Bored But Not Broken: Occupying Vanier Prison – Mandy Hiscocks

What follows is an introductory letter and  a few reprints from Mandy Hiscock’s blog: Bored but Not Broken where she is sharing experiences and thoughts during her time at Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario. 

in 2009 and 2010 i was involved in organizing against the 2010 winter olympics and the G8/G20 summits. i was working with a lot of amazing people and – unfortunately – at least two undercover cops.

based on some incredible paranoid and twisted interpretations of the under-cover’s surveillance notes, arrest warrants were issued for 21 people on charges of conspiracy. i was arrested in the early morning of the first day of the G20 summit along with two friends, at gunpoint, in a Guns and Gangs unit raid on their home. over the next few weeks more alleged conspirators would be arrested, some would have their charges dropped, some would be released on bail. i spent a month in jail at Vanier Centre for women before being released on house arrest to six sureties who pledged a total of $140,000.

all of this happened in the context of a massive security operation in the lead-up to the summit and serious police violence during the protests. over 1000 people were detained, most never charged. inside the G20 meetings the “leaders” committed to the austerity measures currently wreaking havoc around the world.

our arrests also happened in the context of years of increasing collaboration and solidarity between indigenous people, migrant justice organizers, and anarchists. i believe this to be the real reason we were arrested – solidarity scares the state.

in the fall of 2011 we were offered a global resolution by the crown: everyone takes a deal, or everyone risks going to trial. while i would have loved to take the state to court, we decided that the best decision for the group was to take a deal. we negotiated the crown down to only six guilty pleas (to counselling not conspiracy) out of the 17 of us still facing charges. six of us would do time and 11 would go free. this was a difficult decision but we stuck together in a stressful and complicated situation. for more information on our deal and how we reached it go to conspiretoresist.wordpress.com.

so now i am back at Vanier until december 3rd. i’m trying to stay connected to organizing and my community, and to learn about the prison industrial complex while it has me in it’s clutches. this blog is an attempt to share what i learn and experience with people on the outside – i hope it’s useful.

My Statement to the Court
Published by mandy
Fri, 2012-01-13
08:29

[Today, Mandy was sentenced to 16 months in prison. During the sentencing hearing, she made this statement to the court, which was interrupted 8 times, by both the judge and the prosecutor. In the end, they spoke more during the time alloted to Mandy than Mandy spoke herself. A version which includes all of those comments will be posted separately.]

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to speak directly to a judge, and I have a lot to say. This is my first opportunity to speak since this entire process started last June so I hope you’ll hear me out until the end.

I plan to take about ten to fiteen minutes at most.

I don’t know you as a person or as a judge, so my comments are directed at the legal system in general.

I want to address some of the things you said on this matter in earlier sentencing hearings, particularly your references to the KKK.

When you sentenced Peter, Adam, Erik and Leah to jail, you stated that this is not political, it is about our tactics. You mentioned the KKK, and compared their actions to those of the non-violent civil disobedience protesters of the 60s. I agree with you that the tactics used by the KKK are reprehensible. I disagree with you that that kind of violence against people is anything remotely like the property damage that occurred on the streets of Toronto during the G20 summit.

Regardless, by focusing on the KKK’s tactics and not their politics you’ve missed the point entirely. The problem with the KKK isn’t only their tactics. It’s the fact that they’re a white supremacist group.

White supremacy is defined as “an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations; for the purpose of establishing, maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.”

I don’t think you disagree with me that there is a system of wealth, power and privilege in this country. I benefit from this system every day, and so do you. We benefit on the backs of others, most of whom are people of colour.

Systemic oppression is widespread in the legal system. Racial profiling affects who gets arrested in the first place, who gets charged and who gets sent home, whose charges the Crown decides to proceed with and whose they drop, who gets bail and who doesn’t. It’s not a secret that if you’re in custody during your trial, your chances of conviction are higher. And even if you do get out on bail, who gets compliance checks and who doesn’t means some people end up back in jail on a breach while others don’t. Who in this is more likely to plead guilty right away because they don’t have the time, tools or money to defend themselves?

The fact is that lawyers are expensive and your chance of conviction depends on how much time your lawyer is willing to put into your case. Most judges are white, and the jury selection process means that if you’re poor you’ll almost certainly not end up with a jury of your peers. And finally, sentencing relies on privilege (your education level, your chance of employment, your income, prior run-ins with the law, and so on.)

