The Incarcerated InkWell

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

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Pimp my pen

One of the most valuable lessons my Dad taught me as a kid was the linear working of a car motor. Back then fuel left the gas tank, traveled to the carburetor, and was dribbled into cylinders where a spark did the rest. The pistons then pushed a cam shaft and a transmission talked to the back wheels, and the result was that the harder you pressed on the gas pedal the quicker you got to the Tasty Freeze. The universe made sense back then.

So as I watch the frenzy of prison building now happening in this country, and the way Canadians en masse have lined up to drink the Kool-Aid of longer prison terms (even for children), I’m thinking it might be a good time for a lesson on the linear working of the motor that powers the Canadian justice system. It may not get you to your goal any faster, but at least you’ll understand where all the gas is going.

Today’s lesson will be a field trip – let’s call it a walk with Billy Bean. The first thing we need to know about Billy is that Billy loves crack cocaine. Unfortunately for him, Canada doesn’t (yet) have a state sponsored crack cocaine program, so Billy spends his afternoons breaking into cars and houses, liberating whatever his heart desires – or whatever the pawn shop will take off his hands. Today, Billy is walking down your street, and notices your porch light on and that you haven’t cleared the mailbox in a couple of days. Everybody say hello to Billy.

The next day, you and your small family return from a hard earned week away, and even as you pull into the driveway, you know that something isn’t right. The front window blinds are hanging all wrong. Your heart beats a little faster. Grabbing your phone from the visor, you look at your wife and ask her to stay in the car for a minute. She looks back at you with eyes just a little more knowing than normal.

Bypassing the carport door you always enter through, you instead walk up to the front door – like a stranger. Then you do something no person should ever have to do at the front door of their own home. You knock. Loudly. And after taking a deep breath, you turn the key and walk into what the whispering shadows of your mind tell you might be the dead end of a really great day.

If there is any good news in the above scenario, it’s that the overwhelming majority of home burglaries in Canada never result in physical violence. Like any other rodent invasion, you are far more likely to find the poop than the rat. Unfortunately, on this day, there is poop everywhere. Dresser drawers open – including the one where your wife’s silky things usually are. Stereo speakers (the ones that sat in front of the living room blinds) are gone, and with them the new Blue Ray player you got the family last Christmas. But the deepest cut of all is the watchcase. It was your Dad’s – the only thing you kept after the funeral. The empty space where it last sat on your bedroom dresser now throbs like a phantom limb, and under your breath you swear that somebody is going to pay. What most Canadians never stop to consider is that that somebody is you. Walk with me.

Step one – call the cops. 911 will ask if it’s an emergency, and after discerning that it isn’t, will direct you to the general inquiries number of your local police precinct. Eventually (sometimes the same day) a car or two will come around, and a couple of pleasant officers will take your statement. Then they’ll lift a few fingerprints from the usual places: drawer fronts, doorknobs, a window casing – the half full beer bottle Billy left on the counter. They’ll say a few comforting words in parting, accept your heartfelt thanks, and leave you with the belief that the worst is behind you. At $78,000 per year, a compassionate cop can really feel like money well spent.

Step two – call a carpenter. The crack head who broke into your house wasn’t just stupid enough to leave his finger prints everywhere; he had to rip out the entire window casing in your kitchen to get in – instead of just breaking the thirty dollar window in the door right next to it and turning the inside knob. But securing the family home is not an option, and the $900 dollar bill is just the price of sleeping soundly. You write a cheque.

Step three – call your insurance broker. This is where your teeth stop chattering and start grinding. Do you have receipts for your wife’s missing underwear? Are you aware that the replacement price of electronics is hardly what you paid last year? Do you have a photo of the watchcase? Did you ever have it appraised? And most importantly, are you aware that your particular policy has a $1,500 deductible? Grrrr.

