The Incarcerated InkWell

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

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Making the Milk Run

“They count us like diamonds and treat us like crap,” the leathery con next to me in the holding cell said to no one in particular.

My day had started early, with the telltale clang of an opening cell door. A tinny speaker imbedded the ceiling told me to “est demande au bureau.” When I reported to the guard’s office, I was informed — in a mish-mash of both of Canada’s official languages — that I would be continuing the journey I had begun on the west coast five days prior. Good news feels the same in any language, and as I headed off to pack my cell contents I sensed the smile swallowing my face. It had been an interesting few days, meeting Stretch and seeing Scary Barry again. But when I started planning a transfer to this region more than a year ago, Archambault had not been on my top-five list of destination locales. Not even the top ten. Though designated a medium security pen, Archambault is defacto a max. It has few — if any — of the restorative justice type programs that I came to Quebec looking for. Though my brief stopover at the notorious Quebec landmark had been enlightening, I was glad to be shown the exit door so quickly.

“Hey copper, there’s more than twelve of us in here. You’ll need to take off your shoes if you want to count,” one of the Young Turks on the bench across from me chimed in. We all chuckled in conspiracy.

Some things never change, I thought. I’ve been in prison in three countries, and it’s always the same: everyone — and everything has a job to do. Doors clang, guards count, and cons heckle. While going to prison may be an unnerving experience, once you get here, things that would previously have shocked you become the norm. Like being handcuffed, shackled, and tossed into a 7 x 12 foot steel cage with nine other rowdy cons, before civilized society has even had breakfast. What to outsiders might look like a scene from Papillon is just part of the workaday routine for those of us in the cage — and those doing the counting.

“Next,” said the boyish guard. His stony-faced appearance felt artificial. Maybe it was the single yellow epaulet on the shoulder of his navy-blue uniform — loudly identifying his as a relative newcomer to Corrections. Too new to have such a jaded look. Or maybe it was his eyes. It’s hard to look menacing when your eyes are laughing. This young officer had laughing eyes. I pulled myself to my feet and shuffled towards the cage door. Young happy-eyes signaled me to stop while his partner, mixed-martial-arts eyes, lifted my parka to check that the belly chain attached to may handcuffs was secure. He then checked my shackles. Content that the hardware was at least painful, if not clot-causing, he grabbed by my jacket and pulled me towards an open doorway.

From the outside, the bus looked like an RV from the movie Mad Max. The only window with glass in it was the driver’s. Is that armor plating? I wondered, looking at the slabs of steel covering the rest. I struggled up the stairs and into the vehicle. If the outside looked battle-ready, the interior looked like it had been designed for the Holocaust. Down both sides of a lightless centre aisle were individual cages, sheathed in tight steel grating. Each held two prisoners though it looked like they’d been jammed in by a Japanese subway attendant. No need for seatbelts in there, I thought. If we did have an accident, all they would find is human strips, like cheese through a grater.

“In the back,” the disinterested driver said to me with a nod of his head. I looked into the blackness and, as my eyes acclimated, saw that a cage door at the very back of the bus was open. Of course, I thought. As I hobbled towards it, flashbacks of my first teenage horror movie popped into my brain. I hoped that my seatmate wouldn’t be wearing a blood-spattered hockey-mask and ripped coveralls. Thankfully, that fear never materialized. When I reached the cage it was empty and amazingly spacious. Because of its orientation at the back of the bus, it had been designed for four passengers. It was also the only spot from which a prisoner could see out the driver?s window. Whatever lay ahead this day, I would be traveling a comparative luxury. I looked up and said thanks.

Canada is so big that its correctional service had to be divided into five regions. Each of the regions has a number of prisons ranging from max. to community-based minimums. Of course, it made economic — and political — sense to build them in relative proximity to each other. But in Canada, “relative proximity” can cover as much real estate as the average European country. Usually, the transfer of prisoners from central reception to their mother institution is an all day affair — with many stops along the way. In the pen, this ride-from-hell is universally known as the milk run. But as the bus finally lurched ahead and the highway through he driver’s window opened in front of us, the smell of an overripe bologna sandwich emanating from some dark corner was crowded out by the one thought on my mind: I’m on my way.

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

A Tough Audience

What a week. After a 17 year hiatus, I stepped back onto the big stage of public opinion last Sunday with Live From the House of the Dead –a new on-line column in The Province. What a difference 6,072 days makes. The last time I was in The Province the front page said ‘Armed Con Loose’. I remember sitting in a safe house, looking at that headline and thinking, Loose, who are they calling, loose? In those days I did abs five times a week and hit the heavy-bag for an hour every other day. The only thing loose on me was the screw in my head.

A lot of water has flowed under my bridge since then. After that armed con was captured, he made a fork-in-the-road decision to drop the gun — and his fists — forever.

