O.K. Confession time. I agree that this whole crime and punishment thing is supposed to be serious business. But for two months now, I can’t stop laughing. The thing tickling my funny bone most is the view from my cell window, as Canadians battle it out over the wisdom of spending unimagined billions — on me. If anyone had asked, I’d be the first to tell you I’m not worth it. But nobody did. Maybe that’s why — while the craters on your streets get ever deeper — the paths around me are being paved in gold.
“Do you see what they’re doing in the courtyard?” Kaukaughe said, drifting into my cell.
“Are they finally putting in that hot tub?” I asked.
“Almost. They tore up all the grass — and put in new sod.”
“Ah — the new tough on crime bill is here.”
“What… the hell… does new sod have to do with that? What was wrong with the old grass?”
“Well my dear Ojibwa, I’m glad you asked. Why not take a load off of your oversized curiosity for a minute, and permit me to school you in the great white way of public safety.” The big man rolled his eyes like he always does when i expound on the facts of life, but he took a seat at the end of my bunk anyway. The joys of a captive audience.
“The first thing you need to know is you can’t have safe streets without streets. That’s why the highway crew spent two weeks paving all those forty-year-old cow paths in front of the cell block. Now we got streets. Follow me so far?” My First Nations comrade looked at me like I’d been huddling too long over a campfire.
“Next, in Canada, all federal construction takes into account the carbon footprint. So when you slap down as much asphalt as these boys have this summer, you gotta put in some greens. They’re trying to save the earth, man. I thought you Indians were hip with this stuff.”
“It’s Injun, white boy. Indians live in Asia. So how does any of this make the streets safer?”
“You really don’t get out much do you? Where do you think all these new streets are leading?”
“The big yard?”
“Wrong. It used to be the yard. Now it’s a parking lot for two new state of the art ninety-six-man cell blocks.”
“And they need these for?”
“Because streets have to go somewhere, Chief Dan George. Besides, you’re missing the point. More cell blocks mean more Kentucky bluegrass. By the time they’re finished, this place will look like the eighth hole at Augusta. Everybody will want to live here.”
My freightliner sized friend got up and walked over to the cell window, where he noiselessly displaced the daylight. He said nothing for a long while, and then broke silence.
“This is going to be another Injun roundup isn’t it?”
“Na, there’ll be some white kids coming to. They want to start throwing hackers and high school weed dealers in the pen. Everybody knows you guys can’t type.”
“Or go to high school,” Kaukaughe said, with a smile that showcased the work of his orthodontist father.
“The best news is that all these new streets will finally bring us some uptown yard dogs,” I said. “I for one am getting sick of murderers, bank robbers, rapists and gang-bangers — these guys are boring the dirt out of me. Maybe now they’ll send in some white collar guys; maybe even a banker. Wouldn’t that be something. Sombebody to read the market with.”
“Or maybe they’ll bring us some serious computer guys. I been wanting to learn Linux — and HTML web design. Nobody’s using Java script anymore. I feel like a caveman.”
“You are a caveman,” I reminded him. “But hang in there, bro — the cave is about to get some company. Cultured company.”
“That’s why they put in twenty grand worth of new lawn?”
“I told you, big dog, travel with me long enough — the whole cosmos unfolds.”
One of my favorite pastimes (besides eating lead paint chips) is to think deeply about what people want from prison — or what prison wants from me. There was a time I thought I had a clue. But lately, even that is slipping through the cracks. The best I can figure is that Canadians want safer streets — but aren’t too worried about the killer highways in between. They also want something called the right to be a victim. Though this sounds a little weird, their government agrees with them — and has set aside trillions for any who want to ride that train. All folks have to do is start reporting the previously unreported crime tsunami sweeping the country. Maybe a toll-free federal tip line would help: 1-800-WOE-IS-ME. Of course, most of those you’ll be reporting on will be in your family (which is why no one reported them before), so then you can spend a couple of years of Sundays visiting them in the Big House. Not that you’ll have to worry about getting there safely. In the 21st century, all good roads will lead to the pen. Don’t worry, I’m laughing with you. Really.