Step four – Constable Caring phones you. Good news. Our multi-million dollar fingerprint identification system has spit out a name – Billy Bean. Do you know him? Whether you do or not is immaterial, because Billy is well known to police. In fact, the precinct has assigned a couple of their best burglary detectives to track him down. It feels good to know that these $93,000 per year senior officers are on the case. Somebody is doing something.

Step five – eureka. Billy is busted. A $113,000 per year junior Crown Prosecutor named Sarah calls you at work with the good news, and says you may need to testify if there is a trial. No problem. You can’t wait to see the scumbag’s face in court. She says that the suspect has a long record of this sort of thing, and is confident that they’re going to put him behind bars for a long time. You ask if the scumbag happened to have your Dad’s watchcase when they caught him. Sarah isn’t sure. But if she hears something, she’ll let you know.

Step six – the trial. It’s been eight months since your life was turned upside down. For the past two weeks, you‘ve gone over it repeatedly in your head: what you will say to the judge; the look of disgust you will give the creep as you stare him down from the witness box; the demand you mill make that your precious heirloom be returned. You book the day off work and arrive at the courthouse at 9:30, as instructed. Sarah meets you outside Provincial courtroom 303 and greets you with a warm smile. She directs you to a bench and says your case is the third one scheduled. She will send an assistant out to get you when they’re ready.

Two hours and eleven games of Tetris later – Sarah comes out to let you know you can go home. They don’t need you. Bean’s lawyer has moved the case to disclosure court, downstairs. As yours wasn’t the only house he invaded that week, Bean’s Legal-Aid funded lawyer has struck a deal for him to plead guilty to seven other break and enters in exchange for a global prison sentence of two years. It’s over.

Two years. At least the scumbag will be paying for the grief he caused your family. But it hardly feels like justice. You sure wish he had gotten more time – and that you could have gotten the watch box back. Then again, sometimes you just have to let things go. It’s a beautiful spring day, and you have other important things to think about. May 1st is coming, and you still haven’t done your taxes. With the break-in, and all the stress-time off work, it’s been a tough year for net income. You wonder if you might have to dip into your overdraft to keep Canada Revenue Services at bay. Then, as you approach the paid parking spot where you left your car, a metallic taste fills your mouth. You know there’s no way that you left that passenger side window unrolled…

In 2009, Statistics Canada reported that the cost of policing the nation had jumped six percent over the previous year – to eleven billion dollars. It was the biggest one-year jump in police costs since 1990.

That same year, the budget for federal and provincial prisons combined exceeded four billion dollars. The government expects that number to balloon to almost ten billion by 2015, and has gotten a jump start on that with the hiring of seven thousand new federal corrections officers – at more than $70,000 a year each.

The cost of administering justice, in the form of thousands of Legal-Aid lawyers, Crown Prosecutors, Judges, and clerical staff, is much harder to peg. The legal industry isn’t sweet on baring its books. But cross-country consensus says that no one above the clerical level brings home less than six figures, and that certainly includes the hundreds of folks that sit in parliamentary committees and senate hearings creating new criminal offences every year. Taken all together, that’s one hungry carburetor.

While it’s reasonable that the cost of driving a free and just society will never be cheap, it’s also reasonable to ask if it really needs to be this expensive. Especially when governments are eyeing up pension and health care funds to fuel the nitrous oxide of retribution. And while I freely admit to having more questions than answers, the one thing I do know is that it won’t be Billy filling your tank. He’s too busy smoking weed in the cell down the hall.

 

If you build it

The season of snow has also brought with it an education for me — mostly in how this democracy stuff really works. As the government yawned, I watched the media play pitch-and-catch with a lineup that included top Corrections managers, criminologists, provincial Justice Ministers, and even Joe-from-down-the-street. “How do you feel about the Conservatives implementing policies that have already failed in the U.S.?” and, “What are your thoughts on the Conservatives locking up children for mandatory minimum sentences?” were among the most predictable queries. At least Rex Murphy, on his CBC-Radio standard Cross Canada Checkup, asked listeners if it was possible that Bill C-10 wasn’t tough enough. One caller from Saskatchewan responded by asking why the legislation didn’t include mandatory pink underwear. What Farmer Fred doesn’t know is that some of us are really into pink underwear.

