last night they screwed up when they turned the lights out. the hallway lights went out as well as the ones in our rooms, and for a few wonderful seconds it was completely dark. i'm really looking forward to darkness.
the darkness around here today is just the general mood. it has been an eventful and rather unpleasant day.
i was in the shower this morning, around 10am, when the loudspeaker came on. “ladies, to your rooms. everyone to your room.” fuck. that's weird – i wonder what's happening? my first thought is that the very pregnant woman on D-wing has gone into labour, but as time goes on it starts to feel more tense and serious than that. there's a lot of activity over the loudspeaker, asking various important people (like lieutenants aka white shirts, and the head of security) to call various extensions. the guards are not happy. lunch is a solemn affair, behind closed doors with no mass trading opportunity. we are not impressed.
rumour has it that Unit 2 was searched. i wonder if that means they just needed extra guards from Unit 4 and we'll be out soon, but i'm told that we're not usually locked down when there's a search on maximum security. so maybe it's an institutional search. those take the whole day, at least.
it is, in fact, an institutional search.
during after-lunch quiet time i take a trip to the washroom and see guards wearing gloves and carrying garbage bags over in the A/B side's common room. they're looking under tables and they're being very thorough. i wonder what they are looking for. medium security units don't get regular monthly searches like Unit 2 does, so they're looking for something specific. this is a Big Deal. i have a very exciting visit at 2:45 – a friend who lives overseas now – and i ask the guard if i'll still get it. he says i will. i go back to my room and clean it up in preparation for the trashing. what a complete pain in the ass.
eventually it's our turn. the strip search happens in my room, which is freezing. right across the narrow hall another inmate is stripping for another guard, as i'm standing there naked a bunch of guards walk by with an inmate from down the hall. it's the birthday girl! i guess i'm her birthday stripper. i mean i don't really care, but i'm pretty sure it's not proper procedure for prisoners to see each other naked. i'm more pissed off at the fact that 2:45 has come and gone, and when i ask this guard if visits are still on she says no. this is very disappointing. usually visits aren't cancelled for searches so this is obviously quite serious.
after the strip-search we're sent to wait in the basement while the guards trash our room. yard time comes and goes as we sit around doing nothing. as usual when we return to assess the mess and clean it up, we find a huge discrepancy in terms of what got taken and what didn't. different guards like to confiscate different things and are more enthusiastic than others. my room was messy but my box of work and mail was untouched and only half of my hoarded snacks were missing. my anarchy flag (a red and black napkin from a Native Sisters event that someone once gave me) and my torn up orange peels (jail air freshener!) were also gone. all in all i got off pretty easy. other people lost all their food, including the birthday girl who lost all the peanut butters we'd collected for her gift bag, and some lost things they'd paid for off canteen (which is not supposed to happen). one woman lost a folder of recipes she'd been collecting out of magazines.
so now it's after dinner quiet time and who knows if we'll be let out later. people are justifiably pissed. i suggest they use the blog to rant.
to add insult to injury, the rooms are freezing cold. people are wrapped in blankets, blowing on fingers. even the guard working in the rotunda is wearing a toque.
the radiators are making strange noises. soon we will have heat! and not a moment too soon, because we're still on lockdown and it's fish slop for dinner tonight – the meal that only a few brave souls can stomach. the masses are not impressed. at least we won't freeze in our cells too, that just might have pushed the crankiness over the edge.
yesterday morning a petition was circulated asking for the heat to be turned on. i signed it, never imagining for a second that it would work, but maybe it actually did. or maybe the guards finally got cold enough to make some inquiries. either way, i plan to get as much of my body as close to my radiator as i possibly can.
someone on my wing gave me an account of her day yesterday to publish it. here it is.
A Court Day in Vanier Centre for Women. . .