Education replaced violence as his moral currency. That journey of personal re-invention has also introduced me to many teachers –such as Ed Griffin of the Surrey Writer?s Conference. While the things I have seen on the road to redemption have given me something to say, Ed taught me much about how to say it. However, as I learned this week, Ed isn’t the only one teaching prisoners about creative writing.

“Did you know Scary Gary is here?” Stretch asked.

“No,” I responded. “You’re kidding. I haven’t seen him in over a decade. We were together in Kent. I was wondering where he’d gotten off to.” Scary Gary is a lifer who murdered his mother in the 1990’s. He was 18 at the time, and parent aside was not his only indicator of a disturbed mind.

At the beginning of his sentence, Gary — a great bermuda-short fan — disagreed with prison rules that required him to wear long pants during work hours. He registered his displeasure by refusing to wear any clothes. The protest was made more bizarre by Gary’s obvious birth defect: a penis that would have been out of place on a horse, never mind a human. It only took one waltz through the cafeteria food line in his birthday suit before the bulls threw a butterfly net over him. But when they finally got the three-legged con into an observation cell, Gary raised the stakes. Painting himself in head-to-toe feces, he challenged the guards to a wrestling match. There were no takers.

After four months of Gary’s poo-painting classes, the administration decided it would be better for everybody — especially the guards in the segregation unit — if the rule on long pants was relaxed in Gary’s case. I remember seeing him skipping down the sidewalk in bermuda-shorts, often in the dead of winter, on his way to a weekly psychology appointment.

“Where’s he living at?” I asked Stretch.

“He’s upstairs on the drug-free range. You can’t go up there. I’ll let him know that you’re here. I’m sure he’ll pop by and visit you later.”

And so he did. After shaking hands, I explained that I was in transit to another prison. Then we got on with the business of catch-up.

“So what are you doing here?”I asked him. “Isn’t this a high-security joint?”

“Yeah. I was at a lower security for a few years. Then I got into a relationship with a female staff member and the head of security hated it. They purple-flagged me.”

“Purple flag? What the heck is a purple flag?” I said. After a couple of decades behind bars, I thought I heard of everything.

“It’s an alert for female staff to be careful around me. Usually they purple-flag skinners. I flipped when they did it. I mean, I ain’t no skinner, right? So when I started screaming at the head of security, they threw me in the damper and shipped me here.”

“Wow,’ I said. It struck me that over the years this had been my normal response to the majority of Scary Gary’s exploits.

“So, how long do you think you’ll be here?” I asked.

“Well, it depends. I’ve kept writing to her since they shipped me, but the thing they hate the most is that she’s been writing back. We’ve got a little something going on. They say if I don’t stop, they’ll keep me here ’til I die. But the thing is, it’s really improving my writing. The other day my IPO called me into her office and told me how good she thinks my writing is. That’s how I know they’re reading my letters. She said she’s never seen such perfect punctuation,” the psychotic convict concluded with a Proud-as-papa smile.

Writing under the whip-crack of Ed’s infamous editorial pen was a humbling experience. And I’m sure that the Province’s readers will test the thickness of my skin. But I’m sure glad I don’t have to write for the audience that Scary Gary does. At least Ed’s red pen never drew blood.

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

Shirts vs. Skins

“I know you from somewhere,” he said to me. The speaker was a six-foot-ten, 240 lb. flagpole draped in the soiled white uniform of a kitchen convict. His glasses — circa 1982 — hung crooked on his nose, pointing upwards to a deep rectangular scar on his forehead. It was probably a game-changer when it was fresh.

“Maybe,” I replied. “I’ve been around a while. I just came on the interregional from the west coast.”

“Oh yeah? I was in Kent from the late 90’s until 2002.”

“I was there,” I said.

“That’s where I know you from. I was on the other side. I’m Stretch.”

The other side, I thought. Protective custody. I had just spent the previous twenty-two hours in transit from a west coast prison to one in Quebec – including fourteen of them chained up in a very cramped DASH-300 aircraft. After that came a one hour bladder-jarring midnight-run to some federal dungeon called Archambault where I could finally piss into something more dignified than my pants. Now, after four hours sleeping on a frosty steel bench, I was being offered breakfast by a member of the Addam’s family.

“Hi Stretch,” I said without blinking. “Did you know that the average human head weighs seven and a half pounds?”

When Trudeau et al. decided that Canada should be a more homogenous society, the boys in the pen missed the memo. As Canada outside the razor wire became more integrated, the big house became more segregated. The clearest battle-line was between two acronyms — G.P. (General Population), and P.C. (Protective Custody).