Meanwhile, as the country was supposedly debating the big lockdown, the real story was in my backyard. That’s where — starting in November (long before Parliament voted on it) — backhoes, tampers, bulldozers, and a lineup of double-axle dump trucks (they even brought a fifty foot crane) were paving Bill C-10 right over top of what used to be our baseball field.

“What are they doing?” Boo asked me a couple of days after Halloween.

“They’re building a curling rink,” I said straight-faced. “With a cappuccino bar.”

Boo ogled me from the corner of his hot glued and scotch-taped bifocals. Then his attention returned to the boisterous invasion behind our cell block, and the thirty foot deep hole in the spot where last year’s fall classic played out.

“Naaaah,” he mewled. “It’s too big.”

Boo is one of those guys with a permanent “kick me” sign stitched to his back. His handle has less to do with a Harper Lee novel than it does his misshapen mug. Rumor is he’s never worn a mask to go trick-or-treating. And the cerebral sewage that pours from the two-toothed hole in his face is just as bad. I keep thinking I need to follow him around and just write down everything he says. It’s Jackass gold.

“Can’t slide nothing past you, can I? Actually, it’s a new condominium-style cell block with an in-ground recreation room and a community kitchen.” I said. “They’re even putting in wiring for high-speed Internet.”

“Gaaaawwd, why do I ask you anything? If you don’t know, just say so.” Boo stomped away, bottom lip bouncing off his chin. I guess it’s true what they say. Some people just can’t handle the truth.

A funny thing happened when I stopped smoking all that B.C. bud two decades ago. I found out I had a brain. Not that it was a big eureka moment. Especially after I learned that the grey matter God gave me never quits analyzing. Lately, the list of things I must understand to the thirty-third decimal point includes how Michael Jackson’s death bed rated a bidding war, when three years before it was exhibit one in an inappropriate-touching trial — or why it is that we never see Peter McKay and Sarah Jessica Parker in the same room at the same time. But for more than a year now my list has been topped by the question no one will answer. After forty years of leading the world away from incarceration, how did prison — a 19th century throwback that has never served a society’s needs — become Canada’s way forward?

Today, the answer hit me like an inside curveball. It happened while I was watching a large flatbed offloading stainless steel toilets onto what used to be third base. Obviously, some unnamed Right-wing Advocate for Yesteryear (R.A.Y.) has been hearing voices…

R.A.Y: “Why the long face my co-replicating martial associate? Is it the economy?”

R.A.Y’s wife, A.N.N.I.E. (A Nuptial Necessity for Impersonal Economists): “My god Ray, what is it with you and the economy? I wish you’d just shut up about the stupid economy. It’s you I’m worried about. I heard you in the backyard last night, talking to the ornamental shrubs.”

“Oh, Annie, that wasn’t the shrubs. I was talking to Bootless Billy Miner.”

“Bootless…”

Billy Miner. He was a bank and train robber in the early 1900’s.”

Annie, squinting, does some quick math in her head. “And you were… talking to him? To a 150 year old train robber?”

“166. He got his nickname during an escape from the B.C. Penitentiary in 1912 — when he left his boots behind. Snuck right past the guards wearing nothing but a pair of Hudson Bay socks — you know, the ones with the colored stripes? Damn wool socks scandal nearly sunk Lord Borden’s Conservatives. Anyhow, when we first came to Stornoway in 2004, Miner came around and started taunting me there. Claimed that Canadian prisons are for pussies, and dared me to build one he couldn’t steal out of. So, I been thinking…”

“Ray?”

“Yeah, Annie?”

“Tell me again how you’re going to save the economy.”

Well if that’s not how it went down, then you explain to Boo what that three-story ditch in the back yard is. ‘Cause it sure as heck ain’t an Olympic swimming pool.

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

 

All in the Family

Well a couple of weeks ago, before the tissue box and sneezes were my constant companions, I had the joy of inciting a riot.

