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