Padding the curriculum vitae

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Well, we got another accountant this week. Or should I say financial advisor? Or is it banker? Those are fuzzy lines these days. That brings us up to four accountants, a lawyer, two professional hockey players, three screenwriters, a doctor, a chiropractor, and at least two university professors. Then there are the pilots. But they’re a dime a dozen. The only thing we’re missing is some politicians. But then, they already live in their own special sort of prison don’t they?

After former Quebec judge Jacques Delisle was recently convicted in the first degree murder of his wife, every pundit in the country weighed in on the penalty: Life without eligibility of parole for twenty-five years. Where does an appellate court judge, who has put hundreds behind bars, do his time? Surely not in Quebec, said most. Probably in a gilded cage, said others. But even though Corrections Canada does have a few select hideouts in its portfolio – prisons where they sequester convicted cops, mob informants or prisoners who vote Conservative – the good judge won’t be seeing any of them soon. For a life-sentenced prisoner in Canada, the hole-train’s first stop is always in maximum-security – for a minimum of two years. And when he arrives, Delisle will quickly learn that criminal Canada is the smallest town he’s ever lived in. The cons at Kent maximum security in the Fraser Valley will know his face just as well as the boys in La Belle Province. Yet they might be surprised at just how hard that face is.

When millionaire politician Colin Thatcher arrived at Sharp’s Farm maximum-security penitentiary outside of Edmonton in the 1980’s, a few of the more entrepreneurial farm lads were sure they had discovered the alchemy of turning fear into gold. I wasn’t there when the former Saskatchewan lawmaker rolled into the Big House. But Stamper was.

“Sucker had a haymaker of a punch on him,” says my time-soured yard dog. “And he could take one, too. One time they jumped him in the gym – for of them – really laid the boots to him. But the sucker never said a word – and never went protective custody. He might have been an arrogant asshole, but at least he did his time.”

Stamper. To him, any guy who doesn’t listen to The Rolling Stones is an asshole. And anyone who spends more time with The Economist than Playboy is obviously a scorn-worthy snob – and probably light in the loafers.

“Oh God, don’t look. Here comes that fruit fly from the chapel,” he said. “Quick, start talking like we’re in the middle of something heavy.” I looked up and saw my friend Jean-Pierre Bellemare coming at us across the courtyard. J.P. is one of our writers in residence, and is as yang as Stamper is yin. The first time I met him in the chapel, where he works as a clerk, I knew I was looking at a penman. It was like looking in a mirror.

“Congratulations,” I said, jumping up from Stamper and gripping J.P. in a monster hug. Earlier that morning, my friend Mac told me that J.P. just received an Atlas-sized accolade from an organization representing French magazine writers. In 2008, he won columnist of the year for Quebec, and this year he was again chosen as a finalist. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t been out of the clink since Billy Idol was in the top forty.

“Thanks,” he said. “But did you hear about Leo? He sold his movie. Isn’t that great?” The supernova grin swallowing my friend’s face said just how great it was. Leo is one of our grizzled scriptwriters who just came back in after a couple of years in a halfway house. The last time he was here he wrote a sit-com about prison that the French CBC eventually produced. This latest success couldn’t have come at a more important time. He just lost his daughter in a car accident.

I stood there for a minute, soaking in the speechless summer sun and the perfect irony of the moment. “I love it. Who says God hates writers?”

“Hey, he’s only the Prime Minister. He just thinks he’s God,” J.P. zinged back. Even Stamper smiled at that one.

But funnier yet is the way we do that – putting each other in little boxes like no other mammal does. I’ve watched my fair share of Animal Planet, and have yet to see quadrupeds lounging around the watering hole asking each other, “so what do you do?” In the Big House – like most other venues where the human herd gathers – it’s a daily sport. The only difference is the verb tense (“What did you do?”) Which takes me back to our latest addition at the Chamber of Conners. Do we introduce him as a former high-level securities broker, or just a broke form-forger in high-level security?



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