But of course, you say, you’re that con’s wife. Yet I would recommend a riot for anyone. Especially when the result is killer soup stock.

My landlords are of the elderly sort. Not the kind that are out r.v.’ing in the summer and off to Arizona when it starts to get crispy. No. Canes, wheelchairs, medications, and all sorts of safety devices for the home is what we’ve got going on here. One of the things that also seems to appear with this demographic is a tendency to feel a bit low. That comes with the realization that one cannot do what one used to do. My neighbours can no longer tend to their yard.

It’s some yard. Huge, in fact. It happened to be a necessity for them as they had produced oh, about 10 children. Gotta have some place for the kids to play.

However, mom and dad got a kick out of it too. Over the decades, this yard popped with colours of every sort because of the flowers. In fact, people from all around used to come and admire the flower beds. There were a lot of happy times.

As with all things, kids grow up, get married and leave home. For this household, the empty nest took a while to appear. When it did, broken bones and sickness moved in. In the yard, some things took on a life of their own while others died off. Also, undesirables emerged – yup, you’ve got it. Weeds.

What’s this got to do with soup stock? Spring cleaning actually.

I suggested a “call to arms” to my dear, tired neighbours. Seeing as they had been prolific by producing a significant brood, it would make light of the considerable work load if many hands came and were put to it. Since I am not a yard person, and in this case I am the outsider, my offering was turkey.

The call was put out, “Come. Work. EAT.” What began as a quiet day with me stuffing the turkey in my little unit grew into the loud, vibrant, whirlwind that is family. Sons and daughters clearing the brush in the yard, digging up weeds and starting fires (it was a riot after all). Husbands-in-law cleaning windows and chasing after little ones. Great-grandchildren carrying jars of frogs, tracking mud into the foyer (which was kind of a bummer becauser we were trying to get things clean).  In all, thirty people engaged in various levels of yelling.

Until you happen to say “the turkey’s ready, go wash up.”

I thought that things were moving quickly before, but supper being on the table took it up a notch. Despite all the serving spoons dishing out the goods, everyone eating and laughing, we still had enough for seconds. And leftovers. And soup fixin’s.

While examining the yard the next morning and my stock was simmering, it was mentioned that the previous day had brought a lot of joy to the old ones. A gathering like that hadn’t been seen for a few years, and there was a satisfaction with life.

So now I’m here sitting here, watching the yard come to life. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have another turkey. I’d like to start another riot…

Any suggestions?

The war of ’12

I went to school in a small B.C. community in the ‘70’s – a pretty cool time. Back then, everybody knew the difference between a Saskatchewan Roughrider and one from Ottawa. Every kid with a TV also knew who Tommy Hunter was (whether you wanted to or not), and that Reach for the Top came on just before The World of Disney on Sunday evenings. Then one day in the summer of my 12th year, our parents sat my sister and me down on our 700-year-old Simpsons Sears couch (because they lasted that long back then) for the talk.

“Your Dad and I have been discussing it, and we’d like to know if you would like to get… cablevision.”

Cablevision. In 1978, asking a kid in western Canada if he wanted cablevision was like asking a hound dog if he would be mildly interested in a ham hock. MTV wasn’t even a gleam in a network’s eye yet when sis and I choreographed our response – a full-on five-minute musical performance that featured hopping (what hip-hop was before Kanye), synchronized swim motions (high-fiving hadn’t been invented yet) and a trilling technique recently demonstrated by some visiting Africans on The Irish Rovers show. Or maybe they were Australian Aboriginals.

“The thing is, it’s going to cost eight dollars a month,” Mom said, “and the only way we can afford it is if we use the monthly child allowance cheque the government sends for you and your sister. What do you think?”

Child allowance? All I could think of was the Fonze, the Incredible Hulk, Fantasy Island, and CHIP’s. My sister’s eyes glazed over with her own bucket list that included Laverne and Shirley and One Day at a Time. Child allowance cheque? What good is a birthright if you don’t have The Love Boat?

