Jail-break. For prisoners, the word is an adrenaline rush of conspiracy, murmured at brush-fire pace. For the public, prison breach is an alarm cried in air-raid broadcasts. With the “Red Threat” now a distant memory, a prisoner on the lam is the “duck-and-cover-drill” of the new Canadian century. Dramatics aside, a typical escape from prison is neither as clever, nor life-threatening as imagined. Instead, when one of prison’s ten-counts-per-day comes up a convict short, the results can even be wonderful.
Georgie Mowers is a 76-year-old lifer, and has been in the system since Harry Truman dropped the bomb. With ivory locks flooding over the collar of his prison-green jacket, and a matching 1970’s hockey moustache, he often holds court on the sidewalk in front of the library. Two weeks ago, as he and I sat there waiting to be paged for a visit, I asked him about his visitor. He responded with a story so riveting that when they called my name for visits, I made him finish before leaving his company.
Prior to returning to this high-medium prison three years ago, Georgie had progressed all the way to a minimum-security camp. But his term there didn’t go well. He and his P.O. had a sharp difference of opinion over his upcoming release. Georgie responded by packing a couple of blankets, some tobacco, and pocket cash into a sack, before strolling out of the fenceless compound into the wilds of British Columbia. After a night of shivering cold, he walked the closest logging road to a local Inn that he knew sold spirits. There, he saw his picture in the newspaper, with a 200-word-article about a desperate, dangerous killer on the loose after a dramatic prison break. Pulling his collar high and cap down low, he paid for the mickey of brandy before slipping out quietly. Georgie told me how, after reading that article, he knew he would never make it on the run. The way the paper described him, he’d be lucky if some nut didn’t shoot him on sight. He then told me how admitting that depressed him more than words. He knew he had to turn himself in.
On his death-march back to prison camp, a white van pulled up behind, slowing to a crawl. As it crept up beside him, the electric window on the passenger side rolled down. “Hello there. Nice weather isn’t it?” a schooled British accent called out from the driver’s seat. “You wouldn’t be the fellow that absconded from the prison camp would you?” As we sat there together chuckling, Georgie told me how he had nearly swallowed his government sponsored dentures right then and there. He then went on to detail how that candid question – asked by a stranger on a deserted logging road – had been the opening move in a remarkable relationship.
The day after Georgie surrendered himself, the van’s driver realized that he had indeed been talking to the infamous Georgie Mowers. But rather than locking the doors of his trailer in a trembling fear of “what if,” Nigel S. Bostlebottom made an immediate visit to the local prison camp. There, he enquired about the welfare of the kind-faced man that had refused Nigel’s offer of a ride. When informed that Georgie had been transferred to a higher security prison 25 miles away, Nigel thought it natural to ask how he could visit him. For the second time in two days, Nigel’s question left a respondent speechless. The guards were shocked that anyone from the community would want to have association with such an obviously dangerous and desperate criminal. But Nigel would not be deterred, and eventually received the proper forms. Four weeks later, while Georgie watched the Fifth Estate in his cell, a young prisoner filled the doorway. “They’re calling you to visits Georgie,” he said.
“Naw, it ain’t me,” Georgie replied. When you are a 76-year-old prisoner with a 65-year criminal record, no one is coming to visit. Everyone you know is either dead or lives on your cellblock. But when another prisoner confirmed the announcement, Georgie decided to walk to the office, if only to inform the visiting staff of the obvious mistake. That’s how Georgie and Nigel met for the second time.
As we sat there together, he told me with a smile that this evening’s visit marked an anniversary: Twenty-eight months of friendship. Like Georgie, Nigel is an older gentleman. Like Georgie, he has led a remarkable — though very dissimilar — life. Their relationship comes without the baggage of romance, co-dependency, or any other unhealthy trait. They are – in the truest sense – friends.
Recently, Nigel wrote a letter to the Warden, and Parole Board. In it, he expressed his qualifications as a human of sober judgment. He encouraged those in charge to give serious thought to letting Georgie out. He reminded those decision makers how in Sudan (that great pillar of human rights), prisoners are automatically released at 70 years of age — regardless of their crime or behaviour in prison. His letter concluded with the question of what keeping a man of Georgie’s age in prison says about us as Canadians. Evidently, Nigel has a life-long habit of asking questions that stop people in their tracks. I’m sure that’s what Georgie likes about him the most.