The Incarcerated InkWell

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

Latest Posts

Serendipity visits the Big House

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.

I.M. GreNada

If you’re going through hell…

Churchill once explained Russia as, ‘A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. Of his many quotes, that one best defines the prison experience. Even those living the dystopia of a caged life smirk in wonder at the loopy things we see. Like the time I met Bea.

My first encounter with Bea came in the exercise yard of a prison in western Canada. The prison is notorious for the volume of street drugs it contains, and is often referred to as a ‘campus of East Hastings‘. One day, while heading out to clear my head on the yard’s half-mile running track, the sight of a fellow prisoner stopped me like a bullet. Most prisoners use rec. time to pass a baseball or soccer ball around, lift weights, or walk endless laps on the loose-gravel track. Not this convict. As I rounded a corner leading to the elevated upper yard, there on the shoulder lay Bea – on a large Budweiser beach towel, bottom to the sun, wearing nothing but a hot pink thong that accentuated well bronzed buns.

Now, before your mind rails in a chorus of, “I knew it!” you should know that there are no co-ed prisons in the CSC inventory. Confused? Try being me. I had just returned to prison from a spree of extremely-unauthorized-activities-while-on-parole. My partner had run off with the money, guns, and my wife. My foul mood hung over me like a cloud. Finally, in search of solitude and clarity, I am confronted with what looks like – but cannot be – a buns-in-the-sun ‘she’. What would Churchill say?

I wish I had a day off my sentence for every time I’ve heard outmates expressing amazement at ‘how normal inmates are‘. What amazes me is their reaction to this discovery. How long will it take to figure out that people are people are people, whether they are having a good day, or a bad decade?

As for Bea – christened Barry at birth — prison is not the only challenging circumstance in her? er, his life. Bea is a traveler in the journey called ‘gender reassignment’ – an ambiguous phrase for plucking the plumbs and changing an outsy to an insy. Canadian prison policy is that drag queens be held in all-male prisons if they still have the guy goods. Sensible, non? At a time when even fish can’t figure their sex out, gender confused humans are hardly news. Then, when one of these burdened beings finds themselves in breach of criminal law, they have to sleep somewhere. Since incarcerating a penis in an all-female prison creates more problems than it solves, CSC decided that if you can hit the urinal from twelve inches out, you bunk with the boys. Where the intrigue begins is in a policy that also allows these disoriented debutants to cross-dress. This explains the mad mirage confronting me on the track, that July of long-ago.

Bea & I would cross paths often in the years following that summer of the mad mirage. Like me, he is a lifer, and also like me, he has a temper. Even though he’s a little guy with big boobs, he can pick a fight while locked in an empty room. It’s not surprising that eventually Bea and I would run into each other in maximum security.

The max I speak of is painted into the setting of postcard-pretty mountains and farms. Despite its metal detectors, restricted movement, high resolution camera’s and machine gun-wielding marksmen, the administration makes an effort to keep the prisoners calm. Maximum security houses those who have created chaos at lower security: escape, murder, rioting, staff assaults, etc. Keeping these guys cool is not a liberal, con-coddling concession, but a security strategy gleaned through experience. The prison has a fully equipped gymnasium, a weight room, and large exercise yard with a half mile long asphalt-paved running track.

One day, when entering the exercise yard, I had a sudden attack of Bea-je-vu. The Indian princess invaded more than my field of vision. Wearing a pair of Daisy Dudes Bea had painted his face with thick lash manscara, a shade of eye-shadow best described as violent, Revlon #10 lipstick, and enough rouge to mistake him for a domestic assault victim. A too-short lemon halter top completed the ensemble. Yet, for once it wasn’t Bea’s attire that elicited unblinking stares. It was what he was doing. Bea? was exercising.

Feet sheathed in powder blue rollerblades, ear-bud cord and raven hair streaming in the wind, he rolled past in full sashay, howling the lyrics to that feline favourite, “Don’t you wish your girl fiend was hot like me,” by the Pussycat Dolls. Next to me stood Texas Dan, a young prisoner who had arrived at the max only that week. As Bea skated by, the Texas Dan’s head followed his eyes in disbelief.

“Well, there’s something you don’t see everyday,” I said to him. His gaze returned to me, speechless and jaw agape.

The thing you learn quickly about prison is that the people here are just as wonderful, evil, ordinary, screwed up, focused, deviant, moral, lost, and found as they are in any other community. Prison life is just like any other life — albeit more concentrated. Maybe if old Winston had looked at Russia through that lens, it would have made more sense.

I.M. GreNada