Christmas in prison – you’d be surprised at how similar it is to the world beyond the fence. The only thing missing is the rum… and the eggnog… and the crackling fireplace… and the cinnamon-scented snow-bunny cooing select bars of Let It Snow in my ear. O.K., so it’s a little different. But on a week when all of capitalism is stuffing its boxes with fantasies-on-credit, I’m remembering some other gift wrapped containers littering the annals of Big House infamy — like the one used in an escape from maximum-security a dozen spring times ago.
I’ve always wondered what the officer running the admission and discharge desk at Kent Institution was thinking that day. It was a Wednesday and, according to rumour, the con that showed up at the desk that morning was the only one being released for the week. Maximum security is the original “Roach Motel” — many check in, few leave. The guy had only been in for a couple of years, so he couldn’t have had much in the way of personnel property; a portable TV maybe, some personal clothing, a few salacious snapshots of girls gone by.
And an oversized, heavy-gauge cardboard box, smothered in clear packing tape.
“What’s in the big box?” the officer guarding the desk must have asked.
“Oh, just hobby stuff,” said the poker-faced con. As the story goes, he then wove an elaborate tale of some off-shift hobbies officer that had bundled up the table-sized parcel the previous evening. Apparently, the soon-to-be-ex con even had the right forms — meticulously completed and signed.
Less work for me, the guard must have thought. Or maybe his frontal lobe was filled with daydreams of double-overtime paycheques. Regardless, this was the fork in the road where due process and due diligence parted company. Big mistake. Prison may not be the first place you’d go looking for a MENSA meeting, but it is a place with no shortage of balls.
“So how did he get the guy out the door?” I asked an old regular working my block the next evening. It had taken staff almost four hours — until the following count — to figure out their one con shortage. The discovery had put us into a lock down search that lasted the rest of the day.
“Can you believe it?” the officer answered. “First, the guy at the discharge desk calls a taxi for them. Then, when it comes, he helps load the box onto a cart and pushes it to the front gate. He even helped get the thing into the back of the taxi. But that’s not the worst of it.”
“Yeah?” I prompted.
“Yeah. When he asked the con what his hobby was, and why it was so heavy, he tells him it’s a rock collection. Rock collection! Where the hell are you going to get a rock — never mind a boxful of them — in maximum-security? Flippin’ rock collection. Can you believe it?”
Barely, but one of the first things you learn as a prisoner is that what you believe means little. What Officer “Suspended-with-pay” believed when he bought their bet-the-farm bluff was all that mattered – especially for a couple of jailbirds with a bad case of spring fever.
I can’t figure out the big attraction to all those dumb criminal reality shows that play on cable TV. Pairing the words “dumb” and “criminal” feels redundant. The ones about great prison escapes are even worse. I mean, in what universe does a crime that leaves police with the full name, most recent photo, and home address of the culprit qualify as “great”? Maybe the next reality TV hit will be about predicting Vancouver weather. They could call it Sometimes it rains.
“Did you see those two idiots in the paper?” Dan the Fish asked me, two days after the big bust-out.
“Did they catch them?”
“They didn’t have to,” my young neighbour said in disgust. “They were in the bar at one of those hotels on East Hastings. They were so drunk they couldn’t walk, so somebody called the cops. The thing is, a crew was filming for one of those reality cop show, Blue Line — Blue Shield — Blue something. They got the whole thing on tape. Idiots.”
“Ouch. They won’t like the next box they land in,” I said, thinking back to the vomit smeared stench of the drunk-tank at the Main and Hastings police depot.
“Are you kidding? They’re already back here — shaved and showered. They brought them in last night.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“They sent out a kite from segregation with the breakfast trays. They’ve got dope and they want somebody to come down with canteen. Some kid from downstairs just hit me up for all my chocolate. He went to C-unit looking for cookies and Tang, and then he’s going to throw a cup of piss at the screw.”
See? Cookies and Tang. I told you the place is just like Christmas.