Since the first federal prison opened in Kingston, Ont. in 1835, general population is the mix that everyone goes into. If somebody had a problem with your face, or the crime your were in on, you just worked it out. Then, in the early 1970’s, CSC decided that skinners, diddlers, rats, baby-killers and incarcerated cops could go to P.C. rather than chancing a shiv in the liver. Not that P.C. was much better than death. In most pens it meant twenty-three-hour lock-up for years on end. Food was served by G.P. prisoners who would usually spit (and often worse) in it. Some guards working the P.C. units would use the prisoners’ status as an excuse to act out deviant power and control fantasies. Suicide rates in P.C. were twenty times higher than on the street.

Then, in the 80’s, dope hit the pen like a tidal wave. Suddenly, prisoner-on-prisoner violence had little to do with your crime and almost everything to do with dope. Maybe it was an unpaid dope bill, or maybe you dipped into a package you and your visitor had muled in for a dealer. Maybe you were stepping on another guy’s market, and suddenly you were in the middle of a turf war. That’s what happened to Stretch. The way he tells it, he woke up in a street hospital with a shiv sticking out of his head. After doctors removed it, the prison gave him a couple of options; he could inform on his attacker or check-in to P.C. He chose the latter. But like that hotel the Eagles sang about three decades ago, P.C. is a place where you can check in any time, but you can never leave. Unless you transfer to another region — like Stretch did.

A knock at my cell door drew my attention. “Yeah?”

Stretch slid the door open. “Do you mind if I come in?”

“Hey yeah, come on in.” My eyes traveled instinctively to his hands. Back in Kent, an unwritten code had cast us as enemies. In max, if a G.P. prisoner found himself in the same room as a P.C. prisoner and didn’t attack him, it would probably get him stabbed by other G.P. prisoners. I had heard that P.C. prisoners had the same rule about us. Although the smiling giant had given me no reason to be wary in the past two days, I still felt antsy in his company.

“I brought you a treat,” Stretch said. “Sugar pie. It’s a Quebec tradition. I thought maybe since this is your first time here, you might not have had it before. I made it fresh this morning.”

As I bit into the combination of brown sugar, maple syrup and flaky pie crust, it erased any thought that the toothy titan sitting on my bed might be an enemy.

“You like?” he said.

“Un-be-friggin-lievable,” I said before sliding another velvety piece into my mouth. Stretch sat there quietly grinning.

That afternoon I stood in the television room watching Canadian politicians go at it on CPAC. I contemplated the history of distrust and enmity that Stretch and I had overcome in the past forty-eight hours. Maybe what parliament needs is a batch of sugar pie.


Starting tomorrow – January 9th, 2011 – we’re gonna try something a little different. We’re going to throw open the doors of the penitentiary and invite 750,000 readers into the little party that only a few hundred of us have been enjoying since August.

Tomorrow the Province newspaper will begin running a weekly column called ‘Live From the House of the Dead’ in its online Sunday edition. I’m sure you’ll recognize the column’s writer. There will also be an introductory column that will only be available in the print edition of the January 9th Province, so you’ll want to drop by a newsstand on Sunday and pick one up. It may be worth something 500-years from now. ‘Live From the House of the Dead’ will supplement what you’ve been reading at the Incarcerated Inkwell and allow me to pay more attention to topics affecting all incarcerated Canadians. It will also free me up to be more personal in my weekly Inkwell posts – something I’ve been doing lately and that some of you have expressed appreciation for.

Having so many new guests will undoubtedly bring new perspectives and new reader habits. I’m sure the ‘Reader’s Forum’ at Incarcerated Inkwell will now become a place for many viewpoints on hot button topics. All these new voices will require you to be as gracious with them as you have been with me for the past five months. Thank you in advance for your hospitality. I hope you’ll be a regular reader of my on-line Province column – which you will now be able to link to from The Incarcerated Inkwell – and continue to be a loyal fan of this site as well.

I.M. GreNada

Poems by Kelly Gurkowitz, January 1 2011

– Only Once –

At great heights ?

I once did stand

The protector of ?

Some far off land

On that edge ?

I once did play

A mind of dreams ?

They went a stray

From the heaven?s ?

I once did fall

Life so bleak ?

No care at all

A forgotten past ?

I once did know

With nothing left ?

That I may show

Where it ends ?

I once did tell

Sold my soul ?

Straight to hell

K. Gyurkovits

Creative Writing, December 2010


My Dream

My dream? is a place of hope and thoughts

Like a open ended bookshelf

Full of ever lasting stories

Past on from one generation to the next

From each father?s, father

Full of happy times and cherished places

By picking up a stone off a gravel road

Tell?s a person who has driven over it

Or just maybe

How it was placed in the spot that it sat

Until

Someone stubbed their small toe on it

During a mid-day storm

While they ran to the porch for cover

The tree that sits in the middle of the yard

Can whisper the list of birds out loud to you

As the wind blows through its strong arms

That has at onetime held the weight of your own children

As you once did not so long ago

K. Gyurkovits

Creative Writing Weekend, November 2010


Nowhere to be found

_______________________________________

As I entered the room I could hear the rain drops tapping at the bedroom window, like an unwanted guest at a front door.