O.K. Here goes, they wake you up at 5:00am. You do your wash-up brush your teeth and sit and wait for them to take you to A 'n' D to eat your breakfast, you don't have a toothbrush in A 'n' D so you can't brush your teeth down there although some girls sneak some stuff down like toothpaste, toothbrush, bar soap, maybe even some sugar, whiteners, juice crystals. They hide these things in a pad in their underwear because like I said we are not allowed to have these things in A 'n' D or at court so if you get caught you're in trouble. Some guards take it more serious than others but really they all act like you're committing a criminal offence. It's kinda crazy if you ask me but whatever - it's jail - they say get used to it. While in A 'n' D we again sit and wait for the paddy wagon to come get us and take us to whatever court house we go to – Milton, St. Catherines, Brampton, College Park, Old City Hall and so on. I 'm one of the ones that go to College Park. My ride takes at least an hour on a good day stopping at Old City Hall to drop people off. Oh i forgot to tell you before we get on the paddy wagon we get patted down to make sure we don't have anything on us then when we get to where we are going we get patted down again. Now remember all we did is get in a metal box paddy wagon what could we possibly have on us. . .anyways i guess they just like to feel us up, what other reason is there. . .
O.K. So now we are there in a big cell in the basement of College Park. They decide to move us all upstairs to a different cell, not as big but still big enough for a lot of girls, til it's time for us to go to court and either deal with our case or remand it. Today mine was supposed to be bail but the Crown has decided that my bail be moved to a different court house so i'm remanded for another week and taken back downstairs to sit and wait for the other girls to be done and for the paddy wagon to come back and return those of us that didn't get released. Which doesn't come til 5:30-6:00pm. And we don't get back to Vanier til around 7:00pm and this time we have the privilege of doing a little strip for the guards because even though we never left secure custody we might have been able to pick up something on the way. . .now after the search we get our dinner yeah! We are all so excited to down another Vanier meal and then wait again til the guards are ready to take us back to our range.
The real reason why i'm writing this blog is to tell you all about the shock i got when i got back to my cell. . .while i was at court i guess there was a security breach and the whole jail was on lock down and searched so i got back to a complete mess my cell was torn apart my personal belongings were either emptied on the floor or just not there because the guard decided to throw them out. So remember it's at least 9:00pm - i'm exhausted from being at court all day and now i have one hell of a mess to clean up before i go to sleep, going through my stuff. I put my cell back together, i feel violated not only do they strip search you whenever they feel like it but they also tear through your belongings like they're a tornado destroying everything and throwing out whatever they choose some guards throwing out more than others. As i'm putting my cell back together I notice they've thrown out my canteen stuff. They say Oh well write a complaint to the white shirt and I'm told to go back to my cell. . .will anything be done about my missing canteen probably not and for those that don't get much canteen money that's a big deal because they might not be able to replace what they've lost. ~J.N.
lockdown, day three.
i have mixed feelings about lockdowns. when the guards are relaxed and don't really care if we chat at our doors it's irritating, because the noise is closer and it's harder to read and work. when the guards are strict about closed doors it can feel like a snow day – nowhere to go, and the whole day stretched ahead of you. the down-side, of course, is the lack of phone access and very occasionally a cancelled visit. despite the drawbacks, i usually find myself happy to be stuck in my room.
i try not to ever wish for a lockdown, though, because i know most people in here hate it. most people don't get tons of mail, they didn't come to jail with a list of projects (we can't all be dorky workaholics, after all) and not everyone finds reading books easy or enjoyable. most inmates spend their days hanging out, playing cards and watching TV. in addition, a lot of people meet with social workers and organizations that help with housing, employment, custody, the GED, and so on. those meetings don't tend to happen during lockdowns, and neither does the general programming. so if you're stressed about where you're going to live when you get out and you can't see the person who's helping you, and on top of that you have nothing to occupy your time, a day cooped up alone in a very small room can seem endless.
so people get mad, understandably. here's one person's account of the frustrations of the past few days:
Do you ever wake up in the morning wishing you didn't? Or ask yourself is this what hell feels like? I wake up every morning in a cell wondering what the guards have planned for my day. . .
