The Incarcerated InkWell

Federal Inmate in a Canadian Prison with a Life Sentence writes about prison life

Start me up

What a year a difference makes. First, I took down my shingle — the one that said “lean on me” — and went looking for a brand new pair of shoes. Fifteen years of serving locked-down neighbours as an “all hours” peer counsellor and legal advocate had taken their toll (my first grey pube!). Next, I did what every other guy in the eye of a mid-life crisis does: I bought a Corvette, got a new rope chain, and hit the clubs. O.K., so I’m stretching on the Corvette. But I did go out to a club — a writing club — where I met someone totally hot. That he was over seventy, bald, and had a raging case of chemotherapy wasn’t the first thing that caught my eye. No, that belonged to his bulging right brain — his ability to spray the colors of creativity onto dull prison walls — that’s what made Ed Griffin so comely. And hooking up with him opened doors for me that I had only ever walked past. Doors like writing for a tough audience…

But there’s opening a door and there’s opening a door, isn’t there? Just ask Cosmo Kramer. Since August 2010, The Incarcerated Inkwell has been a place for me to show Canadians what prison really is. The timing was right. Canadians en masse were drinking the billion-dollar Kool-Aid served up by a growing gaggle of prison prophets, and all things penitentiary had become the year’s leading Canadian newspaper topic. Even Post Media saw the value of bringing an insider’s POV to the table. For more than a year, their flagship British Columbia paper The Province has featured my weekly column, LIVE from the House of the Dead — columns I reprint here for readers (Canadian and otherwise) who are not regular visitors to The Province. But now that Inkwell readers know more about prison than those building them do, a little voice on my shoulder has been pestering me to widen out. Starting with this post, The Incarcerated Inkwell will now show a little less angst, and a little more leg — and not just my leg. You may have recently noticed that the site has started opening windows and letting in some fresher breezes. Now that the place is finally aired out, let me show you around…

Home Page: This will continue to be the spot for regular I.M. GreN?da posts, but beginning this week, those posts will now come twice weekly. One will revisit a recent LIVE from the House of the Dead column, while the other will be thoughts on a wider world that can only be found here at Inkwell. If readers have learned anything about my through-the-bars POV, it’s that not even razor wire can keep in the sunshine. It’s time to let more of it out.

Mercedes Muses: Yes she does — and the world needs to know it. Thirteen years ago a deeply beautiful woman and her two showstopper kids put their arms around me as a wife and stepchildren. That I was serving a life sentence for murder, lived in a maximum-security prison, and was sleeping two-hundred miles down the highway left those who knew them in shock. Now most of that shock has turned to awe. See for yourself how a bright and really funny lady makes a full time occupation out of following her heart, while turning the phrase prison mole into a badge of honour.

Writers Bloc – The Interviews: It took me a life sentence to figure it out, but the most fascinating thing in the human experience is the people who come into it. If the journey really is a path, then mine has been landscaped by an intriguing hotchpotch of nuts, geniuses, artists, rogues, survivors and renascence rascals. They have changed my life in a way that no blank cheque from Warren Buffet ever could. While some of them have tasted the prison experience, others only wish they had. All of them have seen the world through a unique set of eyes. Come see it through theirs.

Keep Six – On rare occasion, my world stops spinning just long enough for me to remember that, I am still a prisoner. And if prison is about anything, it’s about the things that I miss. In this unique weekly view of the sky we live under, I provide my own bucket list of things I wish I could do, see, and experience. Maybe readers will help me along by experiencing them for me. What better way to remind yourself which one of us is in prison?

Reader comments – While my custom of tackling contentious subjects will not change, it will always be the thought provoking comments of readers that give those topics breath. And while the world has no further need for haters, Inkwell will always be open to the dignified comments of our readers, no matter how strongly opposed they are to my own. It’s called free speech for a reason, folks.

Book Stash – I accomplished two notable goals in 2011. First I shut off the TV. For good. The Kardashians made that an easy choice. Secondly, I shut off Google Ads. After reading Martin Lindstrom’s  Brand Washed, it was the least I could do — and much easier than setting up an Occupy site in the big yard. The brainchild of these choices is Book Stash, featuring the things I have read, am currently reading, or are on my shelf to read in the near future. For your convenience, links have been provided for you to purchase books by means of Amazon links on our Book Stash page.

Writing on the Wall – Seeing as we’re all reading now, and Captain Oprah has gone chasing the great white wail (“philanthropy will save Africa!”), how’s about an online book club? Select any book from the Book Stash page and comment along with other readers. Also read fresh comments from the author (if they’re still breathing). Consider it a new way to turn your brain on — and mine too.

Gang Colors – The Incarcerated Inkwell might be low-rant, but it ain’t low rent. Partial proceeds from Inkwell paraphernalia (t-shirts, toques, etc.) go the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry Societies, where they are used to support community-based programs that help prevent more Canadians — especially young ones — from enrolling in the new Conservative daycare program called prison. So put your currency where your concern is — and trust that Inkwell will follow your lead.

And that’s the new place. Of course, you can still read a bit more about me in a recently updated bio, and peruse former posts and interviews in the archives page. Hopefully the renos will make it more comfortable for you (and your friends) to put up your feet and visit awhile. Readers can now also link to Inkwell through the I.M. GreN?da Facebook page. And as always, we will continue to post thought-provoking reader comments and queries — even if they are malodorous tirades. Just one small favour though? Try to make them brainy tirades. I don’t mind if you want to kill me. Just think of novel ways to do so — and express it in language that’s light on the expletives. I got kids, remember?

In the highly democratic new world of electronic publishing, there is one fact that every scribe begs his readers to memorize: A writer is only as good as his page views. So please — just pass me around like a Justin Bieber photo at a Penn State coach’s party. Link Inkwell to your Facebook page. Tweet us. Better yet, tweet about us. Email us to your mom, your neighbour’s mom, Stephen Harper’s mom — whoever. The more people reading about, thinking about, and debating crime and punishment from all possible angles, the better our ideas of how to address it will be. And let’s face it — anything has to be better than a system that already cost the U.S. a hundred billion dollars, thirty years of class warfare, and a lost generation counted in millions. Doesn’t it?


I.M GreNada posts every Sunday on The Province’s website. To read his new posts each week, go to

1 Comment

  1. Joan McEwen

    Good for you for amping up the volume! We’re big admirers of your message of hope.

    Joan McEwen & Irwin Nathanson

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