Joel's Blog: "Comradery Behind Bars" and "Weapons Search Lockdown"

From Joel's Blog

"Comradery Behind Bars"
March 1, 2014

Governments and the mainstream media have created a myth: if you go to jail, you must be a bad person. During my stay here, I found the opposite to be true. Most of the guys on my current range are good-hearted and amicable individuals. Some of them have made mistakes and some of them are drug addicts who need treatment, but the majority of inmates here are victims of unjust socioeconomic conditions. If the war on drugs ended tomorrow and if poverty was properly addressed by society, these jails would empty out overnight.

My current cellmate, Rick, is a 65 year old Buddhist who has been in and out of jail his whole life. He has over sixty convictions, mostly related to drug use and distribution. He is in jail now on charges related to an unarmed bank robbery. I like doing time with him because he spends most of his time reading – an activity I also enjoy immensely. He tells me that jail has only exacerbated his criminality, quite the opposite of correcting it. He is a heroin addict and also suffers from Alzheimers disease. Most of his crimes occurred to fund his drug habit. He is an ideal candidate for treatment and jail has only worsened his life. He’s probably one of the kindest and most harmless people I’ve met in or out of jail.

I’ve noticed myself developing a comradery with the other prisoners here. There is an unspoken understanding that we are struggling together through an unjust experience. One of the most interesting and likable characters here is a Somalian guy, Ali. He has been targeted, along with others, around the Rob Ford drug scandal and was a target of ‘Project Traveler’. When news arrived there was a video of the Toronto mayor smoking crack, police agencies from various provinces launched a major investigation into the source of the drugs. Ali shared the story of how a SWAT team raided his family’s house with machine guns traumatizing and injuring his relatives, and then giving him the beating of his lifetime. He has been in this jail for over eight months now. He is soft-spoke and well educated – a completely different character being portrayed by the media. He expresses frustration at a system that intends to convict him before he has even had a chance to see the evidence against him.

Jaimie is 43 years old. He has AIDS, Hepatitis C, and is hypoglycemic. Previously, he spent a few months in a cell Alex Hundert. He is constantly asking other people in here for juice crystals (packets of sweetener for our water) to balance his low blood sugar. He says he’s been in and out of jail for years. When he gets out, he has nothing and often feels the pressure to survive… ultimately resulting in him being charged with dozens of crimes. He then sits in jail for six months to a year, and the charges inevitably get dropped. When he gets out, the cycle repeats. His situation is urgent and he needs the basics: food, housing, and medical care. I told him I don’t believe there is much I can do for him other than get his story out. If you are compelled to help him by sending a letter, or more, his name is Jaimie Simpson and he is at the Toronto West Detention Center.

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"Weapons Search Lockdown"
April 8, 2014

As I write this we are in our fifth straight day of lockdown. We haven’t
been out of our cells since Thursday night (today is Tuesday). The reason
for this lengthy lockdown is a “weapons search”. The search was declared
on Friday, began on Monday, and just finished this morning. We haven’t
been given access to showers since Thursday night and were only given
canteen orders today after the search finally ended (we usually get them
every Friday). This lockdown has affected the entire unit: 6 ranges that
hold approximately 180 of us. The guards claim they couldn’t perform the
search until yesterday because they were “short staffed”.

Since the start of my journey through the Canadian provincial jail system
“short of staff” has been the ubiquitous justification for locking us down
and taking away what little freedom we have. To many of us, this weapons
search is clearly an arbitrary denial of our rights masquerading as a
security exercise. If there is actually a dangerous weapon somewhere, the
guards are not acting logically to address that risk. If there were a
dangerous weapon somewhere wouldn’t it make sense to find that weapon
immediately instead of making us languish in our cells for days before the
search even begins? Why give someone with a weapon advance notice of a
search and then give them days to dispose of it? Common sense dictates
that if they wanted to find a weapon, they would try to catch us by
surprise. Finally, if the jail is short staffed, why is that so? If one
or two guards don’t show up to work, apparently hundreds of men must get
punished as a result. Jail is already cruel on many levels, particularly
the isolation and separation. Locking us up in cages for 24 hours a day
without showers is beyond the pale. Apparently, forcing us to stew in our
own filth for days on end counts as rehabilitation here in Canada.

To protest our treatment and assert our rights as human beings, we refused
to return our plastic trays after lunch yesterday. After protracted
negotiations with “blue-shirts” (low ranking corrections officers) a “white
shirt” (high ranking official) was brought in to deal with us. His
warning: if the guards did not receive our trays within 15 minutes he would
lock us up for another week and we would eat all meals out of bags.

After days of lockup, we decided to concede. Our only recourse at this
point is to write a letter to the ombudsman, a strategy that has proven to
be ineffective at changing anything. The end result: our rights are
violated and there is nothing we can do to improve our conditions without
suffering severe consequences.

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Please write to Joel! Let's make sure he feels loved and connected:

Joel Bitar
Central North Correctional Centre
1501 Fuller Ave.
Penetanguishene, ON
Canada
L9M 2H4

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Comments

I really enjoy Joel's reports. They are one of the more helpful and meaningful things I see on here. Thanks to whoever is doing the work to put them up here.

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