I don’t have proper statistics for all of the above, and anyway I know you know this stuff. I just want you to be aware that I know it too, and so do most of the people in this room today and in the video room.

However, here are some statistics that I do have: According to the federal correctional investigator, over the past decade there has been a 52 per cent leap in the proportion of black offenders in federal incarceration. Black people make up roughly 2.5 per cent of Canada’s population but 9.12 per cent of federal prisoners. In Ontario, 20 per cent of the federal prison population is black. Keeping in mind that people of colour have been hardest hit by the economic downturn and the conservative policies of our current government, and keeping in mind all the ways in which the legal system disadvantages people of colour, is it really any wonder?

My point is that a few broken windows and burned police cars at a protest will not lead us down the path of the KKK. The KKK targeted black people with overt violence and terror, and this system targets them with institutionalized racism, which is just a more subtle form of violence. In fact this legal system is doing the work of the KKK more than any anti-G20 protester ever could. It’s very telling that the KKK was comprised in large part of wealthy businessmen and lawmakers – the kinds of people our society and our legal system hold up as the best of the best. Perhaps this is why in 1987 Weatherman Linda Evans was sentenced to 40 years for using false ID to get a firearm and harbouring a fugitive, despite the average sentence for that being 2 years. In the same year, a KKK leader named Don Black, who was planning an invasion of Dominica with a boatload of explosives and automatic weapons, was sentenced to 8 years, 5 of which were suspended, so that he ended up serving 3.

White supremacy is wrong, it’s violent and dangerous, whether it’s at the hands of a fringe group like the KKK or an accepted institution like the criminal justice system.

**********

It’s not always what the “justice” system does that causes the problems, sometimes it’s what it doesn’t do. The courts simply do not consider systemic oppression and inequality.

In a book called The Red Lily, Anatole France stated that “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” The book was written in 1894 in France, but that statement still applies here, today.

A crime is a crime, you say, regardless of who committed it, and what leads people to crime doesn’t matter.

In 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada tried to address systemic injustice in their ruling on Regina vs Gladue. They stated that we need to acknowledge the circumstances of Indigenous people, the reasons they may wind up in the justice system, and the racist treatment and attitudes they encounter there. They recommended alternatives to prison sentences that mesh more with Indigenous cultures.

According to people who work in the field, many Indigenous accused still don’t know about Gladue reports or how to get them, and they aren’t always informed by their lawyers. Judges continue to resist the sentencing principles outlined at the conclusion of the Gladue case.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2008/2009, 10 years after the ruling, Aboriginal women represented 28% of all women remanded and 37% of women admitted to sentenced custody. Today Aboriginal women, though less than two per cent of the Canadian population, make up 34 per cent of female federal inmates.

My point being, I don’t have the power to change what happens in this legal system. I’m trying to indicate why I don’t respect this legal system.

**********

The crown wants this sentence to be a deterrent. It won’t be. Please take a second to have a good look around the room. When i get taken out of here do you think you’ll have increased anyone’s faith in the system?

I am certainly not deterred, I’m just angry.

No matter what my sentence is today, it won’t be about justice. Your system is not about justice. If it was, don’t you think we would have come to you when the G20 decided to set foot here to pursue their obviously unjust austerity agenda? Don’t you think we would have asked for your help when the police started to put up their fences and cages, and randomly arrest whoever they felt like so they could systematically abuse them in the detention centre?

If this system was about righting wrongs, don’t you think we would come to you to hold the rich to account for their abuses against the poor, immigration officials to account for their abuses against people without status, and settlers to account for our abuses against Indigenous people?

We didn’t and don’t come to you. We won’t ever come to you.

A court of real justice would defend people against aggressors. In this society, the privileged are the aggressors, but time after time you choose to protect their privilege and their property against people who are struggling to survive. You’re doing it wrong. Let’s not debate. The obvious answer to the violence and the chaos is the cops brought that. I’m going to try and finish.

This legal system that we have here is not equal, it’s not fair and its not just. And a lot of people out there believe that it is. What I would like to impart to you is that I don’t buy it and the statistics dont support it.

You speak of dignity, that everyone should be treated with dignity. I agree with you. But you can’t treat someone with dignity, or expect to be treated with dignity in return, while one person is up high and the other person is down low, while your boot is on their neck.

This is why we, myself and the people in the other room, don’t have decorum in this system.

Throughout this farcical legal process that’s coming to an end today the accused have been told that our actions were an attack on the rule of law, which is at the heart of our society. Well good. Our society is racist and colonial, its rooted in wealth and power, and so is the rule of law that upholds it.

