I don’t know where to start. It’s overwhelming and I learned so much.
Ever attend an event or function and not completely know what it’s about or even if you fully agree with the issues? lol Yes, that’s what I did. I knew that I didn’t like the deaths of inmates because emergency call buttons were not fixed. I knew that what I had read so far was that people were dying in jails because of a lack of attention to medical aids. This is the premise on which I attended this event. There have been vigils every year for 35 years now because of this. Deaths and suicides. Unaccounted for and unexplained…well hidden.
There was also, in the back of my mind, the events of the G20. 1000 people thrown into makeshift jails. Held in small cages with too many people so that sitting was not an option. Hands tied with plastic pull ties.. bleeding wrists. Lack of food, water, washrooms, dignity. Guilty. People passing out and revived only to be retied. People having their prostheses taken away, and told to *hop*, by police… this all makes me furious… so I went.
These things I agreed with fighting against.
However, I get to the function and find it to be much, MUCH deeper than I expected / realized. I waited to blog it because I wanted to get it all in some sort of order in my mind before just babbling… but it’s not happening, so I’m going to babble it out and then try to order it.
I’m going to start with the days’ events, I think… then move on to what I learned. And what I learned is devoid of full facts and statistics because I don’t have them as of yet, but I will get them, I’ve already requested them.
We met at South Riverdale Community Health Centre and had an hour and a half meeting. We were read facts, and statistics from current and past situations regarding jail time, prisoner age, sex, race, etc. We were enlightened on what the government is doing, what laws it is trying to pass and has already passed. Then people from the area who had experienced jail told us their stories. It was heart wrenching. Some chose humor to tell their tale…but you could hear the pain behind their words. Humans being degraded in ways you cannot imagine. One woman takes a painkiller every day for her pain and when she got to jail they offered her two Tylenols. She quipped that if she had two broken legs, perhaps they’d have upped that to four. Another told of rape and body searches. Poor conditions, lack of food and being anemic, no contact with the outside world, the frustration. And another told of how he was charged at an early age for a petty crime, and forever after harassed daily by police – to be charged over and over – as he lived on the system and could not afford food. When you get out of jail you are usually homeless. You get on the system and cannot eat. He has two brothers…one he hasn’t seen since he was 12, as he is in the same cycle. He just wants a family again. Next we heard a native woman drumming an ancient ritual drum, singing a long known song to her peoples. We lit candles and prayed for those who have died in prison, and those still incarcerated. We got our black balloons, banners and signs and we marched on over to the Don Jail, in unison, in solidarity.
Once we arrived we had a tent set up and there were speakers. We again heard of the statistics and horrendous numbers. There were some speakers from the area…. and then we lit candles and marched in front of the jail. It was peaceful, but painful to see. The people who chose to speak of their experiences barely had to say a word, you could visually see what the system had done for them. While we were there they had released (discarded) two prisoners… out onto the front steps with their belongings in see-through plastic bags, like so much rubbish… here the two changed back into their own clothing. Another two people, homeless. We gave them both a smoke.. they stayed to see what we were doing – they had nowhere else to be, they were in no rush to sleep on the streets.
So. Here are some of the things I heard and learned.
If street sex and drugs were not deemed such a huge offense there would be less need for prison space. If you make these things legal, you don’t need to jail folks. If you feed them, they don’t need to steal food. They don’t need to steal from stores in the area or homes, to get food, clothes, drug money. If you supply them with food, and homes… and treat underlying issues – you have less folks in jail. Now, out of the criminals in jail – you do have the real bad humans. But the really bad humans make up only 1% of the whole population in jail!!! So now, our government is looking at these extreme cases and it’s judging every *criminal* on the nature and severity of the crimes of these specific individuals. It’s saying that because *so and so* is such a threat, we are going to change the rules so they can’t get out, or get out early. They’ve already passed a law saying that you cannot be released early for time served. So people who are in jail for smoking a joint are doing their full sentence now. In jails that are already overstuffed, understaffed and unhealthy. If a woman has a child and has to resort to street sex to feed her child because the system doesn’t see fit to provide enough money or services to help her… then she gets arrested… she must do her full term now. They are working on taking away parole hearings. They say that for some it’s better, it takes away the hopes and worries over repeated parole hearings. Really? Whatever time you get, you serve, end of sentence (so to speak). Now we can all agree that for violent criminals this is perfectly fine… but what about all those folks who are charged with sleeping on the street? With riding a bike on the sidewalk? With needing the sex trades to get by? With trying to survive????? Why not legalize and make it safer for them. Why not help???
