Letters From The Gulag…..chapter two..MUG SHOT
Well, I must say one of Krishna’s administrators could have been listening to the mind ramble through my insignificant life’s events this past weekend as I lie in the prison bunk for intervals of eight hours at a time, the only interlude being the serving of bland meals, and the need to urinate. The urination was supposed to be in check via pills from the Urologist, on the bottle it was clearly written, “to be administered in the mid afternoon. Those pills didn’t have time to kick in when the prison decided to dole them out at eight PM. I did go for short three and a half pace one way by three and a half pace walks the other way I’d look out the ten inch by thirty inch iron barred window of the cell, past an imposing razor wire capped twelve foot electrified wire mesh fence, past a fourty foot tall concrete pillar holding a set of metal halide lamps a pot gardener would die for and wondered what the prison hydro bill was like, past a snow covered grassy area with one lone picnic table set in the corner under a small branch to a tree line of sparse trees that led to a group of farm homes a mile or so away. On Saturday I counted five geese and one small hawk, the hawk didn’t stay long and my idea that it was Carlos Castenada ready to free me quickly fled. Sunday produced only one sighting, a lone goose, heading south, honking.
A fellow by the name of TRAVIZ P had ingeniously inscribed his title into the thick steel grey bed frame I gazed at. In another corner above my head there was a picture of an anus with a rather large penis attempting to enter as the corona of the penis was within striking distance. These graffiti images were I believe accomplished with the end of a hot cigarette. My cellmate Ron Ha had again displayed his bejewelled cock when I queried about the purpose of such ‘artistry.’ At that time he pointed out another set of holes closer to the base of the corona where a pin could be inserted and two ball bearings attached and threaded on each end to hold the pin in place. He went on to explain the pleasure his sex partners garnered when he put his penis in them. Ha shared a particularly graphic story of a former stripper who had ingested a large dose of methamphetamine and in a frenzy of drug induced wetness insisted he screw her immediately as she placed the cucumber back in the refrigerator. As a photographer I do admit to finding ugly beautiful. Ha asked if I’d be interested in filming him in a tag team event and posting it to the web. I declined the invitation.
‘You think this is weird’ he said, ‘I know of this guy who had a piece of fishing line inserted through his pee hole and pulled out at the end of his six inches, then the technician pulled the fishing line taught and the skin split essentially turning the once round penis into a butterflied penis.’ It was all I could do to not wince. He continued, ‘Then the technician inserted six stainless steel rods through each side of the penis starting at the bottom and finishing just below the corona, each rod was held on by using stainless steel bolts that fit onto the threads on either end of the rods.’ This was about the only sensible conversation we had all weekend, he was so high most of the time from his own stash of downers as well as the daily dose of methadone dolled out to him by the prison staff that it was better if he slept. I mentioned the TV show Kink to him which airs on Showcase Fridays at 9:30, it has a lot of differing, some might think ‘way out’ sexual content. Trying to make light of his pecker fetish I asked him where in his hometown of Banjoville Ontario he could display his art. He couldn’t. I mentioned the Church St. sex oriented area of Toronto. ‘You probably might find clubs in that part of town where you could stand at a bar and order a drink with your pants off and run into other folk into the fetish scene.’
And I thought I had gotten a non smoking room! More art of a similar nature covered the steel plate that was one of the main building products besides concrete block, poured concrete and the traditional stainless steel toilet/sink combo. Marks in the walls where two steel shelves were once mounted left me wondering why they had been removed. An eight foot long metal housing with four enclosed fluorescent tubes beneath a bullet proof piece of glass acted as lighting. The lights stayed on for twenty four hours, it was like being under your dentists observation lamp, they were dimmed to about half strength from around eleven PM to seven AM. To combat this Ha had taught me to roll up the hand towel and use it as a mask, placed over the eyes.
