And the word was…

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Last weekend, the Globe & Mail offered up a thoughtful and measured editorial response to a week of bullet-related butchery. Rather than tickling their readers’ ears with platitudes to gun control, a more punitive criminal code or a cry for more cop boots in the streets, the Globe looked the elephant straight in the eye and spoke the terrifying truth that everyone in the room already knows. The only way out is through. Violent crime – whether it happens in Canada, Colorado or Al Qusayr, Syria – is the most complex problem the human family has ever faced. Just ask the most powerful nation in history. They’ve gone bankrupt – and not just financially – in trying. So if locking up two million citizens and killing more convicts than any other westernized nation doesn’t solve the slaughter of the innocents, where does the train go from here? That’s a question I’m intimately familiar with.

Eighteen years ago in a holding cell in Ottawa, Ontario, I was staring down a double-barrel dose of my own comeuppance. At twenty-seven years old, I was already serving a twelve-year sentence, and the list of criminal charges coming my way read like an indictment for the Antichrist. Prison break, bank robbery, kidnapping and extortion… murder. I still can’t say with any certainty what kept me from killing myself that day; Confusion or cowardice – it’s really too close to call. What I’m much clearer about is where the tracks lead me from there.

“Write what you know,” said volunteer writing teaching Ed Griffin fifteen years later. I stared down at the blank foolscap pad in front of me. It stared back. What do I know? I know that my best thinking got me a full-time crypt in the House of the Dead. I know that the view through vertical bars is neither as glorious nor terrifying as its paramours promised. I know that the trust of a child is the strongest validation on earth, and that love trumps hate two times out of three. What. Do. I. Know?

For two years I have done my best to answer that question in a weekly show-don’t-tell published at the Province.com and Canada.com news portals. This weekend The Incarcerated Inkwell team is pleased to offer our readers the results of that work. Bend Over & Show Your Lobster, a single volume collection of prison vignettes from Inkwell and its sister column Live From the House of the Dead is being offered this weekend as a free download from Amazon. Whether these strange-but-true tales from the Big House bring you a chuckle, a tear, or a nasty case of acid reflux, what they won’t do is put you to sleep. And while much of this collection has been previously published, Lobster also contains new commentary that readers haven’t seen yet, a foreword by guerilla editor Heidi Greco, and an appendix filled with other unpublished writing from I.M. GreNada. If writing is the birth canal of ideas, then Lobster is my first-born. Here’s hoping it’s a better kid than I was.

“Everybody is talking about prison. Except the ones who live there. I’d like to change that equation.” That’s the hook I cast at the editors of a half dozen daily newspapers in 2010. Only one had the balls to bite. And no, it wasn’t the Globe & Mail. But hey, the times they are a changin’.




  1. hgNo Gravatar

    Congratulations, I.M.
    Somebody had to say the things you have. And really, who else could have said what you have, or with more style. Keep tellin’ it like it is.
    With best wishes for sales that soar!

  2. jenzedNo Gravatar

    Thank you for your writing. Learning about prison life and hearing the stories of prisoners makes it hard to fall back on the knee-jerk “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality. I think it’s easy for non-prisoners to dehumanize prisoners – out of site, out of mind. Your work prevents that dehumanization and makes people think about the hard but important questions regarding incarceration. (“Why do people become criminals?” “How do we prevent people from becoming criminals?” “How do we make the criminal justice system effective at rehabilitation?” “Are prisons humane?”)

    I downloaded your e-book – thanks! – and will make a donation to the John Howard Society as payment.

    1. I.M. GreNada

      Thanks for your great insight. You really get why I’m doing this. I happen to be a firm believer in “tough on crime.” But unlike some lazy minds, I believe that the only way to get tough on crime is to bring it into the wide open and have the fullest discussion possible. If we have to scream, spit at each other, and watch the snot fly, so be it. But one way or another, we have to talk.
      Thank you for your donation to John Howard. They are a group of people that have been helping Canadians, both the convicted and their victims, to talk about crime for a long time.

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