Well, I've been here almost four weeks now, I'm all settled in and I've got the routine down. So now it's time for me to answer the question I get asked the most by folks on the outside: "So what do you do all day?"
Come, spend a day on Unit 2F, in the maximum security wing of Vanier with me!
The lights come up in the cells around 7:45am. This gives us about 15 minutes to get up, get dressed, and strip our bed (folding the sheets and blankets neatly in a pile at the end of the bed, as per the photo posted out on the range). By the time the lights go on I've been up for at least an hour or two doing a full warm-up and stretch - conveniently remembered from my days of competitive gymnastics - while my cellie sleeps. being up that early means I get to see who's being taken out for court - they get taken at 6 a.m. so they can wait in holding cells for hours. It's inefficient and kind of mean. Anyway, around 8 a.m. the loud buzzing sound means the cells are now unlocked, and we head out to breakfast. The cell door locks behind us.
Here on maximum security we're supposed to either all be in or all be out of our cells at any given time - we can't go in and out throughout the day as we please. One exception to this is right after breakfast, when the doors and the cleaning supply cupboards are opened and we're allowed to take some time to clean our cells.
One cell out of the 16 on Unit 2F is a single - every other one is for two people. They have:
-Two beds (metal slabs with plastic covered replaceable mattresses on top)
-A shelf at the end of each bed for our stuff
-A desk and stool
-A sink and toilet
-Two mirrors, one of which is functional
-A window in the door that looks out onto the range (my cell has the best view. We can see everything - the guards, the TV, the clock)
-A window in the wall that we can't see through but it does let in some light
-One property box (big Tupperware) each for us to store things in - usually things that need to be taken out to the range like paper and pencils, book, sweater and so on
Okay, so where were we? Oh, right, cleaning the cell. We sweep and mop the floor, and clean the desk, sink and toilet. Unlike last time I was here in the summer of 2010, there's cleaning solution now. But still no rags or mop heads, so we use sanitary napkins and dirty towels. We clean a lot. I mean, who washes the toilet and mops the floor every single day? We do. It's not like we have any big plans for the day or anything.
At some point during chores one of the guards yells "Supplies!" and we line up so they can pass soap, shampoo, tampons, etc. through a hatch. If you want a new toothbrush you have to bring the old one so they can see you toss it in the garbage. Same goes for the deodorant and toothpaste containers, and the toilet paper rolls - I'm not joking. Shortly before or shortly after supplies the nurse arrives and anyone taking meds lines up. They're passed through the hatch, too, and when you've swallowed you have to open your mouth to show the nurse you're not stashing them in there.
Sometime after chores the cell doors are locked and the rest of the morning is spent on the range. The range is the common area that the cells open onto. It's very institutional with walls made of those big bricks and painted off-white like a high school gym and has a linoleum floor. Eight tables with four seats each are bolted to the floor near the front of the range, closest to where the guards sit watching us from behind the glass. High up on the wall is a TV that gets turned on in the afternoons and evenings during the week and all day on weekends. Three very well-used phones are lined up against one wall. There are two bathrooms and at the back end of the range are two showers that get unlocked whenever we're locked out of our cells. The bathrooms and showers don't lock so there's a little sliding window you can use to see if anyone's inside. There's also a laundry room but only guards and range workers go in there.
Out on the range people chat, play cards, do crossword puzzles and sudukos and word finds, draw and colour, write letters and poems and journal entries, and talk on the phone. There are usually a few people walking around the range in circles and sometimes people do step or sit-ups or stretch.
Between 11 and 11:30 lunch arrives, and after lunch we get locked in our cells until around 2 p.m. "Quiet time" - yes, like at daycare! Some guards even dim the lights. This is a good time to get things done - I usually work on the blog or write letters and read. People have been sending me some really interesting things for which I'm really grateful. This is also a good time for a game with my cellie - lately we have been playing a lot of scrabble. If I'm feeling ambitious I do pushups or burpees, but that doesn't really happen very often.
When the cells unlock around 2 p.m. we're back on the range until dinner (which comes ridiculously early - between 4 and 4:30 p.m.) This is the time of Really Bad TV: Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Silent Library, Scare Tactics. It's painful, and hard to get away from, but I'm getting better at tuning it out.
After dinner we're locked up again until 6 p.m. , and then we're back out on the range until 7:30. In and out, in and out. Nothing much happens in the evening. Request forms are handed out (these are to be filled out by inmates who want to speak to someone, like a doctor or social worker or the Elizabeth Fry Society) and the nurse comes to dispense evening meds. At 7:30 we go back to our cells for the night and hope the lights don't get dimmed too soon - because some guards will dim them as early as 8:30. I guess sometimes they forget we're adults. Anyway the lights don't really go out - all night they're only dim - and I can still read in the only-slightly-darkness, so it's not too bad for me. At some point before my cellie falls asleep I make my bed, do a bit of yoga and am usually in bed by 10 p.m. It's easy to sleep eight hours a night here - I know some of you are jealous!
But really, don't be jealous, it's actually not very fun. Every day is basically the same, with a few exceptions:
-Wednesdays and Sundays: clothing exchange. We get clean clothes, towels and bedsheets
-Saturdays: the canteen order arrives
-Sundays: we submit next week's canteen order form. We get our free issue: four pieces of lined paper and two envelopes that the jail mails out for free
There are the occasional very welcome interruptions of yard time, mail distribution and visits and the less fun but still distracting chats with the institution's professionals and community workers. Now that I'm settled I don't really see any of those people anymore. I also don't go to programs (Anger Management, Better Choices, Healthy Relationships etc.) or go to the Chapel or Bible study, although a lot of inmates do. Mostly I try to write a couple of letters and make a phone call every day, work regularly on the weekly blog post, and do three 40 minute walks around the range daily.
Something good happens at least once a day. I get a visit, or mail, or I chat on the phone with someone I miss. Still, I often go to bed at night feeling that the day can't possibly be over because nothing has happened yet, I haven't really done anything. It's not like I never felt this way on the outside - I just feel it way more often here. I remind myself that it's probably how a lot of people feel who work shitty, meaningless jobs then go home and watch shitty, meaningless TV - but that doesn't make it better, just more sad.
Because there's so little to do, I find it helps to keep everything separate and focus on one thing at a time. Walking is walking and it happens inside. Breathing fresh air happens outside. So don't walk around outside, just breathe. Don't walk and read, or read while you eat! Walk, then read, then eat - it takes longer. Don't take the cell's garbage bag out on the way to breakfast - wait and do it during chores - it'll be an extra trip! I'm not sure if this is what people mean when they talk about mindfulness and focusing on the present, but it definitely feels different than my usual hurry-up-save-time multi-tasking lifestyle. I hope to be able to keep it up to some extent when I get out.
And speaking of getting out. . .Adam has been released from Penetang! I hope you're enjoying your first week back on the outside, Adam. Slowly but surely the state is relaxing its grip on us :)
This blog post was first published on Bored but not broken
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