The story of my legal battles with the University, on both the civil and criminal fronts, is thoroughly chronicled on the pages of this blog. For the next couple of days, however, I'm going to concentrate on the purely human aspect of my prison experience. Over the course of nine days I did time in three different cell blocks, starting with the Winnipeg Remand Center, across the street from the Law Courts Building on Kennedy and York.
After spending most of Thursday in the Public Safety Building downtown, I was finally checked in to the Fourth Floor of Remand around six in the evening. I had earlier turned down the chance to get bail from a magistrate, who would have seen me that same afternoon, in favor of a bail hearing the next morning before a judge. My theory was that a magistrate would be inclined to accept whatever bail conditions the police requested, whereas a judge would be more inclined to listen to my arguments.
That meant my only meal on Thursday was a bag lunch for supper, consisting of a baloney sandwich (no mustard, no mayo, just a slab of meat on bread) and a half-pint of milk. It would turn out that prison meals were generally better than this, but I didn't know that yet. My first breakfast in Remand didn't give me much hope for improvement, however: it consisted of a very bland porridge with no sugar, and two pieces of toast with butter and jam. I put the butter and jam in my porridge but it didn't help much.
Lunch was a corned beef sandwich on a kaiser bun, with a half-pint of milk and an apple for dessert. Condiments were provided on the side, so it was much better than the bag lunch of the previous evening. I still found it impossible to wash down a meat sandwich with nothing but milk. That's when my cellmate clued me in to one of the most important benefits of life in remand: free juice.
I noticed that there was a coffee station for the inmates when they let us out of our cells on Friday morning. I watched the other inmates serve themselves but I couldn't find any cups when it was my turn. Later I learned that cups were not provided. People would buy instant noodle soup from the canteen and then save their styrofoam cups for coffee later. In the meantime I would have to save my milk cartons if I wanted coffee. In the end I decided that prison coffee wasn't likely to be all that good for my digestive system, so I went without it altogether.
Juice was another question altogether. Supper came around and it was roast chicken on rice, with lemon pudding for dessert. This was actually first rate...but after picking up my supper tray and returning to my cell, I was dismayed to realize that I was locked in with no access to the juice. I realized that I had to make sure I filled up my juice container before they brought out the dinner trays. Once I caught on to the system, all of my subsequent meals were quite enjoyable....almost.
I still had to learn one more lesson about meals: they just didn't give you much time to enjoy your food. If you didn't tuck right in and start bolting it down, there was the prospect that you'd be called on to return your trays before you'd really finished. That only had to happen to me once; after that, I learned not to linger to long, and I was OK after that.
Life in remand on the whole was quite tolerable. Our cell block consisted of two levels, upper and lower, of ten cells each level, with each cell housing two inmates, and a common area consisting of a mezzanine and a TV lounge, and a shower area. I shared my cell with Dean, a nice guy who was picked up on a "breach". He'd been in a fight with his girlfriend had previously been released on conditions not to have contact with her. She ended up coming over a few weeks later, they both got to drinking, a fight ensued, neighbors called the cops...yada yada yada. Most of the guys in jail are guys like Dean...decent guys who are just trapped in a lifestyle which puts them constantly on the edge, always in danger of falling astray of the law. The system makes no distinction between guys like Dean and dangerous SOB's who are a menace to society. What people don't understand is that when the Conservatives make a big deal of how they're going to get "tough on crime", what they are really doing is getting tough on guys like Dean. The "hardened criminals" are basically facing the same conditions either way. Like everything else, it's the little guys who suffer.
The upper and lower level cell block inmates shared the common area ("the range") on alternate hours. They'd let the upper level out for an hour, and then they'd send us back to our cells while the lower level guys got out. So you'd never really get to meet the lower level guys except if you went to the gym...they'd take both levels downstairs together for gym time. (But only ten or twelve guys might choose to go for gym.) So with our cell block being not quite full, I met altogether about twenty guys while I was in Remand.
The alternating hours actually made the time pass pretty quickly. When I was out, I could walk around the range...there were stairs at each end of the mezzanine, so I could wander around a long circle to pass the time. Then when they'd send us back to our cells, I could pick up a book from the collection of worn-out paperbacks and relax in my upper bunk, which was like a little private sanctuary. Dean was a perfect roommate: he clued me in on things like the etiquette of the shared toilet and other details of prison life with which he was familiar from previous stints.
Dean and the other guys could tell right away that I was a rookie. The first morning I sat down at a table with some of the guys and one of them let on that he'd just been caught by the guards...well, you know...jerking off. I was shocked to learn that you're not allowed to do that in jail. This was an outrage. I promised the guys I would bring it to the attention of the judge when I had my bail hearing. Fortunately, I made a point of doing a little research before hand, the results of which were inconclusive. So I didn't bring it up at my bail hearing. The next day, still skeptical, the guys insisted I ask one of the guards. "Come here," they called to the guard, "this guy wants to ask you a question".
In response to my query, I was told: "You can do whatever you want in here as long as you don't hurt the other guys." Everyone had a pretty good laugh over that. The guard pointed to my grey prison sweater and his blue uniform: "Listen to blue, not to gray".