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Bored but not broken: Liberation

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The other day I opened a book appropriately entitled Liberation. On the very first page, written in pencil, was this:

Why I am here?
How long am I going to be here?
How do I get out of Prison?
Who put me here?
Who do I speak to, what do I say?
Who will help me?
What do I need?
What type of help do I need?
Where do I go? for help.
When do I get out?
When does someone tell me what I am supposed to do?

I can't imagine how it must feel to be that isolated and disoriented in a place like this. When I got here, I'd been preparing myself for two months -- lots of time to get comfortable with the idea of incarceration, to put plans in place, to find out much of what I needed to know. I'm fortunate, and privileged, to have tons of community support and friends who are skilled organizers with a lot of resources and access. All of that has made it pretty easy for me to get my bearings and transition into life on the inside.

But it's not like that for everyone here. There's a lot of uncertainty. I can hear it constantly in snippets of conversation as people walk around the range, talk to their lawyers on the phone, and ask anxious questions to guards, nurses, social workers -- anyone who might know anything that could help them. I've met people who don't know what exactly their next court date is for, or if their their surety should be there, or why their lawyer didn't show up to represent them, or why they're being deported.

The legal system is not user-friendly, and there's no reason for that. I think there should be an orientation to the process for people just getting to jail. A regularly offered class, like the workshops on anger management, substance abuse, healthy relationships and so on that they run here -- or just a handbook. Hmm... I sense a project coming on, anyone interested in working with me on this?

As I think I mentioned in my last post, my "Earliest Discharge Date" is Dec. 3, 2012. That's two-thirds of my 16-month sentence which will be all I'll serve as long as I "earn full remission and protect it by proper behaviour"... how's that for condescending? Most people end up serving no more than two-thirds of their sentence, it seems that improper behaviour has to be pretty bad (but don't quote me on that, I don't know for sure). Because the Crown has not asked for a period of probation following sentence, on Dec. 3 I will be completely out of the clutches of the criminal "justice" system.

If I fail to act appropriately, I could be held past Dec. 3 but no later than May 12, 2013, which is my Warrant Expiring Date and marks the end of the 16-month sentence. Let's not think about that.

That brings me to the last important date: June 22, 2012, which is my Parole Eligibility Date and marks one-third of my sentence. Despite rumours to the contrary, which I'm sorry to say I helped spread before arriving here, parole is available for people doing up to two years less a day in provincial jails and isn't only for people serving longer sentences in federal penitentiaries. In fact, if your sentence is six months (181 days) or more, your right to a parole hearing is automatic. If it's less than that you have to apply in writing but it's still possible.

The person to talk to about parole is the institution liaison officer (ILO). One is available at every institution. The ILO I spoke to was very nice, and explained that her role is to give me all the information I need and then to help me prepare for a hearing. She gave me some pamphlets to look over which were very informative and slightly condescending, and a Parole Planning Guide which was slightly informative and very condescending.

If you're interested in how parole works in provincial jails, check out www.opb.gov.on.ca
For now, in case you're thinking that me getting out on parole this summer sounds like a good idea and/or remotely possible, here are some of the highlights:

-  The parole board "wants to discuss your offences with you and how you plan to keep yourself from committing a crime in the future." They want to see remorse, of which I have none.

-  "The board will focus on whether or not your release will pose an undue risk to society" -- yes, that's important because I was such a threat before -- and "whether or not your release will help you to become a law abiding citizen." Pardon me while I laugh uncontrollably for a moment.

-  One of the "things you can do to increase the likelihood of parole" is "think about the decision you made that got you into trouble with the law and what you need to do to increase your chances of staying out of trouble if you are released." <sigh> so many things to say about this, and they all lead to PAROLE ELIGIBILITY FAIL.

But here's the real kicker: There are six mandatory standard conditions that come with parole. If I breach any of them or am "convicted or charged" with another criminal offence before the end of my full sentence in may 2013, my parole could be suspended. I could be forced back to Vanier to serve the rest of my time, which could even be extended past the 16 months if they decide not to count my time out on parole as time served. The conditions are:

-  Report to your parole supervisor and local police as required;
-  Remain in Ontario;
-  Get permission from your parole supervisor before changing address or employment;
-  Carry your parole certificate at all times

Okay, so far so good, I suppose I could accept those, but the last two are:

-  Obey and the law and keep the peace;
-  Not associate with any person who is engaged in criminal activity or who has a criminal record unless approved by your parole supervisor.

Now there's absolutely no way, after what happened to Alex, that I trust the cops or the crown attorney's office to not have me arrested on some bogus charge or breach and have me thrown back in here just because they can. As for non-association conditions, I don't expect I'll ever sign those again. It's hard to believe they're constitutional (I suspect they're actually not) but easy to believe they're designed to rip targeted communities apart, one conditional release at a time. Of all the mistakes I made since my arrest in the summer of 2010, agreeing to non-communication with my co-accused is the one I regret the most.

So thanks but no thanks. I've decided to waive my right to a parole hearing so that when I walk out of here I will not be on any conditions and won't be bound to the criminal "justice" system in any way.

This post is titled "Liberation" so I'll end with a shout-out to Erik, who's spending his first week out of jail as I write this. Of course, being freed from incarceration is not real freedom... none of us will have real freedom until we get our shit together and decide what we're willing to give up for it. But you all know that already.

In solidarity, with much love and thanks for all your letters,

mandy :)


This post was orignally published on mandy's blog: bored but not broken.

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