The candle flame danced as if it was moving rhythmically to the sound of music, and the ghostly shadows it cast gave a slight indication as to what was in the room.

Their she lay? Half covered by a virgin white sheet, as gentle as the first snowfall cover?s the dirt road in early winter. Cursed with beauty and features so perfect, Da Vinci himself could not even recreate them. Skin the color of honey and with more curves on her body then what a pitcher throws during a springtime practice.

I slowly circled and paced the room like a lost soul, before carefully sitting on the edge of the bed, trying not to wake her.

The thunder rumbled and rolled over the Southern Mountain range like Yankee cannon fire. Closer with each passing second, though each second seemed like an eternity to me.

The bedroom door opened slowly as my youngest daughter entered the room. Frightened by the sounds in the storm outside, she crawled into the bed and whispered in her mothers ear, ?I ?m scared mommy? and ?I miss daddy?, ?So do I? responded her mom, ?So do I?.

As the lightning lit up the room so bright that everything in it seemed transparent? Including myself.

K. Gyurkovits

Creative Writing April 2010

Families Circled

Standing in front of Jag Gill and his family, I tried to see into the small bundle cradled high on Mrs. Gill’s chest.

“Hello Mrs. Gill,” I said. “I see you’ve brought your husband a gift this evening.”

‘Yes,’ the shy Punjabi woman said. ‘This is our new daughter.”

In a parlour trick known to mothers for millenia, Jag’s wife slid her hand across the top of the featureless blanket. Like magic, a face appeared from the hidden folds. It was a face that could melt glaciers. She was gorgeous.

“Oh my,’ I said.” She steals my breath. What is her name?”

“She is Vulpreet,’ Jag said.’ It means Powerful Peace.’

“Hello Vulpreet. It is a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for visiting us this evening,’ I said. The 9-day-old child just closed her eyes tighter, and grimaced at my invasion of her cocoon.

I turned to Jag’s two other children –a 14-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. “Well, now you have another person to love. You’ll need to help her understand the world around her. You’ll need to help her understand this,” I said, gesturing to the room of food-court-like tables surrounding us. They responded with smiles that were as bright as they were silent.

“Congratulations to all of you,’ I said.” Thank you for introducing me to your new daughter, Mrs. Gill.” I returned to the round glass-topped table where my twenty-year-old daughter was waiting. She didn’t ask if the baby was beautiful. My face must have told the story.

When the news of a shocking crime first hits a community, the reaction is predictable. Usually, first thoughts go to the innocent victim — and rightfully so. But that empathy quickly turns to rage as the mind searches for a culprit. Who did this horrific thing? What are we gonna do to him when we catch the creep.

Then, inevitably, that culprit is found. In Canada, the cops are pretty good at that. Next, the criminal goes through the court system, with society following the front-page news. At last, the big day arrives and justice is served. The creep goes to prison and all the good people of Storyville live happily ever after, right? Not so fast.

In past Inkwell columns, I’ve written how violent crime is usually measured in seconds. But for the victims, the fall-out is measured in years. What few consider though is, at the end of a trial, some of those victims go to prison alongside the felon. The victims I speak of are the wives and children of the convicted.

On any given day, there are 38,000 Canadians in prison or jail. Research shows that more than 50% of male and 80% of female prisoners lived with their children prior to being arrested. The same research estimates that over 300,000 Canadian children per year have a parent in prison, not to mention the prisoner’s wives and parents. Many of those innocent victims choose to forgive the one causing their pain, and all across this country visiting rooms are filled with families just like the Gills. They are families trying to put their lives back together. Families involved in conjugal visits. Families bringing new life into the world. These are families that walk on the side of the angels.

“So, this is the last time we’ll ever see this room,” I said to my daughter Raquel. “Lots has happened here for you and me, hasn’t it?”

“Ha! You can say that again,” she said.

‘Well, I’ll say this: the things you and I did, and said to each other in the past ten years really changed my life,’ I said.

“Yeah, mine too.”

“Really?” I said.

“Sure. Having you in my life made my grade three ‘show-and-tell’ real interesting,” she said with a know-it-all smile. ‘Like the time you made me the crochet killer whale. I’ll never forget the look on my teacher’s face when I told her where it came from.’  I looked at her, and we burst out laughing at the same time.

“I’m so proud of you and how you turned out, kiddo.”

“Yah, me too. And I’m proud of you too.”

Even as I walked Raquel to the exit, we turned together and looked back at a room full of memories. I raised a young family in this room. Tomorrow morning I get on a plane and hurl myself halfway across Canada, chasing the loose ends that I wrote about in last week’s column. I nodded toward the Gills. ” She’s only nine days old, and already she’s been in the pen. Any parting words of advice?’