Hovering at the top of the room near the iron door was an eight inch square air intake plate next to which a stainless steel sprinkler outlet poked out of the concrete beside another heat vent the same size as the air intake plate which had been covered with a piece of paper by my cellmate to prevent his smoke from escaping and being detected. This obviously did not work very well as the low then high pitched smoke alarms went off several times over the course of the weekend. Every time they went off, all of the units smokers scrambled to get their stash back into the condoms. A little take out size square of margarine was always at the ready on the table in case it was required as lubrication to assist the cargo back up the hole. On Saturday afternoon Ha set the alarm off quite by accident. He’d eaten about three hot lunches which he had traded a smoke for each meal, imagine that those wired to tobacco would starve to get a nicotine buzz. His routine after eating was to light up a fast burning tailor made and return to the upper bunk where I watched him pull the sheet over his head while continuing to smoke. His arms were covered in track marks the kind veterinarian syringes leave, there was some very bad bruising, he told me that this was from using a steroids needle to hit up cocaine. In no time he was snoring rather loudly and I watched as the cigarette burned through the sheets and there was that burning smell, then the alarm, then I gave him a shake and I headed to the door to see if our keepers were coming. They did not.
Ha’s cigarette trade was going quite well. Apparently a TM (tailor made) cigarette sells for thirty dollars in the general population area. A bail of tobacco with a pack of papers can fetch up to twelve hundred dollars. Those who smuggle these articles into the inmates, prison guards, chaplains, social workers, lawyers risk their jobs in so doing. A few weeks back some strong Krinkle weed was smoked on the range and the fuzz went crazy, they could not find any of the stash so they made all the inmates in the range take their mattress pads out for the day as punishment threatening to take away good time if it was smelled again. Good time is the one third off every prisoner receives automatically when they arrive at their gaol. In my case the fourty five days sentence would equal thirty days.
Earlier on Saturday we were let out of the cells for an hour. This surprised everyone and Ha gave me the honour of holding his tobacco stash as he was looking pretty stoned. We actually thought the screws were coming to do a raid, this did not materialize. There were three coin less pay phones in the range and those who wished could make outside collect calls or person to person calls. Once the line up to use the phones subsided I gave Julia a quick call to see how the days events were shaping up, everything was fine at home. I chose to sit with a guy named Floyd whom I’d spoken to the night before while waiting for the hotel to open. He told me a sad story about his son aged about twenty two who had committed suicide a year earlier over a lost relationship and how he and his lady were raising the two grand kids. Floyd’s roommate Vern sat with us, he was from Port Hope, in on an impaired driving charge, second offence, he got ten days, which he thought was a real break, lost his licence for two years which is a bummer as he has a DZ ticket, meaning he drives rigs for a living. They asked me what I was in for, then grinned when I told them I was a gardener, Vern said, ‘we need people like you.’ Both these guys were dying for a butt. I had the stash. I went over to my ‘daddy’ Ha and got permission to hand out a few butts that were to be paid back later. They each took one and separately went over to the can to light up, I had my roomies lighter as well. Floyd came back looking much better after a few drags, we passed the lighter to Vern who was desperate to have a puff and a shit. Both these dudes had ‘packages’ up their keisters that weren’t dropping. Vern was concerned because his kinder toy package had turned sideways. He had sleepers as well.
I couldn’t help but notice the other prisoners in the range. Their ages ranged from about eighteen as this kid was pointed out using the phone to one or two guys older than me, most people were in their thirties and I’d have to say a lot of them looked like heavy alcohol users. Half the group sported a variety of tattoos . Carrying Ha’s stash gave me instant, tough guy credibility many eyes looked over when I was passing the butts to Lloyd and Vern and my eyes met with a few guys who under normal circumstances could or would have said ‘what about me.’
I do not pray having favoured the ‘good deeds’ method of salvation as more practical some decades ago. So it actually did not come as a surprise when early this week on Tuesday morning a staff from the Correctional Services called our home to speak with me. I was out, but fortunately she spoke with our well mannered son Cassidy who quickly advised me of the call. My persistence in returning the ladies call paid off when around three thirty a husky female voice said hello Mr Gregory, she had call display on her prison line. She was extremely polite and apologetic in not getting back to me, however she was quite busy. After short pleasantries she asked some basic questions about, the crime, the sentence, why I should be considered a candidate for the House Arrest with Work Program and she finished by inviting me to the prison the next morning at ten AM asking me to bring my drivers licence, the car registration and insurance pink slip.