And I’m going to leave this court room today, to quote Chilean anarchist Diego Rios:

“I am carrying all my hatred and contempt for power, its laws, its authority, its society, and I have no room for guilt or fear of punishment.”

Liberation
Published by mandy
Wed, 2012-02-01
21:14

the other day i opened a book appropriately entitled “liberation”.  on the very first page, written in pencil, was this:

Why I am here?

How long am I going to be here?

How do I get out of Prison?

Who put me here?

Who do I speak to, what do I say?

Who will help me?

What do I need?

What type of help do I need?

Where do I go? for help.

When do I get out?

When does someone tell me what I am supposed to do?

i can’t imagine how it must feel to be that isolated and disoriented in a place like this.  when i got here, i’d been preparing myself for two months – lots of time to get comfortable with the idea of incarceration, to put plans in place, to find out much of what i needed to know.  i’m fortunate, and privileged, to have tons of community support and friends who are skilled organizers with a lot of resources and access.  all of that has made it pretty easy for me to get my bearings and transition into life on the inside.

but it’s not like that for everyone here.  there’s a lot of uncertainty.  i can hear it constantly in snippets of conversation as people walk around the range, talk to their lawyers on the phone, and ask anxious questions to guards, nurses, social workers – anyone who might know anything that could help them.  i’ve met people who don’t know what exactly their next court date is for, or if their their surety should be there, or why their lawyer didn’t show up to represent them, or why they’re being deported.

the legal system is not user-friendly, and there’s no reason for that.  i think there should be an orientation to the process for people just getting to jail.  a regularly offered class, like the workshops on anger management, substance abuse, healthy relationships and so on that they run here.  or just a handbook.  hmm. . .i sense a project coming on, anyone interested in working with me on this?

as i think i mentioned in my last post, my “Earliest Discharge Date” is december 3, 2012.  that’s 2/3 of my 16 month sentence which will be all i’ll serve as long as i “earn full remission and protect it by proper behaviour”. . .how’s that for condescending?  most people end up serving no more than 2/3 of their sentence, it seems that improper behaviour has to be pretty bad (but don’t quote me on that, i don’t know for sure).  because the crown has not asked for a period of probation following sentence, on december 3 i will be completely out of the clutches of the criminal “justice” system.

if i fail to act appropriately, i could be held past december 3 but no later than may 12, 2013, which is my Warrant Expiring Date and marks the end of the 16 month sentence.  let’s not think about that.

that brings me to the last important date: june 22, 2012, which is my Parole Eligibility Date and marks 1/3 of my sentence.  despite rumours to the contrary, which i’m sorry to say i helped spread before arriving here, parole IS available for people doing up to two years less a day in provincial jails and isn’t only for people serving longer sentences in federal penitentiaries.  in fact, if your sentence is six months (181 days) or more, your right to a parole hearing is automatic.  if it’s less than that you have to apply in writing but it’s still possible.

the person to talk to about parole is the institution liaison officer (ILO).  one is available at every institution.  the ILO i spoke to was very nice, and explained that her role is to give me all the information i need and then to help me prepare for a hearing.  she gave me some pamphlets to look over which were very informative and slightly condescending, and a Parole Planning Guide which was slightly informative and very condescending.

if you’re interested in how parole works in provincial jails, check out www.opb.gov.on.ca.

for now, in case you’re thinking that me getting out on parole this summer sounds like a good idea and/or remotely possible, here are some of the highlights:

-the parole board “wants to discuss your offences with you and how you plan to keep yourself from committing a crime in the future.”  they want to see remorse, of which i have none.

-“the board will focus on whether or not your release will pose an undue risk to society”

– yes, that’s important because i was such a threat before – and “whether or not your release will help you to become a law abiding citizen.”  pardon me while i laugh uncontrollably for a moment.

