because the open doors and flexible seating arrangements are more conducive to meeting everyone. people are interested in the blog, the G20, The Peak... we get along quite well.

the atmosphere is very different here. i knew it would be the minute i saw the poster advertising Sports Day, the day i arrived. it was a hand-made, colourful, cartoon-style picture of a group of girls holding sports equipment, drawn on that brown paper that comes on huge rolls. "SPORTS DAY - September 3rd - submit your teams of six to rec by August 31st." it was the first indication that this was not the same kind of place as Unit 2 -- i felt like i'd entered a high school, or some kind of camp. within a few days i was on a team, thanks to a woman i moved from 2F with who knew a lot of people already and had no shyness issues. we didn't take it all that seriously, but i actually saw teams strategizing and assessing their strengths and weaknesses -- some people got really into it. the trick was to figure out who would sign up for each event (speed, coordination, flexibility, strength, balance and endurance) before knowing what each one was going to entail. we chose our events on the day, and i ended up with speed sort of by default. argh. it was a race, of course, and i came fourth out of six. six teams had signed up for a total of 36 competitors, probably close to half the unit. the rest watched or just enjoyed the extended yard while we moved through the other five events:

-  flexibility: sitting down, legs straight and slightly apart, reach forward and stick a popsicle stick as far ahead of you as possible into the volleyball court sand;

-  strength: hold a 5lb weight in each hand and hold your arms out straight for as long as you can;

-  endurance: hold a plank position for as long as you can;

-  balance: hold an egg (unboiled, painted with a cute face) on a spoon through an obstacle course involving going through hula hoops and sitting down ("butt cheeks all the way on the    ground, ladies!") and standing back up, as fast as possible without dropping the egg;

-  co-ordination: with a blindfold and a toque over your eyes, wander around and find a chair to sit on before everyone else does or you're out. by far the most hilarious event.

and that was Sports Day. we all got freezies at the end, even the losing team (us). the winners also got some sort of product -- body wash, hair gel etc.  conveniently, september 3 was my "three months left to go" celebration so i had a whack of candy to share, so my team also got jellybeans :)

i'm left wondering about a few things. i actually enjoyed Sports Day and it didn't feel weird at all. why? why didn't i have issues with it like i did with Vanier Idol back in February? is it just that things like singing and dancing make me want to crawl into a hole and die, whereas i can get behind going outside and playing games? or because i was not as comfortable, socially speaking, on 2F as i am on 4? or because Unit 4 feels less like jail, we have more (and more pleasant) interactions with guards, so it seems less strange for staff to be doing nice things for us? or have i, sadly, normalized and become more accepting of my incarceration over the past six and a half months? whatever the reason, it seems a bit wrong for me to be enjoying all these medium security perks and privileges when the people i left behind on maximum get nothing. why shouldn't they get Sports Day? or other programs organized by rec staff -- fitness classes, games, weekend movie screenings, exercise circuits during yard? there are also more life skills programs, more Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and you can take correspondence courses or study for your General Education Degree (GED) with a group and a teacher. not to mention the unplanned joys -- a few weeks ago i laid on the grass and watched the clouds for the first time all summer; later that night i saw the moon and i think i actually gasped. i hadn't seen the moon in 233 days and i couldn't stop staring at it. i was so excited i had to stop myself from running out of my room like a fool to tell everyone to look. last weekend The Hunger Games was screened in the basement.  now, i know some of you have been holding out so we can watch it together for the first time... don't worry, i didn't cave! but i did have the opportunity to watch it -- that would have been unthinkable a month ago. here are some other things i've done here that i wouldn't have been able to do on Unit 2:

-  seen a Monarch butterfly and a cricket

-  my own laundry

-  run around a track

-  seen a groundhog, and masses of starlings

-  visited the library

-  cleaned sinks, showers and toilets

-  eaten saved food, in my room, WITH A SPOON

-  checked my Body Mass Index (healthy :)

-  attended Yoga & Meditation class

-  sat at a desk beside an open window and felt the breeze and the mist

-  swept, mopped common space; garbage

-  seen some badass thunder clouds

-  spent part of every day alone

I should say that i have tons of respect for Leah, who got moved to medium security halfway through her sentence and gave it all up on a matter of principle when she refused to do free labour knowing she'd be bounced back down to Unit 2. i didn't find it so terrible while i was there but i'd hate to have to go back there now... of course, the jail counts on people feeling this way. the fear of being sent back keeps us well-behaved. we police ourselves, and there is an unfortunate tendency for inmates to police each other. we don't want someone talking to us at quiet time, for example, because we might both get in shit -- and the consequences of getting in shit here are more severe. the threat of maximum security looms, and we're meant to acknowledge the privileged position we're in and be grateful for it. it's a classic way of controlling a population, and it works. i catch myself overlooking all kinds of little annoyances that would have pissed me off to no end on Unit 2, because i'm so much better off overall.  maybe this will wear off -- i hope so! after all when it comes down to it we're all here against our will, the guards can treat us however they like, and our rights and recourses are so limited as to be basically non-existent. as one guard said to us as she walked us from Unit 2 to Unit 4: "same shit, different pile, right?"        

This blog post was orignally published on bored but not broken

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