There is a God…
As I drove into Lindsay well actually the outskirts of Lindsay I noticed a prominent business had closed within the last year Fleetwood Manufacturing a maker of RVs, where some folk our daughter knew had been laid off. There was plenty of talk over the years of plants closing in Lindsay, the birth of the monster prison was heralded as The Golden Rice Bowl. Passing Emily Creek Park I placed another call to my lawyer getting his answering machine, asking him to again forward my court information, everyone’s letters to the judge, his wire ringed binder and not accepted judicial matters pertaining to other similar Canadian Court Decisions, the important Pre Sentence Report and other trivial paper items I had made a verbal agreement with him that he would pass on. I finished my tirade by saying, ‘maybe you would like me to contact the Upper Canada Law Society and tell them of how you black mailed me for more money on sentencing day, just prior to sentencing.’ Boy, I never heard my phone ring so fast! All smooth and sense of humour Don was on the end of the line making up excuses, ‘I’ve been in Mexico for two weeks with my wife (on my dime I should have added), a friend of mine died, I had to go to the dentist, my wife is not feeling well.’ He ended up saying the paper work is in the mail. I hadn’t minded the lawyer when I hired him in Toronto, his first crack was about the Catholic Church, he said in regards to Jesus being resurrected, “Is that the best they can do for a miracle, roll a rock away on a Sunday morning.” His sense of humour would have gotten him through life, given him an edge. The day we met in Toronto, upon going to get our car there was a thirty dollar ticket on it, he said, “The City of Toronto needs to pay its bills somehow.” His offices were across from the old Don Gaol, you could literally troll for clients from this location. I don’t know if he had much of an office as he used the head lawyers room to interview me. We struck a deal for four thousand cash, no bill, no tax. He was hired to plea bargain, I had pled guilty to all charges at the time of arrest. The things one will say when the police are threatening to charge your wife and children, and take your home. I remain Bitter about the lawyers last minute antics to force more money out of me, an extra five hundred dollars, it was blackmail.
The main entrance to the prison resembles the entrance to many institutions. There is a large glassed in reception area where a well mannered person asks you your business through a hole in the glass. She made a telephone call and I was given a name tag and a key and told to take everything out of my pockets and put them in locker number twenty two and to have a seat, ‘someone will be here to see you in a minute.’ It was all actually almost to good to be true. As I waited for Lynn I browsed at a window display frame that held a collection of Prisoners Art. The display was comprised of a dozen or so white business sized envelopes that inmates had drawn on and entered in a contest. The only materials were a golf pencil and the white envelope. A picture of a giraffe wearing a Santa type hat won for best design, another of Marilyn Monroe was quite accurate but the picture that caught my eye was that of a young boy, maybe ten, a little chubby, who had written on his Christmas wish list, ‘all I want from Santa is a Red Ryder BB Gun,’ in the background of the picture an angry grown up parental figure was portrayed shouting out ‘you might shoot someone’s eye out.’ It had impact. The art had been featured in the Lindsay Post newspaper as there was a full page article that displayed the envelopes I was looking at. Not very many inmates participated in the contest. The prizes for first second and third consisted of artists supplies of values descending from $200 for the winner to $100 for second place and $50 for the third place contestant to be given upon release.