“Oh yeah. Hang in there, little kid. And welcome to the weirdest family on the block.”

At least it’s a family. Here’s hoping you can live up to your name, little one, I thought. I kissed my daughter on the cheek and held the door open for her to leave. A little girl that had come to this room as a victim of my selfish actions was walking out a beautiful, confident woman.” Love ya, Raq. See you in Montreal.’

Tackling Long Division

“I have good news,” Mrs. Singh said. “Your transfer to Quebec has been confirmed. You leave next week.”

‘Thanks,” was the best I could muster. As an act of appreciation though, I offered my hand to the IPO. Horror streaked across her face as she realized the implications. I was asking her to touch me. An inmate. On my skin. Without rubber gloves. I withdrew my hand from the awkward moment, and as I did the perfectly quaffed parole officer deflated in a visible sigh of relief.

“I’ll let my family know,” I said, as I turned from her doorway and headed for my drum. Relax, Mrs. Singh. No surgical scrub-down today, I thought.

This is my eighteenth year in prison. They don’t hand out that kind of time for J-walking. My sentence is life for the crime of murder. No world of regret will change that truth. But a decision I made in a Quebec courtroom sixteen years ago has influenced the way my truth has unfolded.

“Your honour, my client has something he wishes to say before you hand down your sentence,” my lawyer said to the judge. The kind-looking magistrate looked down at me from his perch and nodded.

“Yes, go ahead,” he said.

I turned to face the large audience seated in the courtroom. Before the sheriffs had escorted me in, my lawyer informed me that about thirty in that audience were close relatives of the man I had killed. Their revulsion and anger were palpable.

“I am sorry for murdering Mario,” I began. “It was the wrong thing to do in every way. He didn’t deserve that. I hope my pleading guilty today and accepting my punishment will bring you a measure of peace. I give you my word that I will change my life, and live it to make a difference.”

“Thank you, sir,’ the judge said. “Now I will render my sentence. On the charge of second-degree murder, I accept the submissions made by both the Crown and your attorney. I sentence you to life in the penitentiary without eligibility for parole for thirteen years. Good luck to you sir.”

As I left the courtroom that morning, I heard a detective speaking to Mario’s family in French. Later I learned that he had been translating my comments for them. The people I opened my heart to in that courtroom a decade and a half ago were francophone only. They hadn’t understood a word I had said.

Murder is not as simple as the cessation of breath or an organ that dies in four minutes. The victim was a soul, someone’s son or daughter. They were the member of a family — the human family. It’s a family we all belong to. That means that all murder is the vicious snuffing of a sibling’s life. No matter how calloused the killer’s heart, it is impossible for him to not feel that in some way. This I know to be true.

Much has happened since the day I made a vow to a murdered man’s family. I have done my best to keep my word. Never since then have I laid a violent hand on another human being. I have dedicated myself to the pursuit of peace — and taught other prisoners the same. In 1997, I became an active member of a large spiritual community. Since 1999 I have become a parent, and raised my children in the prison visiting room. In 2004 I began a career as a mediator, and have had the privilege of watching powerful conflicts resolved. Like most prisoners, I’d change the past if I could. Instead, I’ve been blessed to live long enough to see my regrets placed in context. Yet lately my heart has said clearly that still there is work to be done. An apology means little if it’s audience can’t hear it. And even less if they don’t see it in action.

“Quebec? What in God’s name do you want to go out there for?” my psychologist, Dean asked. “It’s nasty out there. It’s different than here. Their prisons are full of violence — very dangerous.”

“So is the freeway,” I said. “That doesn’t seem to stop you coming to work here every day. Besides, there are loose ends out there that I’ve left for too long. My journey’s not done yet.” I explained to him what Quebec means on my path to healing the pain I’ve caused, and why French immersion is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

“Well, I hope you find what you’re looking for. When do you leave?” he asked

“This Thursday,” I said.

“Make sure to stay in touch then, let us know how things turn out,” he concluded, offering me a warm handshake and farewell hug.

I hugged the prison shrink tightly, grateful for the dignified human contact.

“I will,” I said. You have my word.

Pen Package December 2010

The Face in the Clouds?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Robert Sand