We were locked down for over 48 hours, got strip searched and our cells got turned upside down. They invaded our privacy and threw away what they thought was garbage. We had to demand to take a shower after being locked up for 30+ hours. All because two inmates couldn't get along and a girl and her husband thought it would be a good idea to make up a fucked up story and call the jail with it. The “funniest” thing about it is that if you so much as talk back or even make a face at guards they are so quick to bounce you back to Unit 2, but when it's something serious they just violate all of us instead of dealing with the people causing the problem. They would rather see us suffer.
I've been sitting in this place for almost six months. It's my first and last time believe me. They barely give us cooked meals (pink meat) but they want to give us misconducts for having peanut butters, jams or butters saved for when we are hungry. . .I wouldn't wish this place on my worst enemies. I bet you all the money in the world that they wouldn't treat their animals the way they treat us. We are humans too although we are in holding. And we are innocent until proven guilty. - Renee Hamilton
a lot of the frustration on my wing is being directed at the two people on the Unit who are believed to be the cause of the lockdown. apparently one woman told her husband that she's afraid because another inmate has a weapon hidden and plans to use it on her. her husband later called the jail.
on my wing people are calling her a rat and/or a liar, suggesting she made the whole thing up or that it's all being blown way out of proportion and we're essentially being locked up for nothing. the blame is being placed squarely on the two inmates who are 'causing shit', but it seems to be weighted more heavily towards the alleged victim of the alleged threat.
the guards, strangely, are taking the whole thing very seriously on the one hand (the intense search for the weapon, which rumour has it is a razor blade) yet not at all seriously on the other (they haven't even separated the two women, who are on the same wing and therefore could fight in their hallway – lockdown or no).
the whole thing is a bit bizarre.
it's also an example of the complete lack of solidarity amongst prisoners that rears its ugly head every so often.
i don't know if it ever got handed in but a letter was written to the guards and/or admin suggesting that the two individuals be bounced back to maximum security so we could be let out of our rooms. i refused to have anything to do with it but a lot of people ended up signing it. there's also the absolute unwillingness to consider that perhaps it's all true and someone was (or really believed herself to be) in danger of being seriously hurt. it's sad that people in shitty situations are so quick to turn on each other to safeguard the little we have, instead of coming together to collectively tackle our common and much more important problems.
there's frost on the ground. i've been here nine months as of today! and it's my first real day on the job.
i put comb teeth through the holes in my ears yesterday, so i have pierced ears again for the first time in years. it's the first jail thing i've done to my body – i've avoided like the plague the never-ending french braid/cornrow/fish tail sessions that go on in the common room, and i've refrained from getting a jail tattoo. plastic pointy earrings, though? i can get behind those.
jail tattoos are made with crushed up pencil crayons and a staple. that's why magazines with staples aren't allowed. giving (and presumably getting) a tattoo, or having the equipment, gets you a misconduct and bounced back to maximum security if you're not there already. there are a lot of people who have them, though, and some of them are really well done.
@ @ @
it's pouring outside. the garbage can in the common room has been strategically placed to catch the water coming through the ceiling.
this morning i finished reading One Woman Army: The Life of Claire Culhane. the back of the book describes it more concisely than i could, so i'll just copy it here.
Rebel and raconteuse, activist and author, Claire Culhane is a Canadian original. In a life that has spanned most of the twentieth century, this remarkable woman played a part in many of the headline-making social struggles of our time: the spanish civil war; the women's movement; the FLQ crisis; the war in Vietnam; and the British Columbia prison riot of 1976. Her current campaign for prison abolition stems from an on-going personal and political struggle against authority. Described as compassionate and incorruptible by her friends, infuriating and unforgiving by her enemies, Culhane has touched the lives of thousands of ordinary Canadians and been resolutely shunned by the Canadian establishment. Hers is a story of rare courage, of heartbreak and struggle, and, ultimately, of triumph over adversity. Clair Culhane is living proof that even in these cynical and dispirited times, one person can still make a difference.