After removing my ‘things’ I looked around the room, a twenty something girl was there waiting to visit a loved one, a chaplain wearing a black shirt with a purple collar smiled, he was let into another section. Throughout life I had been that visitor be it the minister or the girl, visiting loved ones and at times the person being visited. Most memorable were the visits to my brother Kevin in Kingston at the Penetentiary many years ago. At that time the city was strange to me, I had not matured past thinking of it as only a prison town. Later in life I discovered its charms. But on that trip it was all about prison. I had not been out of my own predicament for very long when I decided to go see The Kid. I arrived in Kingston to late for the afternoon visit, I remember buying a jug of whiskey and parking near the waterfront which was much less developed than it is today. Sleep came easy. The next morning, after a scrub at a gas station and some grub I again went to the main prison near Portsmouth. A few other visitors had arrived on a bus and I joined a small queue to register for a visit. The archaic stone building that housed the inmates stands out in my mind thirty odd years later. There was an overwhelming darkness to the place, as well as centuries of sorrow and sadness. To get to the visitors area you had to go through a maze of thick clanking doors and come front on with a ground floor roundhouse where armed guards sat hunched over video surveillance screens. It may have been his first visit to the Big House. Kevin was in good spirits as he was about to be transferred to the more genteel Warkworth Institute. The visit was short, maybe half an hour. On leaving, I looked up at the guard tower, it was staffed with men holding automatic weapons and I was sure they would use them if need be. On another visit to him at the Millbrook prison one Christmas day in the early eighties. Shane and I made the drive in from Toronto in the old green Mercury two door that I had traded a cedar strip boat for. Driving up Highway 115 there is a restaurant called The Forum, you can’t miss it as there is a monstrous yellow sign out front, decades later it is still there though I would imagine it may have changed ownership. I remember visiting Kevin, and how sad the leaving was, for me and Shane, the Millbrook institution was a ball breaker of a place, a tough joint where inmates, troublemakers were sent to serve sentences of two years less a day or shorter sentences. I don’t know what rules Kevin had broken to be there, perhaps told a guard to fuck off, maybe got caught with contraband. That was a sad visit, you think you are doing the right thing by visiting on a day like Christmas, as if you can bring the happiness of the season with you, but I do think from my own experiences that one is better left alone on days like that. We said goodbye, I slowly drove down the hill top prison road and stopped at a wood crafters shop to look at Beech wood furniture that was for sale. The large shop was quite a contrast from the drab puke green walls of the institution and the utilitarian oak furnishings. This shop with overhead lighting and modern wood working equipment, a perfectly flat new concrete floor was set in a small piece of forest. To add to the contrast from the prison a bit further up the road there was a fine detailed sign advertising a Kennel that sold and trained Springer Spaniels, it was all so Cape Cod in looks. We stopped at The Forum for a late breakfast on the way home, breakfast with coffee included $3 dollars, I believe that should be the forever price of breakfast out, $3 dollars. I visited Kevin another time with Julia, in the early summer. He was all tanned and fit, he’d been working on the outside crew, cutting lawns, he looked very happy, he was down to short time, I would wonder if he was being straight with me, was he working me. He had done a lot of time for a young man of less than thirty years. Remarkably he always managed to put a positive spin on his upcoming release, call it Irish charm. When he smiled he was radiant. I just think he was one of those guys who did better in prison, that’s tough eh, tough but true, many cannot handle freedom. Within a couple of weeks or two of release he’d be shooting up heroin and being deviant. One year we tried so hard to stop him from using, on a fall night we went down to the Lansdowne and Bloor area where the junkies hung out. Kevin came down the street towards the pool hall where he scored, I shouted, “hey Kevin come on with us” of course he ran into a back laneway, not to be seen for weeks to come, except the odd time he would sneak a visit into mom. Yet we loved/love him dearly. Especially mom, she loved him the most, I think he needed that love. He’d bring mom an expensive gold cross on a gold chain and put it on her neck and she would wear it to work at Simpsons The Arcadian Court downtown where she was a server, and tell her friends, ‘my son Kevin gave me that’. Her love knew no bounds. Perhaps she had guilt for not stepping in when Alex would verbally and probably physically torment the younger kids when they were growing up, I had long since left the home. It could be said that she felt bad that Kevin had been mistreated by the Catholic clergy at the St Johns Training School, her own religion now doing unthinkable things to her son. And here I found myself thinking these things over a measly 45 day sentence that was about to be reduced to weekends of community service, while those mentioned in the above words were no longer with us.
In short order my ‘goddess’ appeared. She was short and attired in a sexy outfit. Can I say that without getting hackles up. On her feet were a pair of low cut ankle high black patent leather f–k me boots with three inch heels. I had to stop myself from saying, ‘nice boots’ I’m like that. Her tight black skirt went well with the boots and a reddish full sleeved Banlon knit (does that material still exist?) top complimented the wardrobe. She wore her hair quite nicely, not tied up, it fell onto her shoulders. Her voice was rough, like that of a heavy smoker, a rye drinker and her face was well made up. At one point she mentioned her grandchildren whom she would take to the Lang Pioneer Village on my recommendation.
