?Something?s wrong,? she said. Facing each other at one of the food-court-like tables in the prison visiting room, my sister and I were chatting when something behind me distracted her. Spinning my seat, I saw a prisoner named Dale. He seemed to be sagging, while his visitor ? an eye-catching brunette ? slapped him in the side of the head and yelled at him. But this was no lover?s squabble. With every slap, her face broadcast surging panic. ?What?s wrong? Dale, what?s wrong with you?? she shrieked. Dale slumped forward in his chair, stopping only when his face hit the table. Springing up, I dashed towards the distressed couple.
My day had been full. CSC was trying something new, and my sister and I were participants. As part of their drug interdiction strategy, Canadian prisons had recently installed Ion Scanners. But the technology and its application has serious flaws. Visitors to the prison – including spiritual advisors, lawyers, and CSC staff ? often fail the Ion Scanner?s swab test. When the machine alarms for prohibited drugs, it often means refused entry for the visitor. Alarm results are then used to justify visiting sanctions stretching into months. Due to our lengthy visiting experience, my sister and I had been invited to a two-day mediation on the topic. The emotional seminar now completed, we had hoped for some sanctuary in the visiting room. But prison very rarely gives you what you need.
Reaching the stricken prisoner, I grabbed his hulking shoulder, and lifted him level. ?Hey pal, you O.K.?? I asked. His face answered what his lips couldn?t. The bluish grey skin, bulging, glazed over eyes, and foam bubbles coating his lips told a life or death. Not good.
Quickly hooking Dale from behind, I winched him to his feet. First-aid training from long ago took over as I fired up the Heimlich manoeuvre. Handling the 260-pound unconscious prisoner took all my strength, with adrenaline on top. When a half-dozen jolts to his abdomen changed nothing, I bellowed for my sister to get help. Too late. In the thirty seconds it took for the visiting officer, Mr. Mender to arrive, the prisoner died in my arms. Though Mr. Mender and I worked together to revive the stricken man, he never responded. With Dale?s two-month-pregnant fianc? looking on in shock, his eyes milked over, and his warrant of committal expired in the worst possible way. His death certificate would read, ?asphyxiation?. What it wouldn?t reveal is that he had choked to death on a condom-sheathed package of crystal-methamphetamine smuggled into the institution? past the foolproof technology of the Ion Scanner.
Illicit drugs and the blood-red web they weave are the signature issue of the 21st century. In North America, the largest contributor to imprisonment is drug abuse. Dope?s greatest advocates ? depression, anxiety, anger, and fear ? rule the hallways in prison. This truth is something the war-on-drugs crowd cannot concede. How could they? It means admitting that the chief cause of drug abuse in prison ? and the violence that walks along side ? is the prison environment itself. Hell will freeze waiting for that admission from ?just-say-no? enthusiasts.
Debates aside, the day Dale left here in a hearse – with unborn child and fianc? trailing in the backseat of a cop car ? broke many hearts. My sister left in tears, this being her first front-row experience with human death. Wes Mender, the officer that had joined me in trying to save Dale?s life, pulled me into a side room and privately embraced me, thanking me for my effort. I commended him in return. We then collected ourselves, restoring our costumes before rejoining the roles of ‘keeper and kept’. The Warden ? who had been in his office, finishing up activities related to the Ion Scanner mediation ? looked miserable. The evening?s implications hung over him like a thundercloud. After ensuring my sister?s safe exit, I headed for the running track to clear my head.
As I jogged, one word kept time in my skull like a metronome. Why? Why did Dale and his girlfriend do something so stupid? I knew his circumstance, and that drugs had brought him back to prison on a recent parole violation. Why would he make such a rookie mistake, with so much at stake? Why would the system put a man with an obvious drug problem back into a notoriously drug-infested prison? Why not send him directly to a substance-abuse treatment centre? Why – in tackling drug abuse – do Canadians continue to do the same things repeatedly, and expect different results? Isn?t that insanity?
Rounding the back stretch, my mind echoed one of Georgie Mowers? pet mantras: ?Don?t try to make sense out of nonsense, kid. It?ll drive ya nuts.? Drawing a deeper breath, I voided my mind and increased the pace. Ten laps to go.