Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In Which I Am Sent to Headingly

I still don't know why I was sent to Headingly. It happened suddenly, without warning. I was ordered to pack up my bedding and throw it in the laundry, and the next thing I knew I was being taken down the elevator with some other inmates. I brought nothing except my carefully-guarded list of outside phone numbers and my precious juice bottle. That was confiscated as soon as we got to the main floor. Wherever I was going, I was going to have to drink my juice out of milk cartons. But the worst of it was that I would have left it behind for Dean if I had known I wouldn't be allowed to keep it.

I did leave an unintended present for Dean after all. The previous night I had finally gotten around to exercising one of the few privileges available to inmates...a privilege which I had earlier been told was not available to me. As a consequence I left behind a wadded-up ball of toilet paper, which in the rush to leave I did not remember to dispose of. I'm going to guess that Dean was not happy to find that thing lying there in the upper bunk.

I was told that transfers are simply routine procedure to deal with overcrowding, but I suspect there might have been another reason. It's possible that I was transferred to my own safety. The previous evening I had commited the faux pas of stepping onto an exercise machine down in the gym to which one of the alpha males was recognized to have priority. When he shoved me off the machine, I turned back to him and said, "Don't shove me." He didn't seem to like that. I didn't say anything to the guards, but word of the exchange might have gotten around.

The next day there was a more problematic incident. One of the tough guys had left a free phone  temporarily unattended, and I had just picked it up to make a call. He suddenly came back and told me to give up the phone. I said, "Back off, it's my turn." I might have gotten away with this but then I noticed a guard approaching from behind. Emboldened, I repeated: "Back off, it's my turn". That's when the guy noticed that a guard was right there, so he had to back down and let me use the phone. That was my mistake. You don't run to the guards for protection from the other guys, even when the guards just happen to wander into the middle of something.

For whatever reason, I found myself shackled hands and feet and being trundled off to the Headingly Correctional institute. At least I was going to experience a wide spectrum of the total prison experience. In fact, the guys in my holding cell told me it was a step up from Remand. You didn't have to go back into lockdown every hour...you were allowed out on the range all day until lights out. Headingly was all right, they assured me.

When one of the guards told me they had guitars available on the range, I figured I was golden. This wouldn't be so bad. Finally they took me up to the range and led me to my cell. It was tiny. Then they introduced me to my cellmate. He was huge. He was in the lower bunk. To get to the upper bunk, I had to step on his bunk. In remand there was a kind of ladder giving access to the upper bunk, but not here.

The cell was as long as a bunk plus another foot or so, which might or might not have been enough room to put a plastic bin the size of a recycle container, which is where I would have to keep my few possessions (change of socks etc.) Except they didn't give me a bin so I had to keep my stuff on the bunk. And unlike Remand, the bunk area didn't have an extra couple of square feet for storage. It was just a bunk. Juice bottle, left-over toast from breakfast...whatever I had, I would have to sleep with it.

The cell was tiny. The toilet was two feet away from my cellmate's head. If I had to get up at night to take a pee, he would be getting the splashback. The idea of taking a dump was unthinkable.

The "range" in Headingly was very different from the range in Remand, where you felt free to stroll around the mezzanine, up and down the half-flights of stairs, or sit in front of the TV. Here you had a row of ten cells. The front of the cells was all bars, with cement walls separating them. Six feet in front of the cells, there was another set of bars. That strip of territory, perhaps sixty feet long and six feet wide...was the range! If you walked up and down the range, like I was inclined to do, you had no choice but to pass by the same guys over and over again. They stared at you and you tried not to stare at them. If you looked inside someone else's cell...well, that was the last think you wanted to be caught doing. So you kept your eyes pointed straight ahead and slightly downwards. Or else.

At my lowest moment, I was befriended by an inmate who told me his name was Pierce. He could see I needed a little help getting settled in, and took it upon himself to help me out. The first thing I asked him was about pillows. My bunk didn't have a pillow....how did I get one? "They don't really give you pillows. Maybe you can buy one from another inmate." Buy one??? How did that work? "Did you have any money when you came in?" Yes, I told him. "How much? asked an eavesdropper. "No, he doesn't have to tell us that", said Pierce. "Do you really have money? Maybe I'll sell you mine." How was I going to pay him? The answer: "Lozzies."

"Lozzies" are the de facto official currency of the prison system. Historically, cigarettes have always fulfilled that role, but in Manitoba prisoners are not allowed to smoke. Instead, they can buy nicotine lozenges from the prison canteen at nine dollars a pack. Pierce gave me his pillow on the undertaking that I would buy him a pack of lozzies when canteen came around. "But I need to know you'll come through", he said, "because I'm going to but some stuff right now, and I don't wanna be caught short later on." I assured him that I was good for it, and that was enough for him.

I don't know where Pierce was going to get another pillow for himself. But as events were to unfold, he probably didn't have to...


  1. At your lowest moment, huh? And the man in the mirror came to mind for you Marty Green. And yes, there is actually a book also on this title about a jail inmate who found Jesus Christ behind those walls of despair and shame.
    The man in the mirror was also sung by Michael Jackson which was world wide a popular hit and big talk on this at one time. I am not a MIchael Jackson fan, but Man In The Mirror is one song I kind of know. He talks about the trouble in the world and wants things to change. His lyric says "if you want to make the world a better place take a look at your self and make a change." You can't change the whole world or even the people around you that make you mad. You can only change your self and the way you respond to situations. You can't pull your self out of bad situations unless you are willing to change.

    By the sounds of this new beginning at the Headingley Jail, the jail now has taken it's toll and beginning to sound now it's changing you on the inside.