Monthly Archives: May 2014

Joel’s Blog: Settling In

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

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.

Joel’s Blog: Transfers, Transfers, and More Transfers

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