Category Archives: General

Joel’s Blog: Penetang, Home Sweet Home

From: March 5, 2014

Early this morning I was told to collect my possessions for my transfer to Central North Correctional Center in Penetanguishene, Ontario.  When my name was called I said my goodbyes to the guys on my range.  It’s only been three weeks but I’ve definitely established some friendships.  I will miss many of the people I’ve met.

After being shackled, a group of us were brought to the paddy wagon.  The ride up to Penetang was not a pleasant one.  The heat was on ‘high’ and I sat next to a man with a psychological disorder.  He rambled on about nonsensible things causing me to eventually close my eyes and begin meditating.  I transport myself to a wonderful place.  I take myself to a beach in a faraway place – I’m playfully running from a beautiful woman through sand dunes on the edge of the world.   The wind blows hard, stinging my body.

Suddenly the vehicle learches to a halt – we are here.  After processing, a group of us sit waiting in a room to be brought to our ranges.  We still have our canteen items so we pull out our cards and begin an impromptu game of spades that is quickly cut short.

I’m in my new cell now, on my new range.  I can safely say, now, that this place is awful.  Unlike the Toronto West Detention Center, this place feels like a stereotypical jail.  It’s a huge bland “super-jail” and a shining example of Canada’s movement toward mass incarceration.  I will most likely spend the next twelve months here.  I will now lay down with a candy bar and a book to do some time.

Home sweet home.

Written by Joel Bitar, an American activist serving a 20-month sentence in Canada for charges stemming from the 2010 Toronto G20 protests.

Joel’s Blog: Overcrowding and Drug Addiction

From March 16, 2014

I just laid my head down to get some sleep as I feel a cold coming on and all of a sudden I hear a ruckus. I look up from my book to see a corrections officer unlocking our cell door with a very miserable person next to him holding a mat. The sick looking man says to the C.O. “I asked to be put in segregation because I’m going to be coming down from my addiction tonight.” The C.O. responds saying, “It’s not my fault you’re a crack-head” and closes the cell door behind him. So the man comes into our cell and puts the mat on the floor.

Overcrowding is a big problem in these remand facilities and is often the source of a lot of tension amongst the inmates. A few cells on this range now have three men in cells designed for two people. Factor in that we are either locked in or out of our cells all day, sometimes for multiple days at a time, and you have a recipe for disater. The brutality of this system is becoming more and more evident. This man in my cell right now is a drug addict who needs treatment and care, instead he’s trapped in a cramped cage about to have major withdrawal symptoms.

I was unable to sleep all night because the man, coming off a prescription drug addiction, groaned and gasped in agony for hours. Anyone who is under the illusion that the prison system has anything to do with rehabilitation needs to come experience this for themselves. This especially applies to those who make a living filling these cages: the judges, prosecutors, and police. Jail is the antithesis of rehabilitation because inmates are dehumanized and treated like animals. This creates a feedback loop of anger, resentment, and ultimately, criminality.

Written by Joel Bitar, an American activist serving a 20-month sentence in Canada for charges stemming from the 2010 Toronto G20 protests.

Joel’s Blog: Locked-in and Free as a Bird

From February 26, 2014

We are locked in today. Lock-ins are typically done randomly and arbitrarily. The justification is that the guards are understaffed. It’s a nice break from the drama and tension of the range (all though my range is pretty calm and free of drama). I’ve been working out pretty hard since I’ve gotten here. I view self-care in here as a form of rebellion and resistance. This place is designed to destroy our bodies and minds via atrophy so anything you can do to stay physically and emotionally healthy is a counterattack. I’ve been preparing for this experience by learning bodyweight exercises, yoga, and meditation.

Since we were locked in, I invented a cardio-based routine to get the heart pumping. I literally ran in place for about an hour, mixing in jumping jacks, gate lunges, and a couple of other things. I then did 30 burpees and an ab-workout (nothing too crazy because this is a light day). I got satisfaction knowing I was more productive than all the guards in this place.

Later, before bed, I will do some yoga and meditation to relax my mind. I’ve also been acquiring threads from various places to floss since the jail has deemed it – floss – a banned item. Every tooth crevice I clean is a victory and every time the thread breaks, I curse under my breath.

Escapism is also a helpful tool in passing time. I’ve been reading magazines and watching some movies on the common TV. Yesterday, the entire range was watching “Blue Streak” where Martin Lawrence is a jewel thief who poses as a Los Angeles Police detective. A movie that makes nonstop fun of police is a pretty big deal in a place like this.

I’m expecting a visit from a wonderful friend on Tuesday so I’m excited about that. The food here at Toronto West Detention Center is excellent because there’s a legitimate kitchen. I’ve gotten comfortable here, but I’ll be moved soon. I’ll definitely be writing about that experience when it happens.

Written by Joel Bitar, an American activist serving a 20-month sentence in Canada for charges stemming from the 2010 Toronto G20 protests

Joel’s Blog: ‘Portal into Another Dimension’

from February 26, 2014

So, I’m finally through. My greatest fears have come to light. For the past four years I have been terrified of the prospect of being thrown in a cage. Bad dreams, constant anxiety, and a lurking fear in the back of my head have been my masters and it’s great relief to finally begin my sentence. It was extremely empowering to politicize my case through my statement to the judge. The Canadian legal system has been trying to depoliticize the G20 cases by turning up the statistics. I feel as if I was able to resist their efforts, at least on a small level.

After my sentencing I was handcuffed and brought through the courthouse. The court officer arresting me took me to a door with a slit just for the eyes and then knocked, like a bouncer at a hip, exclusive club. We passed through a door which could well have been a membrane into another dimension. The walls suddenly became dirty, desks dilapidated and ceilings were falling apart. I was brought into a room, surrounded by three massive court officers where I stripped, squatted, spread my cheeks and coughed (humiliation and domination are the foundation of the prison system).

The reaction to my case in the bullpen was interesting. People approached me to ask what I was in for. When I responded that I broke windows of police cars, I was treated to high-fives and even a hug. This was by far the best bullpen experience I had because I realized that – in this place – I was going to fit in. It was quite the opposite of the alienation I feel walking around the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We waited in the courthouse bullpen for about seven hours until we were brought to a paddy wagon and then transferred.

After processing I was brought to my range. On the ride over a few inmates struck a bit of fear into my heart by warning me that I might get picked on or have to fight someone. When I finally arrived in my cell, my cellmate, a forty-year-old Ukrainian father of two, showed me true kindness. He gave me extra sheets and blankets that he had collected and asked one of his friends for extra paper that I am now writing on. We spent the rest of the night discussing topics like Anarchism, the Russian revolution, the EU crisis, and the failure of the US war on drugs. It turns out he was a major student organizer for the movement for Ukrainian independence before the fall of the Soviet Union.

My first day could have been worse.

Written by Joel Bitar, an American activist serving a 20-month sentence in Canada for charges stemming from the 2010 Toronto G20 protests.