According to me…..

Posts tagged ‘poor’

Prisoner Justice Day Followup

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.

Domineering Don Jail

Don Jail

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.

SCI Stats

SCI Stats

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.

Don Jail

Don Jail

CLICK HERE to see more statistics on number of jails, and folks being sent there.  There are many and overwhelming.

Preconcieved Notions and Misconceptions.

People who are on the *system*…welfare, ODSP… they get a bad wrap.  Just because they are there, doesn’t mean they want to be there.

Some folks end up there through no fault of their own.  You lose your job because you fall ill.  Your rent is 800.00 –  you can no longer afford it.  Or your landlord of 11 years sells his building and informs all that live there that they have two months to move.  But now you are on the system.  You’re used to working and making good money – but that’s not the case now.  Now you must survive an entire month on 591.00 – that’s rent, food, clothes, medical needs, transportation.  Your rent *allotment* is considered to be 345.00.  lol  In a city where it costs approximately (at the lowest) 425.00 JUST to rent a single room where you must share bathroom facillities – what does that leave you to live on?   166.00.  So you think you’ll get a roommate and lower the costs?  Don’t think you can get just *any* roommate – if it’s the opposite sex they will call you a couple and decide your fate on what that other person earns!!  And what happens if you CAN’T find a new place to live?  Now you’re homeless…A buspass is 130.00.  If you want to search for work or go to a food bank or another resource to get food – churches, community centres.  What do you spend on food a month?  For a single person?  And I mean on food you like… food that’s good for you.  If you go to a food bank what do you get?  You get starch and carbohydrates.  You get rice, pasta, tin foods.  And it’s not just one race of people going there.  Each person has different requirements.  In some places the people cannot eat specific foods for religious reasons.  People with diabetes can’t eat any of the above.  And don’t expect meat or salad.  If you were to have a choice to eat what and how much you need, what would you require to spend on food?  To live a healthy and dignified life?  What about a phone?  You need a phone to call for jobs and get call backs, right?  So add that in.

Without proper nutrition you get sick.  Your health care costs rise.  Your confidence and self esteem drop.  Try looking for an apartment and telling your new landlord that you are on the system… Try explaining to a new boss in an interview what you’ve been *doing* with yourself for the last few months.  Attempt to get a job where no one is hiring.  Then you start to make choices.  Do I buy the food I need or get a buspass?  Do I pay rent or bills?  If I get an interview, how will I get there and what will I wear?  If I get a haircut do I cut out some food?

Now – knowing that people are starving – let’s take a look at the special food diet.  This was implemented to supply people with foods they need depending on their illnesses.  At first it wasn’t well known, but as time went on folks discovered it and took advantage of the fact that they could actually get money for FOOD.   So the numbers went up…. well, why not.  People need to eat.  So now the gov has decided that it’s *unsustainable* to feed people?…they are phasing out this diet.  Now you must reapply to the ministry of health, as apposed to social assistance.   They will have a list of illnesses they deem appropriate to cover and it will be less money than recipients were originally receiving, perhaps even coupon type mentality.  And not all recipients are being grandfathered into the new plan.  Another cut, another slash to the poor.  Way to go – so proud of our government.

People – all people – have a right to food.  There is certainly enough of it on this planet and our government knows this.  But here’s the catch.  If they raise the rates of social assistance – they have to raise the minimum wages in companies.  Minimum wage is still below the poverty line.  But if social assistance is near that rate – then they believe people will have no desire to take those low paying jobs.  And if they don’t provide social assistance and they just let people die in the streets – they believe there will be a massive uproar in the people…  Well, that’s what they need.  Massive uproar.  Because they ARE starving people.

Food banks were introduced as an emergency measure – they weren’t meant to be part of your monthly income.  They weren’t meant to be sustainable.

Health, and healthy food choices should be a normal part of life.  Life with dignity.  Shame on our government for starving it’s people.  No one can be expected to get ahead when they are hungry and this has been proven just by the fact that we have lunch programs or breakfast programs in schools for our children.  What are we doing?  Feeding them young and then starving them when they grow up?

And so what if you DO get a job, a part time job to start?  They take half of your pay OR MORE… each month.  So you work this month – they take it off your next cheque…but what if you don’t work next month?  They don’t help you get ahead.  They hold you down.

Some folks have life long illnesses.  They are on the system.  Did they ask to get Cancer, or AIDs or Diabetes, or Myofibrillar myopathies?

Truly – stop misconceiving the world around you…know your facts.  Help raise awareness – when we raise the lowest of us, we all raise to new heights.

Single folks aside – what about people with children!  (Thanks Kayla B for pointing this out.)  People have to go day to day worrying about how to feed their children.  Have you ever had a small child?  In school?  Try paying for all the trips.  Try telling your child that 6.50 is too much and they have to stay home when all the other children are going on a trip.  Try sending your child to school with a lunch comprised of food bank goods.  Try spending money on gym suits, day planners, locks for lockers…etc.  The list never ends, as anyone with kids knows.  And this doesn’t even cover clothing them… in what they feel comfortable in – because kids make fun of each other.  And what about how they are treated when they are asked what their parents do for a living?  Bring your parents to school?  Really?  How about having your friend over at lunch time?  What are you going to feed them?

Then there’s a whole other section – folks that were brought up on assistance – and then the grown up children go on it.  It’s all they know.  Maybe they had a parent that had a life long illness, that couldn’t work.  All that child knows is the system.  We all learn coping mechanisms and tools of survival from our caretakers, our providers – and this is what they learn.  No one knows anything but what they are taught when they are younger.  As you get older you learn for yourself.  But it’s ok – because if they get a job – assistance will just take some of that money to keep them there.

All in all.  Poor people are not criminals, or lazy or wanting to be on the system.  They are aware that working provides better money.  They are aware that it’s no fun to be stressed out because every minute of the day is spent searching for ways to get food – for themselves and maybe for their loved ones as well.  If the system covered at least the basics – a place to live and food in their bellies… they would have a life with some dignity and they would be a stronger people.

McQuaig: Restraint hits poor the hardest

By Linda McQuaig Columnist
Toronto Star

One of the depressing aspects of the last few decades is the ease with which seemingly normal people walk obliviously past the aching pools of humanity spread out on our sidewalks.

At what point will people start looking up from their iPhones — at least momentarily — and think: Something must be done.

That moment should have come with the recent axing of Ontario’s “special diet allowance,” in which Dalton McGuinty’s government literally took food out of the mouths of hungry people, in the name of deficit reduction.

The elimination of the allowance in the recent provincial budget is really just the continuation of the assault on the incomes of the very poorest citizens that began with former premier Mike Harris’s 22 per cent cut in provincial welfare rates in 1995.

Despite a softer, more kindly demeanour, McGuinty has simply fine-tuned the cutback strategy, leaving today’s poor actually worse off than they were in the dark days of Harris.

This 15-year-long assault on the poor is now being ramped up as governments struggle with huge deficits caused by Wall Street’s reckless bash and the resulting global recession.

Click Here to read more!

Put Food in the Budget – Link to Globe and Mail

Wow… this article is a little scary.

I went to the PFiB website, and Mike Balkwill had posted a link to a Globe and Mail article.  The numbers are awful, staggering and frightening.

Rich v. poor: The lives we can expect from our income

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