All in all crime has gone down in Canada…yes, it’s true. But the costs and building of jails has gone up!! Is it really that much easier to just throw so many people away? Do you think they get rehabilitated in jail? No… they learn more street skills and they soon lose the ability to get honest work. They lose self confidence. They may turn to drugs to cope, then more crime to support their new habits. What are we doing? It’s inhumane. Caging humans is NOT an answer…not for all of them. How can it be legal to smoke pot in one part of the world and yet in another they are locked up? How about sex? Some places have designated areas and high controls for health and safety. How is it different, one woman asked, that I sucked a cock today to get food and I go to jail… and you can hear the unasked question… if I suck a cock tomorrow because I want to… I don’t go to jail! Isn’t it a choice – albeit, a choice because you have no choice but to survive… and if this is the choice you make, rather than stealing or hurting others…why is it punishable? If you panhandle… who are you hurting? If someone doesn’t want to give, they can just keep walking. People have to eat. Would you rather they steal or become a hardened criminal? No… but you will take them to your jail and strip search them and degrade them… make them sleep on a mattress on the floor because you have no room and deny them food and medication. If you take methadone, they hold out on you… they use it as a tool. Well, diabetics have their medication readily handy. Methadone stops a lot of people from using hard drugs… as does smoking pot. It’s used for medicinal purposes and for some people I know and have spoken to, to avoid hard core drugs or drinking.
I don’t smoke pot, but I’m for it being legal, with the same rules as alcohol. I don’t ever want to see someone driving after a toke. LOL What is the worst that happens when people smoke pot? They do a drive by pillow fight???? Seriously? They are trying to pass a law that will mean hard jail time for anyone caught with drugs – no alternative.
The numbers are phenomenal. Out of the whole population in jails, most are the poorest of the people. The highest percentage are native men. Women in jail has gone up by leaps and bounds. Jails are stuffed to bursting… and most crimes are petty. All the laws they are trying to pass right now ensure that no one gets out early or on good behaviour, or for time served. They are transferring folks as they wish and handing out harder, longer jail times. All this does is make longer jail sentences, more folks in jail for longer – higher costs to the city, to the tax payers, and a more judgmental, demeaning way of treating humans…. and they certainly are not coming out any the better for it.
Some folks are comparing jails with institutions for psychiatric prisoners. They mutually reinforce the approach of state controlling humans. Both are guilty of classism, racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, and albeism. In both situations you have humans locked up against their will, denied access to information, services, visits, media, and the public, even sunshine. People are dying in both – sometimes from drug overdoses and improper mixing of drugs – without informed and free consent. There are no public investigations – hell, you hardly hear of them. Both systems use solitary confinement, forced transfers, sensory deprivation as means to control. Women in the system are subjected to extra oppression, and more electroshock, damaging drugs, and longer confinement. The LGBT community are doubly oppressed. These systems claim to benefit society while promoting hierarchy and oppression. This is not helping any *prisoner*, it is punishing and controlling.
There are many ways to help someone in crisis… much more effective ways. There can be healing, and crisis centres, community justice circles, residential-therapeutic houses, supportive housing and decriminalization of petty crimes.
Why are we wasting money on jails instead of housing, schooling and food? We need to start treating all humans as if they are indeed, humans. With dignity and respect and perhaps a little care.
CLICK HERE to see more statistics on number of jails, and folks being sent there. There are many and overwhelming.