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This is the final part 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. In earlier parts, the author described getting ready to leave the prison, going in to a restaurant for the first time in many years, and then arriving at an Aboriginal healing lodge.
The elder’s helper, Brian, arrived and offered to take us on a tour of the place. I asked if we could start with a tour of the washroom and everyone laughed. The tour revealed that the place was not as big as I had thought from the photos I had seen, but more than adequate for the maximum capacity of 34 residents. At that time there were only 23 and one was leaving that day.
The rooms were longer than my cell but perhaps a slight bit narrower due to the desks of drawers. Certainly big enough for what I possess. And certainly enough drawer space. We are given keys to the doors to our rooms to lock them when we want. There is a washroom with shower and small kitchenette for every three rooms in the dorms. The two dorms are Wolf Den and Bear Den. The Wolf Den is a little bigger but I am not sure how many rooms there are in each. We must be in our respective dorms by 11 PM and there are sensors on the doors so if anyone opens them after lock-up an alarm is sounded. Same with the windows in the dorms. They can only be opened partially at night.
A range of activities
There are areas to do arts and crafts which are then sold at the entrance to the administration unit or at Pow Wows. The elder’s helper told us that we can go on fasts in the forest. I asked, ‘Four day fasts?”. He said it is up to who is doing it. You can choose to do just one day if you want, or two, or three, or four. They light a fire on the grounds and keep it burning the whole time the fast is underway.
They go to three Pow Wows each year, at Kanesetake Mohawk Nation and another reserve. They take a group of guys to each Pow Wow but it is different guys each time. One would not expect to get to all three, but at least one per year. Plus they have Change of Season ceremonies. Brian told us that he takes the residents hunting. I said “I have a firearms restriction”. Brian pointed at this chest and said, “I carry the rifle. You guys spot for deer and I shoot it. You guys gut it, clean it, skin it, and carve it up. We cannot cook wild meats in the kitchen because it is government inspected, but we can cook wild meats on the grounds.”
Brian also said that he takes residents out to the trap lines as well as fishing and ice-fishing. There are lakes with trout in the area. That kind of blew my mind. There are things available here that are not available at any CSC facility. Things I have never done in my life. It looks like a real good go. Considering all of this, the size of the place would not matter even if it were smaller because we are not confined to that space. And considering that the perimeter of the property is probably just about the size of the perimeter of the La Macaza jail and there are only a maximum of 34 guys there at its most crowded, the place has a lot of space.
Different rules from other prisons
Each resident is assigned chores that change on a rotating basis. Guys from federal prisons get an allowance of $6.32 per day in their accounts, but there’s no deduction for room and board or other things as in most federal prisons. So it’s $63.20 every ten days. I am not sure about the residents from provincial jails. Twice a week guys can withdraw money from their accounts, but are never to have more than $50 cash on them at any time. Guys get passes to go across the street to Metro to buy groceries and stuff. It’s a big supermarket, and guys can practice shopping to get used to it.
There is no personal property value limit like there is in the federal prison system. We are permitted to buy whatever clothes we need or want – winter jacket, good boots, a down quilt for the captain’s bed, whatever. I can get new runners any time, new shirts, track suits, whatever. In the federal prison system we have a $1500 limit on all property we can have, and there is no depreciation, so if the TV you purchased ten years ago cost you $200, it is listed on your Personal Property Record at that price. As a result, one reaches a point where you can’t purchase anything new without getting rid of some other personal property to make room. No such problem exists at the healing centre.
The Correctional Service National food menu is also not in effect there. The food is prepared by a cook and her helpers at the centre and it is awesome compared to what prisoners get in the institutions.
A healing journey
But it is not all fun and games. The Mohawk Elder and his helpers are very serious about the healing journey each resident is to undergo. These healing journeys are personalized depending on the background and criminal history of each resident. And of course there are rules that must be adhered to if one wishes to remain at the healing centre for the duration of this journey.
On the way back to the institution from our visit I had lots to think about. I had never seen the inside of a minimum security facility. The freedom of walking around in public with no restraints such as handcuffs is amazing. I am not yet rated minimum security but it is now becoming a possibility that I could attain minimum security classification in the not too distant future. At that time I would have to have my mind made up about where I would take my minimum. That is not an easy decision. I have to pick the place where I have the best chance of succeeding to get parole and the least chance of getting shipped back to medium or maximum. The consequences to making wrong choices are measured in years.
Prior to seeing what the healing centre was all about, I was set on transferring to a regular CSC minimum security institution. I wondered if I should not reconsider, and must then I thought I heard GPS Girl say ‘Recalculating….’.
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.