if you're interested in Canadian history or in need of inspiration, this would be a great book to add to your reading list. ditto if you think you have things to learn about traditional tactics like lobbying, targeted protests and non-violent civil-disobedience – actually even more so if you've written them off and think you have nothing to learn from them. finally if you do prison abolition/ prisoner solidarity work, or just want to know more about incarceration in Canada, the last chapter is a must-read. Claire wrote two books about prisons and her work with inmates:
Barred from Prison: A Personal Account (1979)
Still Barred from Prison: Social Injustice in Canada (1985)
the titles refer to the fact that she was banned from multiple federal penitentiaries for years because of the effectiveness of her work and the trouble it caused the authorities. A revised edition of the second book, published in 1991 after the ban was lifted, was entitled No Longer Barred from Prison.
here are some of my favourite Claire Culhane quotes:
“The question that must be faced is- are too many people being held in prison for too long because of tough economic times, and if so, is it practical to house this surplus of 'hostages to the economy' in prisons?”
“As I see it, by trying to abolish the present prison system we challenge a social/political/economic order which must preserve and expand it's prisons to confine anyone who dares resist it – trade unionists, nuclear protestors, and political activists all qualify as potential 'criminals'.”
“Grim realist that I am, there's no way I can ignore the ten-year sentence the environmentalists fear has been laid on the planet. It adds up to the fact that, accepting all this grim reality, one has two choices: jump out the window or live with it. In which case one has another two options. Sit back and let it happen, or find a corner to fight back from, again for two reasons. It's the essential physiological function, and it's the last straw of hope (one cannot live without hope) that maybe, just maybe, if enough people everywhere are fighting back, just maybe, maybe, wedon't go down. Once I get my head into that space I can keep going, since my prime drive is how to smash the system, my corner being the prison system, which is the Achilles heel of the whole rotten system.”
there's a guard on tonight that people haven't seen before. people asked her what she's doing on Unit 4 and where she usually works and she replied “IMAT”. that's the intensive Management and Treatment Unit, 2E, that was described a bit in an earlier post. basically, it's for people who can't handle general population but don't need to be in segregation. many IMAT inmates are struggling with their mental health.
that being the case, one would assume that all guards assigned to that unit would be particularly knowledgeable and compassionate when it come to these inmates; needs and the challenges they face.
one would assume that, but one would be wrong.
our one-time night guard responded to a question about her job on IMAT as follows: “I deal with crazy people and assholes.”
crazy people and assholes.
for effect, and encouraged by laughter on the wing, she continued “I deal with shit-slingers and assholes.”
crazy people. assholes. shit-slingers.
these are people who are having a particularly difficult time in jail. this place isn't great to begin with – imagine having to deal with it in a fragile headspace. it's bad enough that other inmates mock them and call them E-tards and so on, but coming from a guard responsible for their care and safety that kind of disrespect is beyond disgusting. if that's what she thinks about them, i wonder how she treats them?
maybe there's a reason they're slinging shit.
when i went to get medication this morning the wrong pills were in the little cup. I handed it back to the nurse and told her that the green one was supposed to be yellow. her reply? “oh, sorry, the multivitamins are right next to the iron.”
this kind of thing happens a lot here. wrong pill, wrong dose, wrong number of pills in the cup. mixing up iron and a multivitamin isn't a big deal, but what if the switched out medication is something essential, or the switched one is a powerful psych drug or something the person's allergic to? it was easy for me to notice the mixup because of the colour of the pills, but a lot of pills are small, round and white.
we take it on faith that we're getting the meds we're supposed to be getting; we have to trust the nurses because we don't see the pills go from the bottle into the cup, and the cup go onto the tray beside our name. i realize that everyone makes mistakes. i know the nurses are busy, so maybe they aren't given the time they need to double-check. it's also quite obvious that they're under-appreciated: inmates get mad at them for things they can't do anything about (like doctor's orders, prescriptions, or the fact that they can't give out more than one Tylenol at a time) and i've also seen them treated pretty shittily by some of the guards here. but a lot of people in this jail are on medication that they really need, and they depend on the staff to get it right – not most of the time but all of the time.
