Joel’s Blog: Comradery Behind Bars

From March 1st

Governments and the mainstream media have created a myth: if you go to jail, you must be a bad person.   During my stay here, I found the opposite to be true.  Most of the guys on my current range are good-hearted and amicable individuals.  Some of them have made mistakes and some of them are drug addicts who need treatment, but the majority of inmates here are victims of unjust socioeconomic conditions.  If the war on drugs ended tomorrow and if poverty was properly addressed by society, these jails would empty out overnight.

My current cellmate, Rick, is a 65 year old Buddhist who has been in and out of jail his whole life.  He has over sixty convictions, mostly related to drug use and distribution.  He is in jail now on charges related to an unarmed bank robbery.  I like doing time with him because he spends most of his time reading – an activity I also enjoy immensely.  He tells me that jail has only exacerbated his criminality, quite the opposite of correcting it.  He is a heroin addict and also suffers from Alzheimers disease.  Most of his crimes occurred to fund his drug habit.  He is an ideal candidate for treatment and jail has only worsened his life.  He’s probably one of the kindest and most harmless people I’ve met in or out of jail.

I’ve noticed myself developing a comradery with the other prisoners here.  There is an unspoken understanding that we are struggling together through an unjust experience.  One of the most interesting and likable characters here is a Somalian guy, Ali.  He has been targeted, along with others, around the Rob Ford drug scandal and was a target of ‘Project Traveler’.  When news arrived there was a video of the Toronto mayor smoking crack, police agencies from various provinces launched a major investigation into the source of the drugs.  Ali shared the story of how a SWAT team raided his family’s house with machine guns traumatizing and injuring his relatives, and then giving him the beating of his lifetime.  He has been in this jail for over eight months now.  He is soft-spoke and well educated – a completely different character being portrayed by the media.  He expresses frustration at a system that intends to convict him before he has even had a chance to see the evidence against him.

Jaimie is 43 years old.  He has AIDS, Hepatitis C, and is hypoglycemic.  Previously, he spent a few months in a cell Alex Hundert.  He is constantly asking other people in here for juice crystals (packets of sweetener for our water) to balance his low blood sugar.  He says he’s been in and out of jail for years.  When he gets out, he has nothing and often feels the pressure to survive… ultimately resulting in him being charged with dozens of crimes.  He then sits in jail for six months to a year, and the charges inevitably get dropped.  When he gets out, the cycle repeats.  His situation is urgent and he needs the basics:  food, housing, and medical care.  I told him I don’t believe there is much I can do for him other than get his story out.  If you are compelled to help him by sending a letter, or more, his name is Jaimie Simpson and he is at the Toronto West Detention Center.