“Yes!” we chirped in sync, like a couple of Dutch traders who had just bought Manhattan for a bag of fishhooks. Before you could say three’s a company, our backyard Saturdays of fort building and All Star Wrestling were swallowed up in a tsunami of Scooby Doo and Space 1999. But as the summer of 12 P.P.H. (pre-pubic hair) fades to an ever smaller dot in the rear view mirror of memories, I sometimes wonder if the trade we made that year had more in common with Faust than it did with Peter Minuit. And evidently I’m not alone.

Every so often, Canada goes through an identity crisis of sorts, where it can’t figure out whether to redefine or reinvent itself. 2012, by all appearances, seems to be the year of high redefinition. Around the country, the regurgitated portrait of loquacious Liz – our sovereign in every way except fact – has become the smart symbol of when we were beautiful, while in Ottawa, the ruling junta parades the troops like they were returning from Italy instead of Afghan-irrelevant. With John A. McDonald on the best seller’s list, a boring as sod Anglo-Saxon male in the Governor General’s shack, and the feds building prisons like they haven’t since the days of Diefenbaker – you have to wonder if they’ll soon be driving the last spike on a coast to coast subway.

But of all the entertaining steps backward this year, the funniest may be the suddenly chic War of 1812 – better known in Canadian high school history tests as the War of wha? According to the party line being bank rolled out of Ottawa, 1812 was the year Canada served notice that we are not Americans. That’s rich.

According to a recent piece by John Allemang in the Globe and Mail, at the beginning of the skirmish, the average Upper Canadian was “a newly arrived American lured by cheap land and low taxes.” Yup, Americans (and British regular army conscripts) – fighting Americans – to prove that they weren’t American. Sombody needs to call Monty Python. In the book The Civil War of 1812, Alan Taylor even notes that the peace treaty that eventually settled the row in 1814 was signed in Belgium, between the british and the Americans. Not a single Canadian in sight. And history says there was a good reason for that.

“The idea of the border was an artificial creation,” back in 1812, says Major John Grodzinksky, a history professor at Royal Military College. According to him, long before the Six Million Dollar Man leapt the 49th parallel, “there was considerable shared contract and trade,” on both sides of the invisble wall. The (North) Amercians of the early 19th century liked it that way. And if Wal Mart, Target and Nordstrom’s are to be believed, little has changed.

The it-could-be-worse truth of the matter is that Canadians have always been Americans in heart – just as Americans have always been British and vice versa. Just ask Madonna. Or Gerard Butler. Or Justin Bieber. And while $29 million worth of ado will be made this year about how un-American the Great White North is, my advice is to pop a cold Pepsi and enjoy the fact that Celine Dion and Cirque de Soleil now have a bigger piece of Vegas than Elvis ever did. Trust me on this. I saw it on TMZ.

 

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

Wines

Six wines I’d like to taste – but can’t because they’ll throw me in the hole.

1. Way to go Sam! Two Paddocks’ Pinot Noir

2. Spain’s CodorniuCava

3. Inniskillin from Niagara – Icewine Sparkling Vidal would be a real adventure…

4. Quebec’s vignoble de l’OrpailleurOrpailleur Brut

5. or maybe Sunny California’s Sutter HomeZinfandel

6. Capetown’s VergelegenCabernet Sauvignon

 

Nobody move or the convict gets it

Prison may be the last chance hotel for big ideas. Last night the guy in the cell below mine had a big idea. I don’t know how long it took him to save up the oranges, sugar packs and bread slices needed to cook up a batch of liquid thunder. Regardless, last night was taste test time for his labor of love.

“All inmates return to your cells for lockdown count.” Whenever you hear that all-points bulletin blared over the P.A. system, you know that the rest of your day is pretty well in the crapper.

“What’s going on,” I asked the Undertaker. The Undertaker is a six-foot-four, two-hundred-sixty-pound drag queen that lives on my block. After thirty-four years in prison, he always knows what’s happening. It’s like he has evolved a whole new organ for these sorts of things.

