GOING TO JAIL: THE INCARCERATION EXPERIENCE
My twenty year old neighbor Jason was in camp court today and lost ten days remission. He had already lost 85 days and has been in custody for eighteen months. He was due to get out four days before me. He was caught with contraband, a bowl of bulk coffee whitener. Being caught with contraband food; apples, oranges, minipacks of sugar, jam and peanut butter, and desert cookies is common. Inmates suffer no penalty if they turn them in on their way out of the Kitchen after being questioned, and probably get a U if they dont. Three Us in a month and you can be charged and lose days.) Jason was caught with a full bowl, however. Still, seeing what others get away with, even when theyre caught, I thought losing ten days was excessive. I didnt think Jason was treated unfairly just because I happened to like him. He says Hello Robin, he brings the newspapers to my room, and often before bedtime comes into my room for a hug. I can easily see why guards, or some of them, dont like him. He can be very loud, in your face, hot-tempered and he swears profusely. However he is usually cheerful, polite, considerate, generous and friendly and does not go around putting others down. He says hes a nice guy and tries to be one. He reputedly has a violent temper. This is the first time I can recall being bothered by the harshness of the discipline here. Usually theyre pretty soft. My other neighbour, the loner who conscientiously avoids work stopping just short of taunting the guards, recently got back his lost remission days as hed caused no trouble for a while. A few days later I sent a letter to Deputy Warden McIntyre saying I felt Jason was treated unfairly but I never got a reply. (Job titles changed from director to warden while I was there.)
Jason told me that he only lost seven days remission and that at 2/3 it became four. This meant that he was scheduled to be released the same day as me, November 18. He talked about me sharing his ride into Vancouver before he goes back to the Interior where he lives.
Then he got into a fight. Im not sure of the cause but he was supposedly called a goof by this smaller, older Native guy Matt who seemed a shy quiet person and also lived in my hut. Occasionally I lent him lent him a small pack of instant coffee. It was Monday evening, a canteen night when theres lots of tobacco and people are generally in a good mood when the fight, or more of a beating, occurred, right between my hut and the next one. I had heard Jason loudly swearing and sounding upset, which was nothing unusual. Its like thats how he is and I did not take it very seriously although it was probably a bit louder and more sustained than usual. I was in my room sanding a woodwork project when I heard a scuffle outside, and after a minute I went out to see what was happening. Matt was obviously getting the worst of the fight and there was blood all over his face. I was quite upset, I didnt want Jason losing more time.
It was fairly dark at the time. I saw Jason knock Matt down and when he got up knock him down again and start kicking him. I went over to Jason and told him to cool it. He didnt and I was advised not to interfere, to let things take their course. The fighting ended soon after that, and Matt went to his room. I went back to my sanding for a while before going back out on the porch. Jason and a couple of others I know were there and I heard that the other guy, Matt, had been lipping off Jason, calling him a goof, which in prison lingo is about the worst you can call anyone. Jason said the other guy never even hit him. Apparently, when he first punched him Matt had said, Is that the best you can do? He kept lipping off Jason. We were all surprised that the fight had gone on so long without any guards arriving. They couldnt have been monitoring the cameras. I shared the general hope of those present that nothing would come of the incident. I felt Jason was in enough trouble already and didnt want him to get in any more. Thats why I tried to get him to stop.
I wasnt aware of anything different next morning until after breakfast. Jason was there but I didnt notice that Matt wasnt. He had stayed in his room and was in bed sleeping. The guards came and took Jason away in cuffs and an ambulance came for Matt. Later I found out that he had three or four broken ribs, a punctured lung and internal hemorrhaging, probably from being kicked with steel-toed boots. A guard said he could have died and another, Mr. Magee told a friend that he was disappointed that nobody reported the beating.
The opinions of some I know was that Jason was too prone to get carried away. Matt was partly blamed because he didnt back down; he kept getting up and continuing to taunt Jason. It was felt that Jason shouldnt have beaten him, because Matt was smaller, over fifty, and had a heart condition. Jason is a strong, husky twenty-year-old in on assault charges.
The Native Brotherhood was very upset. I heard that some of them wanted to take Jason to the gym, which has no cameras, and presumably give him a beating. The gym is a more or less approved locale for fights. The Brotherhood also demanded that the President of the Inmate Committee resign, which he did. He lives in our hut and was present at the beating, and it was on his advice that I didnt interfere. He is from the same community as Jason where they were close friends. Ive heard Jason referred to as his bitch, which I dont believe. Jason was shipped to Fraser, some say he wanted that, and may be charged with assault and could face federal time. It is the nature of jail that you never hear about things. It was a very sad and tragic business. One guy badly hurt and another more deeply enmeshed in prison and its awful culture. Nobody looked good. Jason had only had three months to go.
Ive been removed from my job. I got on the wrong side of one of the guards, a Mr. Jones. He has temporarily had me banned from the Hobby Shop where I was working because he thinks/says I am unsafe. It goes back a few months to an occasion when I wasnt using a push stick operating the table saw when he thought I should. There were a couple of other incidents including one where I showed my exasperation with an insolent shrug and rolling of eyes which he may well have taken offence at. The Hobby Shop had been cut back anyway by the Deputy Wardens orders from four to one working there. I had started working for the Brotherhood, Ive done most of their woodwork, drum frames, drum cases and feather boxes, but then they were also cut back to one person. I protested to Mr. Jones and he went and saw the Deputy Warden. I have to get a letter from the outside instructor/safety guy, Mr. Munshaw who will recertify me before I am allowed back in the Hobby Shop. I have about $150 worth of wood for projects which I have started. The letter may be a face saving device for the guard who was being unreasonable. As a result I have been assigned to work up at the wood pile which is a common starter job for husky new inmates. I suppose there was some humiliation in it, but fortunately I am not expected to work very hard. After a week I am reassigned to the recycling shed, the job I started at.
Matt came back a couple of weeks later. While I had hardly talked to him before I get to know him when I help him write out his statement about the incident and take one from a witness who is also illiterate. I didnt find out until I asked him to read it to make sure it was correct. He has statements from four witnesses. Matt didnt remember too much after he was first punched. He had a concussion, in addition to his other injuries. A lawyer was supposed to come and talk to him but never did.
Jason, I heard, couldnt handle seg, or segregation at Fraser and freaked out. Sensory deprivation? I had been there but not as punishment. I also had an interesting book to read. Jason was subsequently transferred to Kamloops Regional, and despite the rumours that he would be charged in court I found that all that happened as a result of his beating up Matt is that he lost ten days remission. I doubt if either of the two inmates who assaulted me received any penalty beyond a reprimand.
Matt is not bitter. He told me that the next morning before the ambulance took him away Jason came to his room, said he was sorry, and hugged him. I get the feeling that while Jason is prone to blind violence, that jail culture encourages this extreme lashing out. The problems, the bigger problems are not drugs, addicts, cops and prisons, but drug culture, cop culture and jail culture! Each reinforces the other making change difficult.
The last week in jail dragged, I finished my Hobby Shop projects and made a few things for others, I stayed in my house reading most of the time rather than working at the recycling shed. Slacking off is common before release, and realistically admin can do little about it. Jail is ultimately a place of farewells although I told few I was leaving. I said maybe three personal good byes, and after on the street in Vancouvers East End I spoke briefly to two former inmates and saw three or four others in the few months that I was there before moving East.
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