The interview was to take place in another area. The entire time I was waiting for someone to arrest me for who knows what. Once you have witnessed the power of the courts and the strengths of the police and prison system you quickly re-evaluate the world you live in. A police state? To a degree. A buzzer sounded, then a door unlocked that led into a small room that was equipped with a scanning machine identical to that you would find at an airport. I had that same nervousness a new flyer might experience taking a flight. Where was the plane? This piece of equipment was manned (now there’s a word feminists could fight over) by two staff, both in uniform a lady and an older male guard who was nearing retirement age. The story of my moms wake was in a 9X12 envelope along with the requested I.D. Those passed through the scanner with no problem, I also passed the test, Lynn set the alarm off as a huge pirate like buckle at her waist sounded the alarm. It was quickly turned off.
We walked just a dozen feet over to a desk that had two chairs and I was asked to sit down. Lynn had a sheaf of papers. She was quite candid. ‘You don’t belong here Charlie, what are you in here for?’ as she rummaged through the papers, ‘you haven’t been in trouble since the early seventies, similar charges eh?’ she sort of winked but held back we made eye contact, I could see this was going to go well, she continued, ‘ growing marijuana for medical purposes eh?’ she looked at me emotionless, not at all condescending, any special probationary requests?’ ‘no I replied,’ do you drive, do you have a car, do you have any problem with travelling if you have to reach a venue?’ ‘No, no, no, no.’ I hastily replied as I sighed relief. ‘We could have done all this on the phone yesterday if I had your CPIC which is an acronym for something to do with your past criminal history. ‘Tell me a bit about yourself,’ she couldn’t shut me up, I brought out my recent writing assignment, the one about my mom Gisele, she looked at the pictures in the essay, she thought she looked very French Canadian, I rambled on about being self taught, having attended University for a year as a mature student back in the day, how I’ve been self employed for decades as a Property Manager (that leaves a lot of room for interpretation) . I stopped short of offering her my www. information to the Flickr Online Photo Gallery.
The entire meeting did not take ten minutes. ‘Do you have any ailments that would prevent you from doing physical labour in case I send you somewhere where they need some hard work done?’ I said no. ‘This Youth Shelter in Peterborough what is your relationship with them?’ I explained my daughter Christine’s employment there for over three years and our spotty donations of furniture, and clothing articles and the odd piece of literature, my children at various times and other volunteer type matters over the years. We discussed at length the dismissal of inmates into communities after their sentences were served and I added that some folk are against ‘group homes’ in their neighbourhoods to which we both agreed it isn’t an ideal situation however all towns and villages produce their share of deviant persons so all must share in post prison housing and rehabilitation of prisoners. She adamantly stood firm that the prison only releases prisoners to their former places of dwelling and if a prisoner moves to the Kawarthas and Peterborough after being sent home it is not their concern. She was aware of the recidivism rates of prisoners in all age groups. I was impressed with her knowledge.
We discussed our family Doctors, this came up when she asked me why I don’t have a permit to grow marijuana, I said, ‘my Doctor would let me die before he’d prescribe a Tylenol #3 for a broken arm, how on earth could he ever think marijuana served a good purpose!’ She said, ‘our Doctor wants us to make an appointment two weeks in advance, my husband has a torn Achilles heel and he had to go to emergency to get treated,’ I nodded in agreement.
I signed three or four pieces of paper, we shook hands, she walked me to the door and smiled as she said. ‘Nice to meet you Mr Gregory. I’ll contact you this afternoon to advise you of your placement, we’ll try to make it your daughters shelter.’ There was an email waiting for me at home. You have been approved for the Temporary Absence Work Program…
At the Youth Shelter I had to sign a confidentiality letter, and I feel bound to this, like Vegas, what happens at the Shelter Stays in the Shelter.
My hours are 9AM to 3PM, Saturday and Sunday for six weekends.. I am the maintenance guy.
There is a God
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