-one of the “things you can do to increase the likelihood of parole” is “think about the decision you made that got you into trouble with the law and what you need to do to increase your chances of staying out of trouble if you are released.” <sigh> so many things to say about this, and they all lead to PAROLE ELIGIBILITY FAIL.

but here’s the real kicker: there are six mandatory standard conditions that come with parole.  if i breach any of them or am “convicted or charged” with another criminal offence before the end of my full sentence in may 2013, my parole could be suspended.  i could be forced back to Vanier to serve the rest of my time, which could even be extended past the 16 months if they decide not to count my time out on parole as time served.  the conditions are:

-report to your parole supervisor and local police as required;

-remain in Ontario;

-get permission from your parole supervisor before changing address or employment;

-carry your parole certificate at all times

okay, so far so good.  i suppose i could accept those.  but the last two are:

-obey and the law and keep the peace;

-not associate with any person who is engaged in criminal activity or who has a criminal record unless approved by your parole supervisor.

now there’s absolutely no way, after what happened to alex, that i trust the cops or the crown attorney’s office to not have me arrested on some bogus charge or breach and have me thrown back in here just because they can.  as for non-association conditions, i don’t expect i’ll ever sign those again.  it’s hard to believe they’re constitutional (i suspect they’re actually not) but easy to believe they’re designed to rip targeted communities apart, one conditional release at a time.  of all the mistakes i made since my arrest in the summer of 2010, agreeing to non-communication with my co-accused is the one i regret the most.

so thanks but no thanks.  i’ve decided to waive my right to a parole hearing so that when i walk out of here i will not be on any conditions and won’t be bound to the criminal “justice” system in any way.

this post is titled “liberation” so i’ll end with a shout-out to Erik, who’s spending his first week out of jail as i write this. of course, being freed from incarceration is not real freedom… none of us will have real freedom until we get our shit together and decide what we’re willing to give up for it.  but you all know that already.

in solidarity, with much love and thanks for all your letters,

mandy 🙂


Home, Home on the Range
Published by mandy
Fri, 2012-02-10
13:03

well, i’ve been here almost four weeks now, i’m all settled in and i’ve got the routine down.  so now it’s time for me to answer the question i get asked the most by folks on the outside: “so what do you do all day?”

come, spend a day on Unit 2F, in the maximum security wing of Vanier with me!

the lights come up in the cells around 7:45am.  this gives us about 15 minutes to get up, get dressed, and strip our bed (folding the sheets and blankets neatly in a pile at the end of the bed, as per the photo posted out on the range).  by the time the lights go on i’ve been up for at least an hour or two doing a full warm-up and stretch – conveniently remembered from my days of competitive gymnastics – while my cellie sleeps.  being up that early means i get to see who’s being taken out for court – they get taken at 6am so they can wait in holding cells for hours.  it’s inefficient and kind of mean.  anyway, around 8am the loud buzzing sound means the cells are now unlocked, and we head out to breakfast.  the cell door locks behind us.

here on maximum security we’re supposed to either all be in or all be out of our cells at any given time – we can’t go in and out throughout the day as we please.  one exception to this is right after breakfast, when the doors and the cleaning supply cupboards are opened and we’re allowed to take some time to clean our cells.

one cell out of the 16 on Unit 2F is a single – every other one is for two people.  they have:

-two beds (metal slabs with plastic covered replaceable mattresses on top)

-a shelf at the end of each bed for our stuff

-a desk and stool

-a sink and toilet

-two mirrors, one of which is functional

-a window in the door that looks out onto the range (my cell has the best view.  we can see everything – the guards, the TV, the clock)

-a window in the wall that we can’t see through but it does let in some light

-one property box (big tupperware) each for us to store things in – usually things that need to be taken out to the range like paper and pencils, book, sweater and so on

okay, so where were we?  oh, right, cleaning the cell.  we sweep and mop the floor, and clean the desk, sink and toilet.  unlike last time i was here in the summer of 2010, there’s cleaning solution now.  but still no rags or mop heads, so we use sanitary napkins and dirty towels.  we clean a lot.  i mean, who washes the toilet and mops the floor every single day? we do.  it’s not like we have any big plans for the day or anything.

at some point during chores one of the guards yells “supplies!” and we line up so they can pass soap, shampoo, tampons, etc. through a hatch.  if you want a new toothbrush you have to bring the old one so they can see you toss it in the garbage. same goes for the deodorant and toothpaste containers, and the toilet paper rolls – i’m not joking.  shortly before or shortly after supplies the nurse arrives and anyone taking meds lines up.  they’re passed through the hatch, too, and when you’ve swallowed you have to open your mouth to show the nurse you’re not stashing them in there.

sometime after chores the cell doors are locked and the rest of the morning is spent on the range.  the range is the common area that the cells open onto.  it’s very institutional with walls made of those big bricks and painted off-white like a high school gym, and a linoleum floor.  eight tables with four seats each are bolted to the floor near the front of the range, closest to where the guards sit watching us from behind the glass.  high up on the wall is a TV that gets turned on in the afternoons and evenings during the week and all day on weekends.  three very well-used phones are lined up against one wall.  there are two bathrooms and at the back end of the range are two showers that get unlocked whenever we’re locked out of our cells.  the bathrooms and showers don’t lock so there’s a little sliding window you can use to see if anyone’s inside.  there’s also a laundry room but only guards and range workers go in there.

