The season of snow has also brought with it an education for me — mostly in how this democracy stuff really works. As the government yawned, I watched the media play pitch-and-catch with a lineup that included top Corrections managers, criminologists, provincial Justice Ministers, and even Joe-from-down-the-street. “How do you feel about the Conservatives implementing policies that have already failed in the U.S.?” and, “What are your thoughts on the Conservatives locking up children for mandatory minimum sentences?” were among the most predictable queries. At least Rex Murphy, on his CBC-Radio standard Cross Canada Checkup, asked listeners if it was possible that Bill C-10 wasn’t tough enough. One caller from Saskatchewan responded by asking why the legislation didn’t include mandatory pink underwear. What Farmer Fred doesn’t know is that some of us are really into pink underwear.
Meanwhile, as the country was supposedly debating the big lockdown, the real story was in my backyard. That’s where — starting in November (long before Parliament voted on it) — backhoes, tampers, bulldozers, and a lineup of double-axle dump trucks (they even brought a fifty foot crane) were paving Bill C-10 right over top of what used to be our baseball field.
“What are they doing?” Boo asked me a couple of days after Halloween.
“They’re building a curling rink,” I said straight-faced. “With a cappuccino bar.”
Boo ogled me from the corner of his hot glued and scotch-taped bifocals. Then his attention returned to the boisterous invasion behind our cell block, and the thirty foot deep hole in the spot where last year’s fall classic played out.
“Naaaah,” he mewled. “It’s too big.”
Boo is one of those guys with a permanent “kick me” sign stitched to his back. His handle has less to do with a Harper Lee novel than it does his misshapen mug. Rumor is he’s never worn a mask to go trick-or-treating. And the cerebral sewage that pours from the two-toothed hole in his face is just as bad. I keep thinking I need to follow him around and just write down everything he says. It’s Jackass gold.
“Can’t slide nothing past you, can I? Actually, it’s a new condominium-style cell block with an in-ground recreation room and a community kitchen.” I said. “They’re even putting in wiring for high-speed Internet.”
“Gaaaawwd, why do I ask you anything? If you don’t know, just say so.” Boo stomped away, bottom lip bouncing off his chin. I guess it’s true what they say. Some people just can’t handle the truth.
A funny thing happened when I stopped smoking all that B.C. bud two decades ago. I found out I had a brain. Not that it was a big eureka moment. Especially after I learned that the grey matter God gave me never quits analyzing. Lately, the list of things I must understand to the thirty-third decimal point includes how Michael Jackson’s death bed rated a bidding war, when three years before it was exhibit one in an inappropriate-touching trial — or why it is that we never see Peter McKay and Sarah Jessica Parker in the same room at the same time. But for more than a year now my list has been topped by the question no one will answer. After forty years of leading the world away from incarceration, how did prison — a 19th century throwback that has never served a society’s needs — become Canada’s way forward?
Today, the answer hit me like an inside curveball. It happened while I was watching a large flatbed offloading stainless steel toilets onto what used to be third base. Obviously, some unnamed Right-wing Advocate for Yesteryear (R.A.Y.) has been hearing voices…
R.A.Y: “Why the long face my co-replicating martial associate? Is it the economy?”
R.A.Y’s wife, A.N.N.I.E. (A Nuptial Necessity for Impersonal Economists): “My god Ray, what is it with you and the economy? I wish you’d just shut up about the stupid economy. It’s you I’m worried about. I heard you in the backyard last night, talking to the ornamental shrubs.”
“Oh, Annie, that wasn’t the shrubs. I was talking to Bootless Billy Miner.”
“Billy Miner. He was a bank and train robber in the early 1900’s.”
Annie, squinting, does some quick math in her head. “And you were… talking to him? To a 150 year old train robber?”
“166. He got his nickname during an escape from the B.C. Penitentiary in 1912 — when he left his boots behind. Snuck right past the guards wearing nothing but a pair of Hudson Bay socks — you know, the ones with the colored stripes? Damn wool socks scandal nearly sunk Lord Borden’s Conservatives. Anyhow, when we first came to Stornoway in 2004, Miner came around and started taunting me there. Claimed that Canadian prisons are for pussies, and dared me to build one he couldn’t steal out of. So, I been thinking…”
“Tell me again how you’re going to save the economy.”
Well if that’s not how it went down, then you explain to Boo what that three-story ditch in the back yard is. ‘Cause it sure as heck ain’t an Olympic swimming pool.