A Big, Big Thanks to Everyone Supporting Me

I want to thank every person so much for their support and for believing in me. Being imprisoned as a murderer when I am not a murderer is worse than any nightmare I ever could have imagined, and knowing that so many good people know that I did not kill anyone gives me the strength to continue. I put most of my energy in trying to talk about problems with imprisonment itself because if I see something wrong, I cannot look the other way. It seems that you cannot either.

As more and more months pass, I am becoming more and more scared, each day is getting very hard to make it through. At least once everyday I have to stop, breath deeply, and think of each of you, who bravely stand up for me while I cannot stand up for myself. Thank you for being my voice. I cannot tell you how much I regret listening to my lawyers and not speaking out and getting on that stand and screaming as loud as I could.

I wish I could buy an endless amount of stamps and write everyone, but I can’t. So I’m doing what I know how to do, and that is trying to give back by breaking the silence and distance between the justice system and our communities, by trying to ‘pay it forward’ and be a voice for all of the people in here who have no voice, like you have done for me.

It seems like everything to do with the justice/penal system is a big, complicated mess, my case included.

I want my life back more than anything. Everyday and night I wish that the person responsible for the crime I am convicted of would do the right thing and come forward. I wish that any of the people who know the truth would come forward.But I realize that’s probably never going to happen. And I also realize that each of you caring for and supporting me through this has saved me, if not from imprisonment then from losing my faith in humanity. So thank you, so very much.

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Punitiveness or “Self Sufficiency” in Canadian Prisons

In April, 2013 the myriad of structural changes within the Canadian penal system that the conservatives have developed in line with their neo-liberal, tough on crime agenda will take effect. This post explores the financial and economic aspects of the changes as they will occur within an already flawed system of supposed ‘self-sufficiency’.

Inside Canadian prisons, there has long existed a system in which imprisoned people must work to pay their own room and board. They must pay for all communications costs, as well as purchasing hygiene products, food items, clothing, school supplies and any hobby items one may be permitted to have.

There is an internal welfare system, which imprisoned people’s labour funds, to provide for those who cannot work.

There is an eternal “inmate committee” system, which imprisoned people’s labour funds, that controls purchasing of large and small appliances for the prisons, among other costs.

On site within each prison exists a small factory operated by the for profit crown corporation CORCAN, which uses prison labour to make all the linens, towels and other products issued to imprisoned people by CSC.

What food and other products that people in prison can purchase are sold at market value or are marked up.

The system was modeled not only towards self-sufficiency, but to also encourage work and budgeting skills that people can utilize upon release to avoid recidivism.

But there exists a detrimental flaw within the system.

Imprisoned people work for only dollars a day. Imprisoned people in Canada are forced to sustain themselves on unsustainable income.

Below explains the current pay level system, which has not increased since the 1980’s. Note that raises can only be pursued every 90 days and that one can only raise a level one level at a time. Note that there are not as many jobs as imprisoned people and that many must take welfare until a spot opens.

Pay level F- $1.00 per full day – welfare pay. For those who cannot work but actively try to.

E – $2.50 per full day – default entry level pay

D – $5.25 per full day – 1st possible raise level

C – $5.80 per full day – 2nd possible raise level

B – $6.35 per full day – 3rd possible raise level

A – $6.90 per full day – highest possible pay

For those who work at CORCAN an additional $1.50 per day incentive pay exists – until April, 2013 that is. Not only does CORCAN produce most product issued by CSC, it produces several products, which it sells to various corporations. In women’s prisons many linens used at popular hotels are produced, while in men’s prisons couches, tables and other large furniture are produced.

But beginning the next fiscal year, April 2013, CSC is simultaneously reducing prisoner pay levels by 30%. the difference will apparently contribute to ‘room and board’ costs. New pay levels will be issued as such;

Pay level F – $0.70 per full day

E – $ 1.75 per full day

D – $3.67 per full day

C – $ 4.06 per full day

B – $4.44 per full day

A – $4.83 per full day

In addition to the 30% decrease, GVI has announced it will deduct a additional 10% to fund “inmate committee” creating pay rates as follows:

Pay level F – $0.60 per full day

E – $1.50 per full day

D – $3.15 per full day

C – $3.48 per full day

B – $3.81per full day

A – $4.14 per full day

In addition to the decrease, totaling 40%, mandatory deductions reduce possible earnings even further. A mandatory cable charge is already deducted from every imprisoned persons bi-weekly pay period; the charge is $7.00. Every federally imprisoned person pays his charge, regardless of whether they have access to a television or not. Many imprisoned people are paying the charge without accessing television. Further, many among those who do have televisions would gladly forfeit their access to have the extra $14 -$21 monthly to eat and communicate with family, had they the option. Make no mistake, though public outcry often sparks over the fact that imprisoned people can watch tv – at night times and on weekends – CSC wants nothing more than for every prisoner to have television. It is the greatest pacifier.

