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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Pages 34 & 35.

Part onePart two.

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TERRY Decker, Thirty-Six, Was Attacked and Taken Hostage During The 1971 riot. ‘First they moved us into an air duct. They kept us there for a couple of hours. Then they started locking us away, three to a cell. They made us take off our uniforms and put on inmate clothing. They figured there wouldn’t be any trouble if the people outside didn’t know who was an inmate and who wasn’t. They moved us every couple of hours from one range to another. I don’t know if they did it to confuse our guys, or the inmates who might have wanted to get at us.’

The hostages were treated with an unpredictable mixture of violence and consideration. ‘I was punched pretty good,’ says Decker. ‘They flattened a disc in my back and burst a blood vessel in my eyeball.’ At the same time, he and the other hostages were given double rations. ‘If the inmates got one sandwich, we got two. And tobacco – we had more than we could ever have smoked. I have no complaints there.’ Decker was released as a show of good faith during the negotiations. He’d been held for forty hours. ‘As I was coming out, one lifer said to me, ‘It pays not to be a dog, eh?’

Four months after the incident, he returned to work. He required extensive physiotherapy and cortisone shots in the spine, but since 1973 his health has been sound. Of the six guards held hostage, Decker is the only one who still works in security – he’s now at Collins Bay penitentiary. Two of the hostages have died; one quit; one took a medical pension; one works as a groundskeeper at Millhaven. Only a portion of the prison has been restored. Several ranges have never been reopened, and the top two tiers of the functioning ranges remain sealed off. Prior to posing for this photograph, Decker had not set foot in the part of the prison where he was held hostage since the riot ten years ago. ‘I was in fear for my life all the time.’

‘THERE’S No Call For This Trade Outside,’ Says The Instructor In the Mail bag repair shop, where these inmates were photographed during a coffee break, ‘but it helps the guys do their time and provides a few dollars for upkeep.’ Last year inmates in the shop repaired five thousand bags a week. The penitentiary earns a dollar for each mailbag it repairs, but eighty four cents goes to materials. Work programmes at Kingston – like hobby and recreational activities – are curtailed by outdated facilities. The only work of rehabilitative value is data processing. Inmates are coding the records of the National Museum of Science and Technology into computer banks. ‘We’re going to get a lot more terminals,’ says Andrew Graham, the warden. ‘It’s a popular programme, and it’s a skill that’s very much in demand on the street.’

Inmates used to be paid a pittance. Last May, however, the federal pay scale was revised to coincide with civilian minimum wage rates, less the eighty-five percent of income that Statisticcs Canada calculates a single man would spend on food, lodging, and clothes. Depending on the nature of his work, a prisoner in a federal institution came between $3.15 and $5.90 a day in maximum security, $3.70 and $6.45 in medium, and $4.80 and $7.55 in minimum. Twenty-five per cent of his pay is withheld as compulsory savings. An inmate serving a lengthy sentence now has the opportunity of returning to civilian life with a few thousand dollars, rather than a few hundred.

There are good reasons for the graduate pay scale. The first is the cost of incarceration. To keep an inmate in maximum security costs $35,800 a year, versus $22,600 for medium security and $18,400 for minimum. (In a community correctional centre – where inmates work at civilian jobs and return to custody each night – the cost is $11,500. The cost of parole is $1,600 a year.) The graduated pay scale also encourages inmates to behave well in order to qualify for an institution with a lower security rating – and a higher pay scale.

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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Pages 32 & 33.


Part one. Part three.
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‘THE Cells Are Opened at 7 In the Morning,’ Says An Inmate Sentenced To life. ‘Breakfast is at 7.30. You go the kitchen by ranges, then back to your cell with your tray. You’re locked in with your food until 8 while the medication trolley comes around. From 8 to 11 you work. Back to your cell at 11, lunch and maybe a sleep until 1, then back to work until 3:30. Supper, until 6. After supper, you can be out on the range, playing cards or watching TV. Or you can go to the exercise yard in summer, the gym in winter. Lockup is 11 o’clock. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.’

Routine, repetition, numbing boredom. The inmate’s lot is grim; but less so than it once was. One of the major reforms of the past decade is a programme of family visits. At present these are restricted to maximum-security institutions (whose inmates are ineligible for the termporary absences available to medium- and minimum-security inmates), although they may soon be extended to medium-security prisons. The programme was introduced last year at Millhaven, where a white mobile home stands inside the security fences. There is a small fenced yard for children, with swings and a teeter-totter. The authorities provide food and other necessities. The purpose of the programme, an official explains, is ‘to keep the family together, to maintain some continuity so the inmate’s got something to go back to. It’s not to dangle a carrot for good behaviour. It’s not even to cut down on homosexuality in the institution – those are side effects.’ A similar programme was started in Attica in New York State three years ago. ‘It’s early to make any sweeping statements,’ says the official, ‘but the people there the recividism among the men who got visits is way, way down.’