“Some stupid asshole downstairs got into the brew. He’s barricaded himself into his cell, and blocked the windows.”

Great. The Undertaker isn’t the only one here with extra senses. After a couple of decades, I’ve sprouted some of my own — including one that tells me it will be too many days until my next shower. As the Undertaker babbled his play-by play for the events one floor below, I stripped down and looked for a bar of soap. I wonder how Lorne Greene would have explained convict behavior on Last of the Wild.

“When alarmed, the long-tooth jailbird immediately sheds its clothing — in the hallway, in the kitchen, in the gym, or wherever — and plunges into the closest body of soapy water. Biologists believe that this self-defense mechanism is prehistoric, from a time when filthy fowl was the preference of the bird’s natural predators.”

“Enter your cells IMMEDIATELY for lockdown count,” the speaker outside the shower room screamed. The doors of some of the newer cons clang shut with an urgency. In the shower room, my neighbor Barney vacates a stall and leaves the water on for me. We smile knowingly at each other as we pass. When it comes to the lingua franca of the pen, lifers know something that the new fish don’t. “Immediately” means at least five minutes. What are they going to do — throw us in jail?

After a leisurely three minute shower, I sloshed back to my cell — past the four-deep lineup of lifers cooking up some toast and tea — immediately. That’s when I heard the high theater being played out one cell below.

“Don’t try it, you F….in’ pig. You open that door and I’ll slice my F…in’ throat.”

Now this is something that has always elicited a deep wonderment in me. For instance, why — in the United States of Hang ‘em High — is there CPR training for the staff who work on death row? I mean, these folks are trained to use medical heroics to save the same guy they’ll be walking to Ol’ Sparky next week. Even in Canadian prisons — where we just bore criminals to death — staff are trained in a very specific “use of force protocol” when dealing with the risk of prisoner self-harm.

1. Ask offender if he or she would like to talk over their concerns with a prison psychologist. If they say yes, duck out of site and talk to the offender through the door, like you are Dr. Phil. Ask lots of questions about feelings. Check your pepper-spray canister for operational capacity.

2. Ask offender if they would like to go for a walk, to get some fresh air. Do not mention that the walk will end at the segregation block.

3. Ask offender if they would be willing to trade their razor blade / ligature / heroin-filled syringe for something nicer. Offer pizza. Or Pepsi. Do not mention handcuffs and shackles.

4. Encourage offender to try yoga stress relief positions. Offer the following:

Position 1: Lie flat on the ground face down.

Position 2: Spread legs wide.

Position 3: Place hands behind head and interlock fingers.

Important: Encourage offender to breathe deeply and close eyes. Tell them the pizza is on the way.

5. If offender complies with protocol 4, or fails to comply with protocols 1-3, insert percussion grenade under cell door. Follow with tear gas canisters (maximum of 10). Wait 3 minutes. Mask up with personal breathing apparatus. Enter cell and pepper spray offender repeatedly. Apply physical restraints firmly, and place offender in observation cell. Ensure that offender in no way self harms.

Three hours after the guards finally got us corralled into our cells, I saw six of them in riot gear rolling a trussed up convict through the courtyard in a wheelchair. I’m not sure if he was screaming or singing. Today the Warden put out a communiqué saying that, until further notice, oranges will no longer be served on the menu, and sugar rations are reduced by half. So much for our big Super Bowl plan.

 

Interview with Joan McEwen

Joan McEwen is a writer, a lawyer, and a volunteer/advocate for prisoners, including helping long-term offenders to reintegrate back into society. It was while conducting research into her second (yet-to-be-published) novel, entitled Entangled (the story about a white male parolee and his Indo-Canadian female parole officer) that Joan began volunteering in Ed Griffin’s creative writing program in Matsqui Institution.