In addition to the cable charge, come April, 2013, a new mandatory deduction has been announced to us: an ‘administrative phone charge for upkeep and maintenance of the telephone’. The Charged has been announced as having a presently undetermined rate, however it was been announced as having a presently between $5-$10 bi-weekly was being negotiated. The charge does not provide phone access; to use the I Bell payphone per “living unit” we must pay in advance to purchase phone minutes. Though we do not have a written statement of rates, local calls cost $1.00, calls in Ontario cost $0.11 per minute, and long distance and international rates seen to vary, but are drastically more expensive. Because Canada imprisons such a high number of non-Canadians, many people’s entire families are overseas, leaving them virtually inaccessible. But most Canadians in prison cannot afford the system either. And if a person does not have funds to put onto their phone cards on the approved upload dates (which occur once monthly), that person has no phone access to call families and communities, unless collect calls are accepted.

Most women I am imprisoned with are mothers, and at the current pay rates I watch daily as women choose between food and calling their children. What small amounts of money that women can afford to upload goes quickly, and certainly the new “administrative charge” in conjunction with the 40% pay decrease will swallow any available income.

Imprisoned people should not be forcefully positioned to lose their families because they cannot afford to access them! This forms a cycle which will perpetuate generations of broken families, dually perpetuating prison populations.

And when envisioning a person in prison working for such rates, know that the labour being done equals workloads to any standard job. In addition to the factory work done at CORCAN, imprisoned people work to maintain the prison. There are garbage people, landscapers, janitors, librarians, office assistants, maintenance workers, painters… the list goes on.

Imprisoned people work hard for our already low rates. We already choose between being full and telling our loved ones that we love them. We are punished from when we wake to when we sleep. Punished by guards treatment, punished by cages – being taken from everything we have and know and love and every opportunity to find success and happiness is an immense punishment in and of its self.

It is needless and harmful to work us for dollars a day in a forced system of supposed ‘self sufficiency’, leaving us no option to maintain our families, leaving us no option to eat enough food in a day.

This system punishes not just people in prison, but their families too. For the only people who maintain regular contact with home are those whose families are able to financially support them.

I am an adult who, by my imprisonment, am forced to be dependent on my family who struggles with all of the high high costs of imprisonment. Worse still, because most people in prisons come from poor and marginalized communities, I am among the margins inside. I contribute to a great class disparity that prevails within Canadian federal prisons because of their persistently insufficient pay rates, and system of ‘self sufficiently’ I am among the few who can, generally, call home daily. I can purchase nuts and vegetable juice and vitamins and nourish my body. And because of the strict ‘NO SHARING ANYTHING’ policy in Canada’s federal prisons, I am told to have it in the face of everyone around me who have nothing, though not for lack of their hard work.

And come April, 2013, all the poverty, disparity, sadness and isolation created inside these prisons will be dramatically exasperated, and for what end?

A Poem

Today I received truly horrible treatment by the max-unit staff. But this post is not to share what happened. The women I am imprisoned with think the treatment is because of this blog. It could be, it could not be. Either way I wrote this in a cell today, this poem to the guards.

 

 

Dear jailer

Hello.

I just wanted to say hello.

You see me everyday

But you never say hello.

You’ve yelled at me before

You’ve touched my body before

You’ve written reports on me before,

But you’ve never said hello.

 

I bet we have a lot in common

That we’re more alike than not

I wonder if you spoke to me,

You’d still afterwards want me to “rot.”

Did you know that I have feelings?

I bet you have them too.

I bet you laugh at funny jokes

And cry when you are blue.

I have many feelings to,

And I get hurt by what you do,

But you don’t know this, and I don’t share;

You hate me and of you I’m scared.

 

But I bet we have a lot in common

I bet if we had a cup of coffee together

We’d learn that we share interests, hopes and fears.

And we might wonder the same wonders.

And we might come to talk about important things.

We might come to argue, but some truths it could bring.

 

For you might say that “criminals” all hurt one another

And I might admit I think it’s the guards who are trouble

And then we may argue about who could be wrong

But we’d also agree on one point that is strong:

 

It’s only the labels that make us feel hate

On a personal level you may think I’m okay

You may say, “that girl’s not your average crook”

And I may respond, “you’re not as cruel as you look.”

 

But I’d still conclude guards commit a crime by being guards

And you’d still probably believe in walls, cuffs and bars.

 

And that leaves us at odds and divided and angry,

And forgetting that we come from the same human family.

 

Jailer, I just wanted to say “hello” today

And wonder what would happen if we let go of hate.

 

 

Dominant Mentalities About Imprisoned People are not just Socially Destructive, They’re Dangerous

To be imprisoned during a natural disaster is a source of pure fear for many of us who are kept in cages and rightfully so. Time and time again imprisoned people needlessly die in the face of environmental destruction, be it a hurricane, flood or fire, because our lives have been devalued to a subhuman standard; keeping prisoners safe in a emergencies is seldom any community’s priority.

It must at least be a priority of prison officials, but it is not.

