It’s been three months since I last tasted freedom and I finally feel like I’m settling in to the bulk of my sentence. Fortunately, these early months have gone well and been without any major incident. It’s amazing to get so many letters of support from folks around the world. Getting a letter while behind bars is an amazing feeling. Thank you to everyone who took some time out of their day to sit down and write. I’m doing my best to respond to each letter, so if you haven’t gotten anything from me yet, I haven’t forgotten. Also, for some reason, the mail censors keep tearing off return addresses so unless you include your return address in the body of the letter somewhere, I have no way of knowing where to send a response. Now that the weather has been getting nicer, we’ve been playing a lot of soccer in the yard. Jail soccer is a bit different from regular soccer – pretty much anything goes. Everything from tripping and shoving to holding and pushing is welcome and even encouraged. For a few days in a row, I couldn’t seem to avoid getting kicked directly in the face with the ball. It was as if my face had a gravitational pull and the ball landing on it was a scientific inevitability. Also, the shoes they give us are loose fitting so it is common for shoes to accompany the ball in flight after a swift kick. At any given moment it is possible for multiple shoes to be flying through the air at once (yet more projectiles I have to shield my face from). I can’t deny that sometimes I get frustrated in here. My life has essentially been reduced to three spaces: my cell, the range, and yard. Every day is some combination of those three places which makes me claustrophobic if I stop to think about it for too long. When sadness/claustrophobia strikes, I try to stand back and gain perspective. My situation could be a lot worse and it’s only temporary. One day in the not too distant future, I will get out of here. Some political prisoners will spend the rest of their lives behind bars so I’m relatively fortunate. One guy I sit with for meals is doing everything he can to make his experience as miserable as possible. He doesn’t go to yard, doesn’t order canteen, and intends on avoiding work and school while in jail. His reasoning is that his freedom and his life outside will be much sweeter after depriving himself. He’s a man of extremes. Eventually, he says, his misery will get balanced out with positive experiences. I try not to think too much about time and dates. Once you start counting days, you are in trouble (counting months is ok though). It still feels like I have a mountain of time ahead of me, but the thought of being free again is what wakes me up every day. Out in the world people are living their lives but in here time seems to stand still. We are living in some sort of black hole where time has no real meaning. It’s a bizarre and disorienting feeling. Freedom is precious, folks… treasure every day as if it were your last. Unfortunately, human beings have this persistent dilemma: we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. For freedom that’s especially true.
May 1, 2014 As I mentioned in my last post, after spending over a month on Unit 5 I was transferred to the education range on Unit 6. At that time I wasn’t happy about moving for a couple of reasons. A.) in jail being uprooted and then forced to adapt to a new environment is exhausting and often traumatizing and B.) Unit 5 is a good place filled with good people. Subjectively speaking it is a more down-to-earth, “real” jail experience with plentiful amounts of solidarity amongst prisoners. While on Unit 6 my time slowed to a snail’s pace despite beginning classes and having a bit more freedom of movement. It may have simply been that I landed on a boring range, however, my theory is that the inmates behaved differently due to the methods of control utilized by the guards. The staff there constantly remind inmates that they are in a place of privilege and threaten to send them back to Unit 5 if behavioral standards are not met. For example, after bringing a water bottle to class for days without incident, a guard arbitrarily decided to one day forbid me from taking it with me. After some back and forth, I was told I had a disrespectful tone in my voice and that if I didn’t like the rules I could always go back to Unit 5. I said that to me it seemed that certain rules were being made up spontaneously. The guard responded, “If you don’t like the rules you shouldn’t have decided to come to jail in the first place.” There isn’t really room for healthy debate with someone who enjoys total power and control over you so I sucked it up and left my water bottle behind. I saw similar situations occur between guards and inmates where those who fall out of line are reminded that they are lucky, then are threatened with transfer back to Unit 5 if the “undesirable” behavior continues. This also creates an environment where inmates begin to police one another’s actions. For example, I created a piece of workout equipment and was encouraged by another inmate to get rid of it because the guards wouldn’t like it. Instead of pushing the boundaries and pushing for more rights, inmates walk around scared and engage in self-policing which I find pitiful and toxic to be around. A quick lesson on jail lingo: inmates who do the work of the jailors are called “birds” and are generally less “solid” if they forsake the prisoner’s code of solidarity. Despite my discomforts, I started to settle into a routine and form bonds with the other prisoners around me. Then earlier today, out of the blue, a guard called me over and said, “Pack your stuff, you’re moving to Unit 1.” I was told that because I am a foreign national, I would have to do my time in the remand jail pending my deportation back to the United States. Remand jails are widely considered to be a more unpleasant and chaotic experience than sentence jails. Folks are usually stressed about their cases and don’t know what they’re futures hold. This can lead to tense situations. So as you can imagine, I was devastated to hear that I would be spending potentially the next 10 months in such a place. The reason for my transfer didn’t make sense because my sentence has only just begun, but ultimately I had no say in the matter. After a customary strip search, I was escorted from Unit 6 to Unit 1 where I waited in the holding area until assigned to a range and cell. I waited and waited. It turned out the staff had some internal disagreements as to where I should be placed. Because I am both sentenced and a foreigner who will eventually be deported, there is ambiguity about where to put me. Eventually, they decided to return me to the sentence area of the jail. My fate: back to Unit 5 where I began my Penetang experience. The main reason I was spared months of suffering is because of the kind and good-hearted staff on Unit 5. When I arrived, they explained that they advocated for me to do my time on a sentence unit because it was only fair to me with so many more months ahead. It was one of the first times since the start of my incarceration that I was treated like a human being and not a number. I thanked them thoroughly for their kindness and I am still grateful. I found that the guards on Unit 5 are generally quite respectful, and in such an environment, it’s easy to return respect. They were even kind enough to give me my own cell with a view ot the TV. After such an exhausting day moving around it was touching to finally be treated humanely. Apparently, even in jail the arc of the universe bends toward justice.