out on the range people chat, play cards, do crossword puzzles and sudukos and word finds, draw and colour, write letters and poems and journal entries, and talk on the phone.  there are usually a few people walking around the range in circles, and sometimes people do step or sit-ups or stretch.

between 11 and 11:30 lunch arrives, and after lunch we get locked in our cells until around 2pm.  “quiet time” – yes, like at daycare!  some guards even dim the lights.  this is a good time to get things done – i usually work on the blog or write letters and read.  people have been sending me some really interesting things for which i’m really grateful.  this is also a good time for a game with my cellie – lately we have been playing a lot of scrabble.  if i’m feeling ambitious i do pushups or burpees, but that doesn’t really happen very often.

when the cells unlock around 2pm we’re back on the range until dinner (which comes ridiculously early – between 4 and 4:30pm).  this is the time of Really Bad TV: Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Silent Library, Scare Tactics.  it’s painful, and hard to get away from, but i’m getting better at tuning it out.

after dinner we’re locked up again until 6pm, and then we’re back out on the range until 7:30. in and out, in and out.  nothing much happens in the evening.  request forms are handed out (these are to be filled out by inmates who want to speak to someone, like a doctor or social worker or the Elizabeth Fry Society) and the nurse comes to dispense evening meds.  at 7:30 we go back to our cells for the night and hope the lights don’t get dimmed too soon. . .because some guards will dim them as early as 8:30.  i guess sometimes they forget we’re adults.  anyway the lights don’t really go out – all night they’re only dim – and i can still read in the only-slightly-darkness, so it’s not too bad for me.  at some point before my cellie falls asleep i make my bed, do a bit of yoga and am usually in bed by 10pm.  it’s easy to sleep eight hours a night here. . .i know some of you are jealous!

but really, don’t be jealous, it’s actually not very fun.  every day is basically the same, with a few exceptions:

-wednesdays and sundays: clothing exchange.  we get clean clothes, towels and bedsheets

-saturdays: the canteen order arrives

-sundays: we submit next week’s canteen order form.  we get our free issue: four pieces of lined paper and two envelopes that the jail mails out for free

there are the occasional very welcome interruptions of yard time, mail distribution and visits. and the less fun but still distracting chats with the institution’s professionals and community workers.  now that i’m settled i don’t really see any of those people anymore.  i also don’t go to programs (Anger Management, Better Choices, Healthy Relationships etc.) or go to the Chapel or Bible study, although a lot of inmates do.  mostly i try to write a couple of letters and make a phone call every day, work regularly on the weekly blog post, and do three 40 minute walks around the range daily.

something good happens at least once a day.  i get a visit, or mail, or i chat on the phone with someone i miss.  still, i often go to bed at night feeling that the day can’t possibly be over because nothing has happened yet, i haven’t really done anything.  it’s not like i never felt this way on the outside – i just feel it way more often here. i remind myself that it’s probably how a lot of people feel who work shitty, meaningless jobs then go home and watch shitty, meaningless TV – but that doesn’t make it better, just more sad.

because there’s so little to do, i find it helps to keep everything separate and focus on one thing at a time. walking is walking and it happens inside.  breathing fresh air happens outside.  so don’t walk around outside, just breathe.  don’t walk and read, or read while you eat!  walk, then read, then eat – it takes longer.  don’t take the cell’s garbage bag out on the way to breakfast – wait and do it during chores – it’ll be an extra trip!  i’m not sure if this is what people mean when they talk about mindfulness and focusing on the present, but it definitely feels different than my usual hurry-up-save-time multi-tasking lifestyle.  i hope to be able to keep it up to some extent when i get out.

and speaking of getting out. . . Adam has been released from Penetang!  i hope you’re enjoying your first week back on the outside, Adam.  slowly but surely the state is relaxing its grip on us 🙂

Thanks to Ali Sauer for all of her amazing work on Mandy’s blog and on this submission to NMP.

To read more about Mandy’s experiences in Vanier, please visit her blog:
http://boredbutnotbroken.tao.ca/ 

Donate money to help Mandy cover costs associated with jail here:
http://boredbutnotbroken.tao.ca/fundraising 

To send her letters and to visit or call, click here and here.