Note: Parts 1 and 2 of this story appeared last fall.
By I.M. GRENADA
“When?” For prisoners, that’s the cosmic question. On the civilized side of the fence, common folk regularly rate each other in cash (“So, what do you do?”). But in prison, anti-social status is measured in calendars, as in, “When do you get out?” On theory, the farther that number reaches in the future, the nastier you must be. And in prison, being rated as nasty can be — if not good — at the very least helpful. Until, of course, it isn’t.
Last week my comrade in leg-cuffs, Gaton, was approved by the parole board for partial release to a halfway house in Quebec. To achieve this, Gaton presented a highly detailed, risk-averse release plan for the tenth time. University two days per week, bookkeeping at his cousin’s trucking business three days per week, and Saturdays confined to within 50 meters of his family`s homestead. The rest of the live-long week will be spent at group therapy sessions (to address institutionalization), mandatory community service in aid of shut-ins, an hour on the couch with a brain mechanic, and a variety of halfway house-chores. In Canada, this is what we call getting out of prison. Yet, every lifer I know eventually lines up for the privilege. The thought is that anything beats a body bag.
“They don’t know when, yet,” replied Gaton. “Maybe next week, maybe next month. All depends when is a room coming open at the halfway house.”
It seems cruel. Ever since they granted the 62 year old jailbird parole last week, he has been endlessly revising the fantasy menu for his first family meal at home. A&W whistle-dogs? Jolt cola? Ding Dongs? What culinary crypt did they find this mummy in? And after Bill Cosby fell out of the Jello tree, who knows if they even make double-chocolate pudding with mini-marshmallows? As each day passes, it feels more like I`m sending Tom Hanks back to civilization on a raft. Except that my castaway has been talking to volleyballs for 35 years. And civilization is now a gentrified sector of metropolitan Montréal, repeat with gangbangers young enough to be his grandkids. The only good news is that the raft comes with a chauffeur.
“I stopped at the Dollar Store,” said Indi. “I`m going to rock his world.” When my long suffering wife learned that the Cat would soon be liberated, there was little chance that she would not be the one to catch him at the prison`s front gates. For twenty years, she has been collecting an assortment of my world weary sidekicks from the gatehouse and delivering them to whatever subsidized orphanage will have them. Always the bride, never the bridesmaid.
“Confetti!” she squealed, when I queried what the welcome-back-to-the-real-world wagon would be providing for the occasion. “And Spiderman pajamas! Plus there`s glow-in-the-dark stickers, a bag of edible licorice pens, and a couple of those party favors, you know, the kind you blow on and the paper flies out? The confetti sparkles — like in Vegas.” Finally, in case I had somehow missed the logic of her gift bag choices, she revealed that a considerable amount of our family fortune had been invested on a high quality adjustable nightlight, for Gaton’s first sleep in a strange room. “Papa Smurf. If you take his hat off, it gets bright enough to read in bed.” It’s times like this that remind me how my spouse was the first Canadian I ever met who truly understood the justice system. Mercifully, others now appear to be trying.
Which brings us to the day’s final news. Inquiring minds have just learned that sunrise, tomorrow morning, will deliver Gaton and his bushy tales to the polite side of the razor wire, where my mate will take him on his first road trip in 35 years. Therefore, if there’s some benevolent Ms. Kitty out there with a tolerance for high-carb snack packs and the odd Saturday matinee chick flick, maybe you could give that Cat a scratch on the head should you see him. Or maybe take him for a whistle-dog. I’m sure that even Madame Justice would be pleased with that.
- I.M. Grenada is a serving Canadian prisoner currently housed at Cowansville Institution in Quebec. His writing can be read at theincarceratedinkwell.ca