i've never been so surrounded by Christianity.
here on C-wing, every night after chores, people stand in their doorways until someone calls out “Whose Father?” and they respond with “Our Father, who art in Heaven. . .” and proceed to recite the entire Lord's Prayer. i couldn't believe it my first night here – i looked up and down the hall in shock and more than half the wing was participating.
in jail it's common for people to write things like “God bless you” in birthday cards, to say things like “tomorrow i'll get bail, God willing,” and to tell each other to just have faith in the Lord and things will turn out okay. if you were to walk down the hallway during quiet time and peek in all the windows, you'd almost certainly see a couple of people reading their Bibles. my daytimer was provided by The Canadian Lord's Day Association and has a Bible quote for each day plus a few extras thrown in for good measure (here is today's: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture.” i think this means that if i was a guy, Jesus would bust me out of here so i could go lay in a field :). similarly, my memo booklet comes compliments of New Life Prison Ministry.
there was no nightly Lord's Prayer tradition back on 2F, but Christianity was everywhere there too. my cell had a cross drawn on the wall above the door and a conversation written on the wall by my bed:
-read your bible
and further down: “praise Him.” looking into people's cells once to see who had the broom i saw more pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary than i've ever seen in one place before.
one particularly obnoxious ritual on 2F was the televised church show we were forced to endure every sunday by the folks who had control of the TV. you know the type: people in fancy clothes and a lot of stage makeup, in huge gaudy churches with stages, singing for hours on end somewhere deep in the U.S. anyone who asked to turn it down – or better yet, off – was shot a how-dare-you-filthy-heathen look and quickly backed off. it became obvious that Christian or not, on Sundays we were damn well going to be force-fed some God. i always wondered what would happen if someone tried to take up any amount of shared space with any other religion.
then there were the anti-abortion protesters. they repeatedly defy court orders banning them from protesting and flyering too close to clinics so they're in and out of jail all the time. they refuse to sign bail conditions so they're kept in detention, and they refuse to sign the papers that would allow classification access to their records so they stay on maximum security. one of them explained the reason to me: by the time pregnant women are moved to a medium security unit their decision to abort or not has usually already been made, so in order to continue to do God's work on the inside she needs to stay on Unit 2. these women are not pushy when it comes to their religion but they are organized and persuasive. within days of the arrival of one of them on the range there was a daily prayer group convening by the back stairs that regularly drew around six people.
other people could be quite aggressive. i remember one woman who was very quiet and nervous and who struggled a bit with English once used a Bible to prop her cell door open (the most common use for books on 2F, sadly). other inmates walked by and noticed are started screaming at her. she tried to explain that she had just grabbed it off the shelf and hadn't even realized what it was, but they wouldn't let up until she started to cry. i'm not sure their god approved. . .
personally, i'd rather see a Bible wrecked than a good novel. good books can be hard to come by on maximum security but Bibles are free and you can get one brought to you whenever you ask. the person to talk to if you're in need of Christian texts or tracts is the chaplain. not that you can only get Christian stuff – he can also bring you the Qur’an, for instance, and he's the one to go to if you need a hijab and prayer mat, or a kosher or halal diet. there's a special meal schedule set up for those who observe Ramadan. i've even seen copies of The Watchtower and i've heard that Jehovah's Witnesses come in to speak to people. so don't get me wrong, i'm not saying that other faiths aren't accommodated here. it's just that they're not continually advertised and promoted the way Christianity is. every sunday there's an open call for Chapel. every morning there's an open call for Faith Builders (this is run by a reverend and involves reading and discussing a Bible passage) and people can sign up for more extensive Bible studies classes through New Life Ministries.
i don't know if there's a correlation between believing in and/or practicing Christianity and winding up in jail. if so, it could be a fascinating study of the relationship between Christianity and the factors that influence the likelihood of interaction with the legal system (class, support network, race, mental health, education level and so on). or are people just more likely to turn to religion once they're stuck in here? it's true that many inmates will go to almost any program just for something to do – talk about a captive audience! it's also true that prisoners are a very vulnerable population; people here need support and some need it desperately. it makes me wonder how many people “found God” in here – there are an awful lot of those first-hand accounts on the book shelves of hardened criminals who saw the light and became motivational speakers and recruiters for the church.
