This post is about 1000 words and can be read in about 4 minutes.
This is the third of a four part story sent to us by a prisoner at a Quebec federal prison, describing a visit to an Aboriginal healing facility. We are publishing it because we want to include the voices of prisoners and because it gives a feel for the experience of prison life that outsiders won’t be aware of. There will be one more post in this story over the next few weeks. You can find part 1 and part 2 here.
I would not have been in that Tim Horton’s that morning if the Harper government had not eliminated ‘back door parole’ by removing the deciding authority for Escorted Temporary Absences from the wardens and giving it to the Parole Board of Canada. Perhaps if the others in the restaurant knew, they would not have been keen to vote Conservative. Nobody would have known what I was talking about had I yelled out, “Hey everybody, my CMT and the Warden recommended against this ETA!” It was like hiding in plain sight, except I wasn’t hiding. I was lawfully authorized to be there. And that breakfast warp thing and blueberry muffin were delicious. So fresh was that muffin that the fluffy texture was almost a flavour unto itself. It made the Macaza jail Monday morning muffin taste prehistoric by comparison – like something a Cro-Magnon on a hunt might have used to stun a bison before attacking with his spear.
We finished our breakfast and put our garbage in the waste basket. I looked around furtively at the counter and shelves. I said “I was hoping they would have poppies for Remembrance Day”. Laurent uttered an ‘umm’ or an ‘oh’ or something meaningless. But truth be told I have never worn a poppy in 34 years and I find it discriminatory that prisoners cannot wear poppies to honour our fallen. As though those who can pay their respects are an exclusive club, the membership to which is denied to prisoners. After more than three decades of trying to obtain access to poppies for prisoners in the federal correctional system, my motivation is both the desire to participate in this tribute to those who gave their lives for our country’s freedom and an over-whelming feeling of defiance toward any person or institution who would oppose the wearing of poppies by prisoners.
To the healing lodge
Back in the parking lot, Laurent wanted another ciagarette before getting back into the car. I stooed there, looking around, drinking my large Timmie’s coffee to go and it was a very good coffee!. I said, “That was awesome”. Laurent said, “Okay, you want to to back to La Macaza now?” I laughed but, truthfully, it would have been good enough for my first outing in 15 years. And then fof we went on the final leg of the journey.
We found our way back to the main highway and about 30 minutes later we turned off and were driving through a mountainous terrain. There were large old and new houses, sparsely distributed off and away from the road, some deeply set back in the canopied forest of evergreen, maple and probably spurce. There were lakes, rivers, ravines and cliffs. Quite beautiful, for sure. Like a place I would love to live.
Soon Laurent was pulling off the highway to the side of the road. He said “I want a cigarette before we go in”. I asked “Is there somewhere I can relieve myself”” He said “We’re here. It’s righ there”, and pointed to a totem pole at the entrance to a property surrounded by a brown slat-board fence, the gate of which was wide open. He finished his smoke and we drove in.
A different setting
We went into a wooden building which was the main administration. There was an office to the right with two ladies and some dude in his mid-thirties in jeans and a pullover. Turns out he was security. All one of him.
Security Dude passed us a clipboard and we were asked to sign in. I looked at the counter as the clip-board was placed there for us through the window. And there it was, the Holy Grail of my defiance and respect, a bowl of poppies on the counter by the window and a little donation box for the Legion.
I said, “Wow, you have poppies.” Security Dude said, “You can put a donation in and take one.” I said, I don’t have any change. Hey Laurent, do you have a nickel or something?” He reached in his pocket and passed me what I thought was a Loonie. It was a shiny nickel-coloured thing about the size of a quarter with the brass looking coin inset in the middle. I had seen pictures of Loonies before but I found out later this was a Toonie. I wanted to examine it but what was more important was the task at hand. I put it in the box and took a poppy. I pinned it to my jacket and Lauarent said, “I don’t kknow if they will let you have that back at the institution.” I Said, “I have needles in my cell in my sewing kit.” He nodded and said, “Oh yeah.” Ane there I was, wearing a poppy for the first time in 34 years.
Nothing tumultuous happened when I pinned it on my collar. The sky did not suddenly turn dark and stormy and begin to release thunder and lightning to destroy all law and order. Famine and pestilence did not break out across the land. Earthquakes did not open huge crevices in the earth into which the shocked and stunned fell off-balance. All that happened was that I felt a little pride in finally getting the chance to honour our brave soldiers, from some of whom I was a descendant. I never understood why prisoners could not get poppies to honour the fallen who fought four our country’s freedom and democracy.
End of part 3, part 4 to come.
We invite submissions from those who are in or have been in a Canadian prison or jail or their friends and family; these can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Posts are normally under 1000 words and written in plain language.