I?m lying naked in my room ? still poised upon this bed

I can?t stop thinkin? about you ? your face is pictured in my head

… You are the face in the clouds, ah the clouds

… You are my hopes all said out loud

I?ve never known no one like you ? so easily tore me apart

This bein? here all alone ? is like a fire burning in my heart

You are the girl of a million dreams

You are the roar of a million screams

You are the one that cameras seek

You are a prayed-for destiny

I gotta be there when you smile

I gotta hold you for just a while

I gotta no matter how far

I gotta wherever you are …

I musta seen you a thousand times ? heard your voice near every day

When my heart finally did see you? ? you were just walking away

… You are the face in the clouds, ah the clouds

… You are my hopes all said out loud

Girl I need to make you see ? that we are never complete

For without you I?m nothing an? our hearts?ll never be free

For all my life, I?ve known only loss

But I?ve bitten the bullet, regardless the cost

I?ve never given in, though I lose all the time

I?ve kept my faith that you I would find

Is it this easy to find my soul?s mate

Endure a few deaths an? survive all the hate

But if you?re not the one to set my heart free

Then thanks for being on Earth, same time as me


Robert Sand (1978?2023) was raised in a rural northern Alberta community, where his father trained him to wage war against the growing zombie hordes. The survival of the human race was posthumously attributed to Sand, whose sales and marketing of his Zombie: Kill or Be Killed ?How-To? classics were of little concern to the author ? a front-line gladiator who lived and died by the sword during the Dawn of the Zombie Age.


Dear Mother, Dear Mother???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Rod Schnob

Dear mother, dear mother I?m so sorry I could not help you. Being inexperienced, small and frail I could not defend you. This man you said was my father is so much bigger than I. I will not hold it against you because you lied. This mean man makes us bleed and leaves us pleading on our knees. I don?t understand why you make me carry his name. You never saw how he made me feel good by wearing the neighbour?s son?s blood on my clothes. At that moment in time, I was his champion. Dad?s lessons in life are so painful to learn.

The kids on my block jumped me and beat me up pretty good. I ran home with tears in my eyes and he leaned down and told me that cowards don?t live in his house when I tried to run home.

Similar lessons were taught to me by his mother when she armed me with a stick and garbage can lid in order to make my presence known to the neighbourhood kids. Is that how this phoney daddy of mine came to be so mean? All the other boys I hang around and walk to school with have the same kinds of stories. They tell me about the parties, the alcohol their parents drink, the voices that yell and fists that fly at one another. Like me they put their palms over their ears to stop the noise but it never stops the fear that races through our bodies. They get so scared like me and scream in silence hoping that our dads won?t hear. When mom and dad fight those familiar sounds of physical pain cast shadows on the wall.

As we walked and talked to one another on the way to school we tried to hide our homespun fears. Those fears gave us complexes in the names of helplessness, uselessness, worthlessness branding us with emotional scars like slaves. Never vanquished until the date of our deaths. After their drinking, fighting and witnessing of our beaten mothers lying in a fetal position their eyes trying to give us the impression that they?re okay. The sharing of our stories taught us shame and contempt as we needed to feel empowered. Our shame stood taller while we shared our stories of our weekend delights. Oh how we lied, hid and boasted in fits of phoney laughter.

?Hey, Roddy, my mom looks like Spot the dog?

?Yeah, Jake, I know what you mean mine looks like a raccoon.?

?That?s nothing, mine?s got the same look as your mother but she?s got a left hand turn on her nose.?

We all broke out in fearful shame driven laughter that gave us back our power. A power misunderstood by developing youth that had no clue beyond painful experiences of dysfunctional maturity. Only to learn later in our lives that not all authoritarian figures express irrational behaviours at the expense of loved ones.

Dear mother, dear mother I?m so sorry to make fun of your victimization that brought you humbled indignities that skinned your spirit inch by inch so painfully. Dear mother, I?m so sorry for being so selfish. I did not realize what you had to endure to give me a chance to have a life or to be whatever I wanted while discovering the magnitude of life?s embrace. I disrespected and squandered away all opportunities by blaming you for an unforgiving lie about who my true father was.

This story was first published in “Penned In- A collection of literary creations from both sides of the fence”, 2010 by Jupiter Literary Press.


Silent Hours ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Rod Schnob

Silent hours floating in a cell

With tides of thought crashing in on mind,

Seething in a turbulent pity party

Feeling the rhythm of its blues

Embittered heart tells the news

Dreams shatter on the break,

The tales of unkind loneliness

Tumbles to the shore,

Another tortured spirit grasps for an ending.

Depression lassos regret for comfort,

And a mirror?s reflection becomes thy enemy.

Quickly turning away to defeat shame,

The muffled pleas for freedom screamed internally

As I struggle and drown in a cage of apathy

Strength depleting in the cold waves of death

A blanket tossed upon my face.

This poem was first published in “Penned In- A collection of literary creations from both sides of the fence”, 2010 by Jupiter Literary Press.


Rod Schnob comes from Vancouver?s infamous East End. He now resides in Matsqui Prison, learning the fine arts of mental and emotional torture from the academics of crime prevention. While working on a 25-to-Life sentence, Rod found an outlet for personal salvation through Matsqui?s creative writing program.