In my first weeks here, a guard saw me crying. He callously asked, “what’s the matter, you scared of doin’ time?” I was crying because I was scared, but the fear was of my life being in the hands of embittered angry people who do not believe I have any right to exist. I remembered the loss of life in New Orleans and Honduran prisons, where people were left to die without any fighting chances, and I became very afraid.

Only recently, after having filed a formal complaint did GVI explain to us what our fire evacuation protocol is. They explained that in the event of a fire our doors would unlock and we would independently exit into the yard. Management said guards would enable the lock steel doors which imprison us from a nearby control post so we could evacuate our cells. But would they enable the doors? Or would they desert us?

At Rikers Prison  in New York, there was certainly no evacuation order in place as hurricane Sandy rapidly approached. Public outcry sparked after it was learned that during hurricane Irene, the prison had not even a plan in place. The reaction form Irene seemed enough to spark officials to respond that this time a plan was in place; still, no evacuation order was made. Those imprisoned in Rikers were left to wait, and to hope.

Being imprisoned, it is frighting to witness how such disregard for human life develops. Many paid staff at this prison express worse than a blatant disregard for our humanity. Not all, but most staff express a contempt for us who they imprison. Their mentalities become clear through their actions and their comments. Never does a week go by where I am not made fun of or condescended for attempting to take university-level courses, which I am also neither financially nor structurally supported in doing. And I am what they consider a “low maintenance prisoner”, “high needs prisoners” hear far worse from staff regularly. I have even heard staff tell women to commit suicide. And rarely does a day go by without the staff referring in one way or another to how privileged we are.

Well, as far as education and prisons go, there are currently nine of us who can take, through outside support, sporadic university-level correspondence courses. Nine out of a 181 women. And CSC requires getting a high school diploma to be on every woman’s correctional plan, the set of objectives one must complete to get parole, yet many of the courses women take cost $40. $40 is more than most women earn in a month. And the teachers regularly suspend women who cannot complete enough work; suspensions last for 90 days at GVI. We are kept hungry, isolated, without adequate sunlight and with no opportunities. We are far from privileged, yet staff seem to need to feel like we are. Sometimes their notions of what our lives are like border delusional.

I argued in front of a correctional investigator at length with a guard who works regularly in the max who insisted we received “egg breakfast everyday”. At the time however, we barely received breakfast at all, what we did receive was not hearty egg breakfast, but individual packets of regular oatmeal once or twice a week. The living conditions in prison also coincide with our permanent exposure to receiving whatever emotions that staff wish to unload on us, which are overwhelmingly negative and not infrequently abusive.

Indeed, the clear message this system sends to us through prison’s structure and staff mentalities is that we will never again be full citizens, nor do we deserve to be. I recently read an apt characterization of the penal process which states, ‘a person starts out as one status, a person or citizen, and emerges at the other end, an offender or criminal’ (Garfinkel, 1956).

“Rehabilitation” is a notion contrary to every aspect of this building. Instead, through our treatment by staff, demonization in mainstream media and lack of ability to further our lives, the penal system tells us that we are inherently and permanently deviant and different from “free” people, and that we are wholly undeserving of ever returning to an equal social status.

Is it such a surprise then, with such mentalities dominant in such a vengeful and destructive system that there also exists a disregard for imprisoned people’s lives in emergency situations?

It is as if sentence length’s matter no more; once convicted of a crime one is a convict for ever. And whether one becomes a convict by a violent act or by stealing to put food on the table; whether one becomes a convict for a crime they did not commit or for an addiction that harms no others, the label of convict evokes the same undeserving and apathetic attitude in too many of us!

The “convict” does not deserve to eat well, sleep well, dress well, or feel well. The convict inherently deserves less by label alone.

But is our society so cold that we feel imprisoned people deserve to be left to die?

It makes me very sad that labels hold such power in our minds and culture. Even though it is well proven that people become imprisoned by socio-economic factors far more often than do they by any factors of “criminality”, people become enraged when imprison people experience nourishing living conditions or are released.

Imprisonment is a complex social issue. There are no prisons full of bad people run by officials who are well intended. As canada embraces an americanized, industrial approach to penality, more and more people of all natures will experience prison. We urgently need an informed public discourse on our resort to and reliance on imprisonment.

Prisons cannot privately remain a permanent stigmatizer and truamatizer of already disadvantaged individuals, while being publicly touted as a solution to crime where the violent and bad folks go to be punished and forgotten.

We cannot condemn one another like this. We are not this bad of a species. Instances of imprisoned populations being disregarded and deserted in the face of environmental emergencies highlight the dangerous extent to which we have forgotten to care for one another. I know issues of crime effect people on an emotional level, but valid emotions cannot be left to overrun the fact that there are just as many innocent, mislead, afraid, strong, confused, angry, bright and loving human beings inside prisons as there are in every neighborhood in every community.

There are red flags flying at society’s level of comfortability with leaving some humans locked in cages during imminent threats to their lives while other humans are cared for and moved to safety.

The treatment of imprisoned people during environmental emergencies is but on clear manifestation of the deep social illness that is the system of mass imprisonment and the dominant mentalities about it which we falsely refer to as justice.