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Bored but not broken: Un/welcome distractions

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At the moment I'm being distracted by the bad pop music coming from the TV as well as being bad, it's muffled because once again we're on lockdown and it's coming through the door of my cell. My cellie got out this morning so I'm all alone in here, you'd think that would help me focus on work but instead it seems I'm distracted by the lack of distraction.

It looks like we might be in here all day. All day I will be forced to look at the sticky bun sitting on my window sill. Will I eat it? Or will I save it for later? Such are the big questions in the air here in cell 12, unit 2F.

Sitting on the bed beside me is The Globe and Mail. As distractions go, this one is a huge hit. Before I came here, when I was thinking about how to make the sentence productive, I thought up three campaigns. The first was to get a newspaper onto the range. Check! Success. A little bit of asking around on my part and a lot of work on the outside by my good friend Ali and a sympathetic Globe and Mail staff person, and now every morning I trade in the previous day's paper for the new one and feel a little bit more part of the world. According to one guard, we "pulled off quite a coup" because newspapers haven't been allowed on maximum security for some time. It's a coup that's very much appreciated by others on the range who take turns reading it. At the end of this post Ali will explain how she managed to pull it off.

For now, I'd like to tell you about a very unwelcome, albeit somewhat fascinating distraction from last week's tedium: my unexpected visit with John Dyer of the provincial operations intelligence bureau of the Ontario Provincial Police.

When he walked into the professional visit room, he just looked at me with an awkward half-smile. Who is this guy? He Looks familiar. I wait for him to introduce himself, "Hey, do you remember me? I'm John." ah, yes, 2008. Right. "Yeah, you're John Dyer, from the OPP." I'd been wondering when these folks would show up.

So last week he was "in the neighbourhood" and thought he'd come to see me. "Because, you know, I've known you for quite awhile now, since 2002 with the squat in Ottawa," Huh. That long? Interesting. "and I just wanted to come and see where your head's at these days." Yes, John old buddy, I'm sure you did.

I first met him while detained at the Guelph police station after being arrested following a road blockade back in November of 2008. He showed up with another officer, in plain clothes, to talk to me. "When I saw you in Guelph," he says to me last week, "we talked, we had a good conversation that day." Oh did we really? Because as I recall it ended rather abruptly, with me walking to the door and telling the Guelph cops to "Get these people the fuck out of here". "yeah," I say, "When you wanted me to snitch on people?" He looks offended. "Well i wouldn't say that." But in fact, John, you did say that - on the witness stand at my preliminary inquiry:

"What was your mandate that day?"
"To get information."
"You wanted to turn me into an informant."
"So you drove all the way from Ottawa to try to turn me into an informant."

It's true that one of us talked at length that day back in 2008. He talked at me about all the things he knew about me and my life (it was shocking at the time), and about things that had been going on in Guelph in the last little while and that, presumably, were under investigation. He told me that the cops had no problems with the type of activism I was involved in, but "You know, sometimes people come into your community and start doing things you don't agree with, and that when you and I can work together."

Actually, John, no. There is no situation in which you and I will ever work together.

I remember feeling insulted that he'd even try this with me - don't these people have psych profiles on us? What in my profile could have led him to believe I'd ever be a snitch!?

The one-sided conversation last week didn't really go there, although he used similar tactics as he had back in 2008. There was a lot of name-dropping - of people i know, places I'd lived, events I'd been at (yes, I know, you've been spying on me, I get it). Strangely, he gave me advice on how to question a witness on the stand - perhaps to show me how friendly and helpful he can be? There were allusions to my intelligence, and his disagreement with the "eco-extremism" label in many cases, and to our shared belief in social and environmental justice. At some point I get tired of doing the clench-jaw-grit-teeth-stare-coldly look and interrupt: "Are you recording this?" He laughs, "No, of course not." Yeah, of course not, because that never happens. Silly me.

Several times I state that "I have nothing to say to you. Go knock on the door, we're done here" and he replies "Sure, I will, I will" and keeps talking.

By far the most surreal part of the visit was when he started to share his own (not necessarily real) feelings and beliefs about the environment, activism, and what types of organizing are really effective.  Clayoquot Sound, Elizabeth May ("I know, some may say she sold out"), and so on and so forth, until "You know, all that Hanlon creek business park stuff. I Just don't know why they didn't focus on something specific, like Nestle. I mean, everyone knows we shouldn't be drinking water out of plastic bottles. That's something the whole community could've gotten behind." Clearly he hasn't done much research into this, or he would've known about wellington water watchers, but I don't tell him that. Instead I say "Well then maybe you should start that up." Alas, "In my line of work they frown upon that." No doubt. "Well then," I suggest, "maybe you should choose what would benefit society more." and then, incredibly, he tells me that he only has a few years left on the force and that maybe when he's done he'll get involved. "I'll come and see you again then."

Yes, why don't you do that. An ex-cop who spied, tried to turn people into agents of the state, and then helped put a bunch of folks in jail? Not really the kind of person we need on our side, fuck you very much.


This is Ali. The process of getting The Globe and Mail subscription was quite complicated - mostly because different people at the jail told me very different things on different days (including suggesting chatelaine as an alternative at one point). It took two weeks of daily phone calls to the jail to sort through all the hoops on the outside and mandy had to work on it from the inside as well. I won't detail all of that here.

Basically, I got permission at Vanier to have the newspaper delivered. Then an amazingly helpful woman at The Globe and Mail (who told me that she had sent papers into prisons for folks she knew) managed to get Canada post to recognize the address of the jail as real and not just a post office box (necessary for paper delivery). What followed was a long process of figuring out how the paper would be delivered, when, and where and by whom with input from security and a few different levels of bureaucracy at Vanier - ultimately it worked.

Mandy wanted me to write this so that folks could do the same for people in other jails who can't currently receive papers. I am pretty sure that the complexities will be situational from jail to jail and person to person. Basically, my main suggestion for folks trying to set this up is be persistent.

If you want to send a paper to someone in Vanier the structure that we put in place should work for any inmate. Call Vanier and tell them you want to send a newspaper to an inmate(905.876.8300). The subscription will have to have the individual's name printed on it, you have to ensure that someone outside the prison will be paying for it and they will tell you the (very) specific delivery instructions.

In solidarity,


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