I am about to introduce you to some people that I met during my seven month incarceration in Regina Provincial Correctional Centre. All names have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved, but rest assured these people are all real. I’m hope to change your perceptions about the people in jail in Canada, specifically, but also around the world.
Firstly one of the most striking things I realized almost immediately upon being incarcerated is that the number of Aboriginal people in jail is staggering! After talking with some of the Aboriginal people in there, some of them almost considered it a right of passage to spend time in jail. A very sad situation and a very sad outlook on life.
The other thing I realized very quickly is that the age of the jail population is vast, from 18 years of age to 80+ years of age. Many of the people in jail are in jail for the wrong reasons. Many of them need mental health treatment instead of just being locked away from society. I saw three true suicide attempts during my seven months, and all three of them were not given any mental health support at all. Our system is failing!
The first person I met in jail, and stayed a friend with until the day I left was Peter. He had committed a similar offense as I had, got the same sentence and was assigned to the same unit. He was a bit older than me, was aboriginal and a total and complete Atheist. I tried, along with other Christians to change his views, but Peter stood by his beliefs, or lack thereof, and couldn’t be swayed. Peter and I shared the same meal table for the whole time I was there, we played games together and talked for hours, but religion wasn’t going to come into his life. When I got my early release (a month early), I really felt sad for him, as we’d both planned on leaving the unit together.
The other person who had a great influence on me was a man I’ll call George. He was in for a vastly different offence, was quite a bit older, a full vegetarian, diabetic, and really eccentric. He was a devout Baptist and would stop to pray at the drop of a hat. I never heard him utter a curse the whole time he was there. By the time I arrived, he was about 3/4 way through a 1 year sentence. We used to walk the unit together for exercise and to pass the time, and during those walks I learnt a lot about Jesus. That got me moving in the right direction. George was the first person I told when I committed my life to Christ. Unfortunately due to stresses of being in jail and other stupid things, George and I had a major fall out just before he was released, and never spoke again.
One of the major mental health cases is semi-famous in his own right. Daniel B. (his real name) is featured in the book, Sour Milk and Other Saskatchewan Crime Stories. Daniel is a legend in Regina. At last count he had been incarcerated in excess of 200 times, mainly for “Dine and Dash” episodes. He didn’t just eat meal and run, he would plan feasts with friends, and let them leave and then he’d just not have the money to pay. He owed the jail in excess of $1000 for damages that he’d caused by flooding a cell. He had no job, no money and no way to pay off fines, so the courts just kept returning him to jail. For most of the time he was incarcerated, he was kept doped up on Quetiapine an anti-pscychotic drug that is used rampantly in the jail system to control inmates. I did witness him “cheeking” the drug and passing it to other inmates, which is something else that happens a lot. I’m sure that Daniel will be in jail many times more before he leaves us. As a side note, Daniel invited me out for dinner when I was released, I politely (and smartly) declined.
Rhafine was original from India but living in Canada when he was incarcerated. He was in his early 30s and a really nice guy. We talked for hours about all sorts of subjects including religion. As a muslim, he believed in Jesus, but only as a prophet and not as the Son of God. He was full vegetarian and promised me that he could make a vegetarian meal that I’d love. At the time I didn’t believe it, but having now experienced full vegetarian and vegan meals, I believe it. Rhafine was a really sweet guy, a little affeminate, almost to the point of homosexuality, but he proclaimed to be straight, although at his age he also proclaimed his virginity. He read the Koran and prayed 5 times a day to the East. He was removed from our unit on some suspicious circumstances that we never really understood.
Jack was a truck driver from the USA who told us that he’d been caught bringing a handgun into Canada. His story didn’t make sense, but he stuck to it. On the night before he was released into the custody of US Border patrol to be taken back to the USA, he didn’t leave the unit and go to the processing area of the jail as most inmates do. He remained on our unit and was released later in the day. Although we’d had a number of discussions about religion while he was there, I didn’t sense that he was really serious, until the morning of his release. The night before, he had packed up his cell and had nothing left to read, except The Bible. He came to me in tears that morning and told me how The Bible (in one night) had changed his life. I hope it continues to do so.
Dwayne was a young, mouthy punk, who was about 4’6″ tall and weighed about 90lbs soaking wet! To hear him talk, you’d swear he was 7 feet talk and 300lbs. He could take on the world. One day, he mouthed off to the wrong person, Doug, an inmate with serious anger management issues. The next thing I knew, Dwayne was flying across the room and then Doug was on top of him beating the daylights out of him. The guards screamed “lock up” and we all headed to our cells, a “fight” code was called and guards from all over the jail converged on our unit. Doug was eventually pulled from Dwayne, but not before inflicting serious injuries upon him. Doug was charged (in jail) with attempted murder and removed from our unit, and not seen again. Dwayne returned a few days later, with cuts and bruises, and his mouth was still going. I assume that he’ll receive many more beatings in his life before he learns.
Finally I’m going to introduce you to Gordon. Gordon was the longest serving inmate in our unit. He was serving an 18 month sentence and while in jail had another six months tacked onto it. He was a really nice guy, I actually corresponded with him a little after my release, but that ended. We played many games of table tennis together, well he played, I chased the ball! Gordon was a clean freak and a germaphobe! He showered at least twice a day, his cell was spotless and touching any of his things resulted in him immediately going to wash and disinfect it. I saw him get angry only once, and it resulted in the person sitting next to him getting a bleeding nose from a punch that was so quick, it barely registered in my eyes.
During my incarceration I met probably 75 people or more going through our 24 bed unit. This is just a small sample of the people that you meet. There are many others including an old man who never left his cell, a man who didn’t understand that he was in jail, a young kid who passed out paper roses to the other inmates thinking it was funny (it wasn’t), and the cryers and wailers who kept you awake all night. The jail system is a sad place because all it does is take people off the streets, but doesn’t do anything with them. Unfortunately there is a revolving door on the jails as the same people return again and again. I vowed to the guards upon my release, that I wouldn’t be back and their response was “everyone says that!” I WON’T be back.
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