GOING TO JAIL: THE INCARCERATION EXPERIENCE
Fraser Regional Correctional Centre
Immediately after breakfast I was cuffed and shackled again and transported to the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, FRCC in Maple Ridge, a maximum security prison which houses four hundred odd inmates. I never heard anything of my friend since. Again I spent several hours in a holding cell without my glasses and dentures.
Eventually I was put in 4A, the medical unit. Quite a few of the inmates seemed to have mental problems. My first cellmate was a cool young guy who knew a few downtown people I’d met. He says he has spasms and has to have the lower bunk. Many of the sixteen inmates in my unit refuse to speak to me; a newspaper clipping about my sentencing was passed around the unit and I am known. When it came to me I put it away. The unit is run by the clean up crew, three tough young blondish skinhead types, who have their own section of the unit defined by a line painted on the floor. I found this out when I sat at a table to read a newspaper there. The cleaners who have the privilege of hanging out in the guards’ office are bossy but not threatening perhaps because of the pervasive surveillance. My initial nervousness fed by a couple of verbal incidents receded after a couple of days. I got along with several of the men and avoided confrontations with the few I didn’t. The two senior ‘cleaners’, who were sort of like trustees, made their dislike of me clear but the situation was too controlled for much to happen. One of these blond alpha males was an overt racist who drew a swastika on the phone booth in the unit and claimed he only did business with his own race. On the side of the shelves in my cell there was a crude swastika with world, wide, white, pride lettered in the quadrants.
I was eventually able to talk to most of the inmates but except for listening to the problems of a couple of the more disturbed inmates the conversations were mostly topical. Being thrust into close physical arrangements with an assortment of men with whom I had little in common made it a challenge to establish friendly relations. This coping was new for me, a novelty, like when you move to a new town or job. I soon had a new cellmate, a native artist and carver Sammy who was more interesting to talk to as we shared an interest in woodwork. He had a drinking problem and was in and out of jail three times during my sentence.
As soon as I could get the court documents I began working on an appeal of my conviction. Working was difficult as each of my cellmates was dependent on TV spending fourteen days watching it. The last even insisted on eating in our "house" as the inmates call their cells.
Things soon became routine. Food is a major preoccupation. I would trade my sugar for coffee creamer and give away my bread. I bought instant coffee packs and mostly used them for trading. Men save sausage and Sunday bacon and mix them with rice which they buy to create new dishes. Cooking in the microwave is something to do, one of the few things there is. There is a lot of formalized jail etiquette like not passing your cup or food tray over someone else’s. There is an almost obsessive cleanliness and tidiness, and modesty. Inmates are forbidden from entering another’s cell. You can stand in the doorway but part of you must remain in the corridor or common area. This rule is to protect inmates from assault and unwanted attention but it also discourages intimacy and sharing. I also learnt a few practical things such as using toothpaste to mount photos and cards on the small display boards allowed in each cell.
I got on well with the two most obviously disturbed men; a delusional, withdrawn guy in his thirties who talked knowingly of Jesus and others, and who wanted me to pat his head in some sort of blessing. I’m not sure who he thought I was. Several times he asked and I gave him a neck and shoulder massage but this was reported and a guard told me it was prohibited. The other was a paranoid Polish plumber subject to outbursts when he felt his person or dignity was violated. If someone touched him or stood too close he would claim they were trying to sexually assault him. I think it was him who brought me the article in The Province about my sentence the first day along with a bit of moral disapproval. Twice I had lengthy conversations with him where he did over 90% of the talking. He couldn’t stop once he got started. I didn’t see much of him as most of the time he was locked down for getting upset and shouting. There was an 80 year old man with a withered arm in a wheelchair who also serving a deuce, a two year sentence for an offence with a boy which allegedly occurred in 1950 when he was a merchant seaman. He can’t recall the incident. We talked frequently but it was almost impossible to talk privately. He had been at Ford Mountain but after a fall where he fractured his hip he was returned to FRCC. His family was in Alberta where he has a farm but which made parole impractical for him. I only became aware of his offence just before I left FRCC. I am curious about his case.
I could see myself getting accustomed to maximum security. There is a feeling of security in being locked up, it is the ultimate in protection, a thought that disturbed me. There’s a certain fatalism about jails. On the advice of other inmates and the placement officer I applied for a transfer to Ford Mountain camp, a medium security facility near Chilliwack in the eastern Fraser Valley. Things were much better I was told. Processing me meant more tedious time in holding cells or tanks as they are called. A couple of RCMP officers came out from Vancouver to take my fingerprints again and a DNA sample, apparently at the discretion of Judge Edwards who may have deemed me a risk. The graffiti in the tanks, laboriously chipped out of thick paint on metal doors and frames was uninteresting. Most was names, or so and so is a rat, etc. The only one that amused me was: fuck the free world. After two weeks in FRCC my application for a transfer to Ford Mountain was approved. I would return to FRCC for a few days when I had a hearing in Vancouver Supreme Court for a funding application.Jail Journal menu
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