Her current writing project is a a non-fiction book about Ivan Henry, a self-represented man convicted in 1983 of ten sex offences. After spending 27 years in jail, Mr. Henry was exonerated by the BC Court of Appeal in 2010. At age 65, he has yet to be compensated and is virtually penniless.

In her book, Joan investigates the failures of the justice system—police, prosecutor, judge, Corrections, etc. As a result, she is increasingly passionate about “Innocence” work. Tweet her @ joan1mc.

1 – With a million injustices in the world, why a book about a Canadian convict?

Many people hold Canada up as a beacon of democracy and social justice. I first contacted Ivan Henry in 2010, after reading about the exoneration decision, because of my curiosity about doing time as a sex offender. The inmates I’d become friends with included drug dealers and bank robbers; murderers and extortionists—but never, ever, the “lowest of the low” in prison-speak, sex offenders. At our first meeting, however, Ivan presented as the man-possessed that he is—intent on proving to the world that he is innocent. The more I peeled away the skins of his story, the more shocked I became at the travesty of justice he has endured: police, prosecutors, judges. 

2 – Canadians seem to have lost their taste for rehabilitation. Why do you think that is?

I don’t believe Canadians have lost their taste for rehabilitation. The story of the economic benefits of rehabilitation needs better salespeople! Yes, the public sees red at stories of blood & guts & gangs, but I truly believe that—if more stories of restorative justice, forgiveness, rehabilitation, etc., found their way into the public consciousness—public opinion would change and adapt. I recently spoke to a senior, much-respected criminal lawyer in Vancouver. He said that the institution he’s found the worst to deal with in his career is the CSC. Why? Because they’re so secretive and so seemingly obstructionist. What needs to change before society holds them accountable just like any other public institution?

3 – What does your man think of all the con-hugging volunteerism you do?

My husband, Irwin Nathanson, is a respected litigation lawyer and a big supporter of my work in the area of long-term prisoners’ reintegration into society. Indeed, we work together on many voluntary endeavours in this regard. Though Irwin jokes sometimes about how happy he is that we don’t share the same last name, I like to think he’s not serious. :-)

4 – Last year’s Occupy movement shed a lot of light on North America’s disappearing middle class. Does this have anything to do with Canada’s prison building obsession?

The disappearing middle class is a big problem. I read two articles today—one about the over-inflated pensions of judges, the other about the over-inflated pensions of police. In the past, these would have been hands-off stories. Today, the public demands answers. As for whether that widening rich/poor gap is related to the federal government’s “prison building obsession”, I can’t say. What I can say is that neither the NDP or the Liberal parties have come out strongly with a “pro-rehabilitation platform” when it comes to caring for our inmate population.

5 – 74% of Western Canadians favour a return of the death penalty in certain cases — such as Robert Pickton, Terri-Lynne McClintic or Michael Rafferty. What’s so bad about this idea?

Read Sacha Baron-Cohen’s latest book, “Zero Degrees of Empathy” (referenced in my Twitter account, joan1Mc). He writes that the concept of “evil people” is an unscientific construct. What we have, instead, are people with varying degrees of empathy. At the “bottom” end, there are people historically referred to as psychopaths. The good news? Empathy can be taught. I’d love to see more research in this area. Instead of writing people off, why not fund this kind of research? Though I am not “religious”, I truly believe that no person is irredeemable.

6 – Most people want to see last year’s Stanley Cup rioters behind bars for the property damage they inflicted. What would you like to tell British Columbians about prison?

I do not want to see last year’s Stanley Cup rioters imprisoned. The vast majority of the rioters were kids, just like my two boys, ages 21 and 22—not downtown at the time, but they could have been. There but for the grace of ….

I am not impressed with the provincial LIberal party’s rush to judgment on this issue. A “restorative justice” model (community service) for most of these kids would make way more sense.

7 – What’s the thing you like most about living in Canada?

Canada is a wonderful country, and I wake up every day grateful to be living here. However, there is much work to be done on the road to achieving social justice for all citizens. Sadly, Ivan Henry is one of many cases in point.