This post is about 1000 words and can be read in about 4 minutes.

This is the first part of a story sent to us by a prisoner at a Quebec federal prison, describing a visit to an Aboriginal healing facility. We are publishing it in several chunks 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 three further posts in this story over the next few weeks.

Getting Ready

It was the first week of November. I woke up at 6:00 AM. I dressed, lit a smudge, and r-ebraided my hair. I waited for the guards to come in after the briefing and open my door for a shower. I heard them come in but nobody came to my cell. It was written in the black book for the guards to open my door as soon as they came on shift but I guess nobody looked in the book. My neighbor Andre tapped on his cell door to get the attention of the guard doing a walk and told him I was to be let out. The guard asked in French if I wanted a ‘douche’; I said there wasn’t time. He opened my cell door anyway and I went downstairs to make coffee.

So there I was in designer jeans, Jordan’s, Harley Davidson hoodie, nicely braided hair, black windbreaker and nice headband, making instant coffee when everyone else’s cell doors were unlocked. Nobody noticed. Old Jean-Paul came in to make coffee and didn’t even bum-hip that I was dressed for the street, not wearing clothes made for the Correctional Service of Canada. Oblivious. It was like hiding in plain sight.

Guys came in to get hot water from the kettle and it was business as usual. Only eight guys knew I was going out that morning. Even when the guard escorting me came in wearing civvies and there was a Dodge Caravan parked right outside the doors to the unit – with me there in street clothes drinking coffee – guys walked right by without putting it together.

I went outside and stood beside the car, looking east. Guys were leaving the unit to go to work and to school, walking right by me, oblivious to the implications of the picture in front of them. It was awesome. I thought I would bring my coffee with me but I had finished it by the time 8:00 AM rolled around. I was wondering why we weren’t on the road yet, so I went in and asked Laurent, the guard, if we were ready to go. He said he thought I needed to be in prison dress. I told him, “No, civie clothes.” But I didn’t s stress out and just waited. I was thinking, You’ve got an unmarked vehicle and you’re in civies so we are not overtly identifiable as coming from a prison. Why would I be in prison clothes? The whole idea is to move about in the community without announcing that we are coming from a federal penitentiary.

I went and talked with a few friends who had congregated in front of a couple of cells. And other guys started to notice that something was going on, mostly because of that gathering in front of those cells. None of this detracted from the excitement I was beginning to feel

I saw Laurent back at the console after he went to the Caravan to get the paperwork. He appeared to have finished looking through it, so I walked over and asked, “Did you find it?” He said,, “Yeah, but we have to strip you because you are going out.” So I was brought back to my cell where I stripped and Laurent documented what I was wearing. “Jeans, runners, pullover, t-shirt, head-band, socks, underwear’. And off we went.

The Drive

I suggested I would drive but was told no, so I went around to the other side. Laurent said I had to sit in the back. There was a middle bench folded down so I sat in the back row. I was quite comfortable with tinted windows all around me and a clear view out the front window of everything. We drove to the entry to the prison and were let into the vehicle-well between the fences. Laurent had my ID card and went inside. A few minutes later a guard came out with him, opened the door on my side, and asked me in French, “What is your SED”? So I told him my federal prison number that every prisoner has – 6 numbers and a letter – in French, to which he nodded and closed the door. Laurent climbed back into the driver’s seat, the front gate opened, and off we went. Laurent said, “We have enough time. They said it was two and a half hours to Waseskun but the GPS told me only two hours.” I said that was good because we were already 20 minutes late.

The drive is much different when you can see where you are going. Not like in the windowless prison transport bus where you cannot see anything but only feel the left and right turns, up and down hills, and bumpy roads. This trip I could see where we were headed, which helped me get a better sense of the geography of the place I had been for the past six years. For example, I thought Mont Tremblant was west of La Macaza but it is actually east. It was between us and Montreal.

I took in the scenery while listening to the GPS Girl (the female voice on the GPS) telling Laurent to turn here, turn there, turn left in thirty feet, ‘recalculating’ – and after an hour (according to my Seiko) I asked, “Are we going to get an opportunity to use a washroom any time soon?” Laurent said “We can take the next turn-off.” Not twenty seconds later he was turning off the highway, made a left, and I said “This place looks familiar”. Laurent said, “It’s Ste. Agathe”. I said that I had been there once on a medical escort. He said he was looking for a Tim Horton’s.

End of Part 1