More Poems by Kelly Gurkowitz

Fatherhood


Fatherhood
A special part of life
Some single
Some lack a wife

Many daughters
Or only one son
First birthdays
I?ve seen none

Time we?ve missed
You don?t get back
Sorry my children
It was the wrong track

Year?s build up
Like falling snow
Each one passing
A harder blow

The children I have
Are my own
Still I feel
All alone

K. Gyurkovits
Creative Writing, November 2010


Forever & Ever

Joined by affection
Under skies above
Each one giving
Eternal love

Passion & lust
Are what we crave
Always loved
Emotionally saved

Each one giving
What the other may need
To the point of desire
Wish & plead

When giving up all
To remain together
Remember the words
Forever & ever…

K.Gyurkovits
Creative Writing, November 2010


Is There?

Is there…
a doctor in the house
tripped on a nail
his face went sort?a pale

Is there…
a doctor in the house
feeling kind?a sick
more than just?a nick

Is there…
a doctor in the house
bled the color red
to the point that he was dead

Is there…
a doctor in the house
oh… cried
his grieving spouse

K.Gyurkovits
Creative Writing, June 2010

Kelly Lee Gyurkovits
The tip of the pen to the internal mind is only a few short feet.
Yet the words that are forged may take you anywhere.
? Kelly Lee Gyurkovits

The Legend of the Slickster

The news coming from your side of the fence is bleak these days. The Koreans are at each other’s throats — again. Jews and Arabs are stuck in “eye for eye” — still. The West has now fully inherited the Afghan quagmire from the Russians. And a black president turns greyer every day figuring out where to deploy the global police-force next. You guys could use some help from the Slickster.

The Slickster is Chad Carton, the penitentiary’s undisputed king of conflict resolution. Of course it’s a no-brainer that a kid whose name rhymes with fartin’ would grow up knowing about conflict. But it’s the way the Slickster resolves those quarrels that puts him in the mediator’s hall of fame. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him in action.

Chad is a good looking guy. His combined Cree, Scottish and French genetics give him the same chiselled features that made Richard Gere America’s fantasy gigolo. But no matter what the Woody Allens of the world believe, being a chick-magnet isn’t an easy burden to bear. Especially when you’re a chick magnet doing ten years in the pen.

“What?” I said to my sister. We were sitting in the prison’s visiting-room and had been babbling for about twenty minutes when suddenly, she froze in mid-sentence. Her eyes were as round as the moon.

“What?” I repeated.

“Oh. My. Word,” she whispered. “Turn. Around.”

I looked over my shoulder at what had caught her attention. Standing near the entrance was a curvy blonde that I had seen before. It was Chad’s girlfriend. She scanned the room looking for her guy. Normally, that would have been great. What prisoner wouldn’t be thrilled at a visit from their vivacious girlfriend and her pouty red lipstick? Chad’s problem was that he was already visiting a perky little girlfriend. A different perky girlfriend. And they were sitting only ten feet from us.

I looked back at my sister. “This is not good.” I said.

“Oh, I disagree,” she said, eyes now sparkling like a summer lake. She crossed her arms and shot me a sinister grin. “This’ll be better than good. This will be great.”

For the six months that my sister had been visiting me, she had also been observing the non-stop parade of ripe Top-Model wannabe’s visiting Chad. As he cooed sweet-nothings in the ear of each new arrival — sometimes on consecutive nights — my sister’s blood would boil. For her, Chad symbolized everything wrong with the y-chromosome. Now the hens were coming home to roost in living color. I could hear my sister salivating.

“Hi,” I heard the blonde say to Chad.

“Aaahhhh. Hi,” he said.

“So who are you,” she said, directing her attention to the oestrogen-packed auburn sitting next to him.

“Excuse me?” the darker-haired girl said.

“I said, ‘who the hell are you?'”

I grabbed my sister by the arm and we headed for the vending machines. Whatever happened next, I didn’t want to see it. As we walked past the visiting-staff’s office, I saw two male guards laughing hysterically and pointing at Chad’s table. The picture became clear as I realized that these were the architects of the train-wreck happening behind me. To visit someone in the pen, you first have to make an appointment. Then, we are usually allowed to have only one (or one group of) visitors at a time. The rare case of double-booking now causing Chad grief had not been an oversight. I guess the two Woodys in the office had been as sickened as my sister was by Chad’s seemingly endless smorgasbord of carnal caviar. Oh, that’s just plain mean, I thought as I watched the guards celebrating the young Casanova’s demise. But as the evening unfolded, it became evident that the High-Fivin’ White Guys had jumped the gun in their victory dance.

“You got to be kidding me,” my sister said to me an hour later.

“Now what?’ I said.

“Look,” she said.

“I don’t want to look,” I replied.

“Just look,” she said.

In my best effort at nonchalance, I looked towards Chad’s table. What I saw there gave me new hope for the human race. There was Chad, playing a game of cards with two beautiful girls and their thousand-watt smiles. To all the world, they looked like a group of life-long friends. Chad looked particularly delighted. Looking closer, I could see why. In the shadow of the table top, I glimpsed each girl’s hand draped casually over one of Chad’s thighs. The legend of the Slickster was born.