when it comes down to it, to quote a character in a short story i just read, “who am i to kick at people's crutches?” i just wish people here would stop whacking me over the head with them.
a guard asked me earlier if i'd heard of the FREE MANDY BANNER that was dropped from a crane in guelph. i hadn't. she was not amused, but i've been grinning for a long, long time :)
i just went to get my meds from the nurse's station. as i was standing in line an inmate swallowed her water and forgot to throw away the little paper cup before starting to walk away “hey” says the guard, and points to the garbage can. “oh sorry” she says, and goes back to throw it out.
i never throw out my meds cup. i take it back to my room and refill it from the tap the next day. i know – one less paper cup in the landfill everyday means fuck all in the face of climate change and ecological collapse, but it makes me feel better so it annoys me to think that today i'm going to be forced to create that little bit of extra garbage for no good reason.
but no! when i get to the nurses station the guard looks at my cup. “what, you don't like my water?” she asks, to which i replied “i don't like the waste.” she says “well at least they're not plastic” which is true enough, and i walk away with the cup.
this has happened before. someone else tried to keep her cup, having seen me do it, and was told she couldn't. the explanation for why i could and she couldn't “Hiscocks is an environmentalist.”
why do i get away with this stuff? it's not just the meds cups – i have the distinct impression that i am given the benefit of the doubt more often than others, that certain allowances are being made. why? is it the blog? is it now, because i'm a worker? do some of the guards have a secret hatred for capitalism, austerity measures, the G20? or have they just gotten tired of arguing with me? it's certainly not my charm and sunny personality. . .
@ @ @
today is my nephew's birthday. by the time i get out of here i'll have missed every family birthday of 2012 except for one. i'm lucky – i've been able to call in to the celebrations. but i remember the sobbing coming from a room down the hall one night because a mother hadn't been able to talk to her twins on their birthday – all because the archaic phone system here can only reach landlines.
anyone who doesn't believe that jail is cruel really needs to come and spend some time in this place.
the guard who read my outgoing mail tonight read the october 17 entry about the IMAT nurse. she wanted me to know that there are some really wonderful people who work on that wing. i don't doubt it. she said she's sometimes embarrassed by the things guards say, and i don't doubt that either.
so i went to bed feeling a bit bad and wondering if maybe i'm coming off as too harsh. . .i don't want you all to get the wrong idea. and just as i'm thinking this, a different guard knocks on my door. he knows i live in Guelph, as does he, and we had a conversation recently (while i was doing laundry and he was supervising) about how great the city is and all the new condo developments are not. which made me feel like even more of a jerk.
this seems like a good opportunity for me to repeat, because i haven't said it in a while, that the shitty attitudes and unprofessional behaviour i sometimes write about are not the norm – not in my experience anyway. some guards seem to go out of their way to be nasty, others go out of their way to be nice. they have good days and bad days and things that drive them up the wall, like the rest of us, but for the most part the guards i've met here are decent people.
last night there was a nasty argument because someone wanted to leave her window open and other people were cold. it was just words, but they were vicious words. a few days ago the argument was over chores – someone had slacked off and not cleaned the toilets. that one almost came to blows and one person was bounced back to maximum security.
small things become big things in this kind of environment where we're forced to live in very close quarters with random people who are often very stressed out, and where we have so little control over anything.
we got some new people on the unit today. as i was setting them up with clothes and bedding one of them said “you're Mandy, right? i read your blog.”
@ @ @
a pregnant inmate was taken to the hospital earlier to give birth. if all goes well, medically speaking, she'll be back here in a few days. can you imagine? the baby you've carried inside you for nine months being snatched away so soon after birth. any system that condones such a thing is not a system of justice.
This was originally published on bored but not broken