“Man that kid’s slick,” I said.

“What – ever,” my sister spit out.

As I read the world’s bad news this morning, a little ditty by Johnny Mercer came to mind.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

And latch on to the affirmative

Don’t Mess with Mister In-Between

You know, somebody should do a cover of that 1945 hit. God knows the world needs a new anthem. I wonder if the Slickster can sing.

Periscope Down, Pancakes up

“Lockdown — Lockdown — all inmates return to the main living-unit for cell lockdown,” the P.A. blared.

Damn, I thought. I jumped from my bunk and dashed for the phone.

When they announce a lockdown in the joint, it blasts from every speaker. It’s like when the skipper screams ‘dive’ on one of those WWII submarine movies. For a moment, even breathing stops as prisoners run through a mental checklist:

Great. Who got stabbed now?

I wonder if they’ll cancel private family (conjugal) visits?

There goes our weekend.

Damn, I stink. I got to get in that shower.

Don’t forget to grab toilet paper.

I need a phone.

Then everyone moves at once. It’s a five-alarm fire with everybody running into the flames. Teachers stop teaching. Shovels stop shovelling. Industrial sewing-machines stop in mid-stitch. Guards that, five minutes ago were nowhere to be found, are suddenly everywhere — funnelling prisoners past control points and herding them in the general direction of the main cell-block. Then, once we are all stuffed into our cells like the pimento in an olive, the place quickly settles to a Chernobyl-like silence. Everyone wonders when we will surface again.

“Yahoo, looks like pancakes in bed,” the Eagle said. The Eagle is my neighbour across the hall, and is insane. Literally. With his shaved head, tattooed face, and fu-Manchu goatee, he’s straight out of every bad martial arts movie you’ve ever seen. Thirty years ago he wounded a horseman in a shootout, and he’s still no closer to daylight. The Eagle loves lockdowns because he can practice his form of Buddhist meditation without anyone bugging him. He also has a deep appreciation for the lockdown feeding routine. Instead of eating in the dining room, meals are delivered to our cell doors. In a seven-day cycle, the menu includes pancakes at least twice. After three decades behind bars, the Eagle has few joys in life. One of them is pancakes. And for him, having those golden cakes hand-delivered to his door by guards who hate doing so makes breakfast taste even sweeter.

“Yeah, great — you can have mine,” I replied without breaking my stride. I needed to phone home before the guards shut the phones off. In less than twenty-four hours, eighteen volunteer writers were scheduled to arrive at the prison for a writers retreat. Some of them had put their families on hold for the weekend. Some of them were coming from two hours away. If I didn’t get a message out to them, their weekend would be as gloomy as ours.

There are a lot of reasons for a lockdown. Murder and mayhem top the list. But sometimes lockdowns are used as a pre-emptive strike. In prison, trouble has a way of rolling in like a summer squall. One prisoner with a black eye might not seem like a big deal in a prison that houses serial killers. But when you add one black eye to the two other black eyes seen earlier in the week, plus the six shanks found in the laundry room last night and the fact that the most recent black eye belongs to a known gang member, the sum can be astronomically larger than the parts. Sometimes a warden just gets nervous. Who can blame him? Many are the days in a penitentiary that started with sunshine and ended in blood and fire.

“I need the phone after you,” Patty Scissors said to me.

“Yeah, I’ll just be a second,” I said to the jailhouse barber. All around me, prisoners were hurrying. Some grabbed toilet paper, garbage bags, soap and other things they would need for a week locked in a cell. Others went from door to door begging a cup of ground coffee, a few tea bags, or a skin-mag. The three-stall shower room was a chaotic carwash with naked cons lined up out the door. I strained my good ear to hear the phone ringing on the other end. One ring. Two. C’mon babe. Three. C’mon babe, pick up. Four.

“Thanks for calling. Leave us a message and we’ll call you back.”

“Hi doll,” I said to the answering machine. “They’re locking us down as I speak. Can you call Ed and tell him we’re dead for the retreat this weekend? And please call Mike to let him know not to come in for Bible study tomorrow night. Tell the kids I love them both. Please e-mail Ros and let her know I’ll be out of touch for a week. Oh yeah, and phone here first to see if PFV’s are cancelled before you pay for the food. O.K., I think that’s everything. Keep me in your prayers. I love you. Got to go, here they come!”

In the past four months, writing for The Incarcerated Inkwell has changed my life. It has brought me new friends, new opportunities, and a clearer vision of the path ahead. But while writing a weekly column has affected my viewpoint, what hasn’t changed is the view from my window. It still comes with vertical steel bars. What everyone in my life has known for almost two decades is that sometimes — without warning — my submarine disappears under the waves. And now, so do you.