At Kingston, there is no programme of conjugal visits. Inmate’s contact with family and friends consists of letters and supervised visits. The inmate above asked to be photographed so that his girlfriend could have his picture.

WITH Waxed Moustached, Medal Ribbons, and Military Bearing, Tom Rathwell, the supervising keeper (or head guard) at Kingston, appears as anachronistic as the penitentiary itself. In fact, he is respected – even liked – by virtually all the inmates. ‘I don’t know who they’ll get when he goes on retirement,’ says a bank robber. ‘I mean, he’s a man you can trust. I remember one time we had a sit-down strike in the gym. The guys wanted to kill the warden – they had iron bars and they were ugly. Then, after a day-and-a-half, the door opened – boom! – and in walked Tom Rathwell, right in among us. He went around to all the ringleaders and wagged a finger under their noses – ‘This is your doing, don’t think I don’t know that.’ He made them feel like kids. After that, we all caved in.’

A veteran of the Second World War, Rathwell, sixty-one, joined the penitentiary service in 1947. Except for a few months at Millhaven, he has spent his entire career at Kingston. ‘Things were much tougher before ‘71,’ he says. ‘Everything was very military. Men marched everywhere in lines, they weren’t allowed to dress sloppily, they had to be very polite with the guards. If they called you by your first name, you were supposed to charge them. It didn’t help. You can’t treat people like that. I try to be straight with them. If they ask about their parole, or what their chances are of a move, and I don’t think they have a hope, I tell them. If you say, ‘That’s up to the classification officers,’ it just makes them mad.’

A Kingston inmate handed a note to the photographer and asked that it be given to the writer. The note reads, ‘While speaking with Mr. Rathwell the other day he made a comment which I thought worth passing on to you. He seldom uses bad language, but this is what he said: ‘They told me when I started here thirty-four years ago to treat all prisoners alike. It was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now.’

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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Cover and Pages 30 & 31.

Part two. Part three.

By TED WOOD

On the evening of Wednesday, April 14, 1971, half of the nearly 600 inmates of the maximum security penitentiary at Kingston, Ontario, were in the gymnasium. At 10:30, the gymnasium guard began assembling the men into batches of twenty – the occupants of a single tier on one range. His procedure was to unlock the gym door for each group in turn, passing the twenty inmates to Terry Decker, the guard in the corridor. ‘It was the same as any night,’ recalls Decker. ‘ Just routine. Until two of them jumped me.’ The most infamous prison riot in Canadian history had begun. Inmates had control of the institution for nearly four days. They took guards as hostages, destroyed much of the interior of he penitentiary, tortured, maimed and murdered protective custody inmates.

The Kingston riot was followed by unrest and disturbances at other prisons in the early and mid 1970s. Francis Fox, then the solicitor general, ordered a parliamentary investigation. In 1977, the parliamentary sub-committee, chaired by Mark MacGuigan, tabled a report that began. ‘A crisis exists in the Canadian penitentiary system,’ and went on to offer sixty-five recommendations for large-scale reform.

A majority of those recommendations have now been implemented. Reforms include the upgrading of qualifications for correctional officers; the wearing of name identification by prison staff; the employment of women on the same basis as men; the use of independent chairpersons to preside over disciplinary hearings; the provision of ‘adequate material for legal research’ in institutional librariries; a grievance system for inmates, and a system for electing inmate committees; an end to the use of Mace and tear gas except when absolutely necessary; and a system of work incentives based on labour productivity. Several other major reforms have been effected as well. Robert Kaplan, the present solicitor general, has put an end to censorship of reading material (’There’s no reason why people on the inside shouldn’t get everything that’s available on the outside’ – revolutionary manuals excepted). Inmates are now permitted open visits, and a programme of conjugal visits is being tested at one Ontario penitentiary. Whipping was abolished the year after the Kingston riot, and punitive diets were done away with in 1979.

These reforms are most evident at modern institutions such as Warkworth, a medium-security facility in Ontario whose warden is a women and whose ‘living units’ bring to mind college accommodation – except for the seatless toilet in each cell. Kingston, by contrast, is the oldest and perhaps the most oppressive of the country’s fifty-three federal institutions. Opened in 1835, it was built originally of wood, and modelled on the prison at Auburn, New York. The first inmates constructed the existing limestone prison. Kingston was due to be phased out when the riot took place; ironically, one cause of the riot was inmate anxiety about being transferred to Millhaven, a new maximum-security prison near Bath, Ontario.

Today, once again, Kingston’s days are numbered. A maximum-security facility under constriction at Renous, New Brunswick, should be in operation by 1986. Kingston will likely then become a msueum. In the meantime it remains a monument to the day when illiterate guards enforced a rule of absolute silence, twelve-year-old prisoners were regularly flogged, and anyone who condemned to its dismal confined forfeited all claim to human decency.

Andrew Graham, the Acting Warden of Kingston, Is A Former Inmate Counsellor at Warkworth. He hold’s a Master’s degree in political economy. When he came to Kingston in 1979, the facility was being used primarily as a reception centre. All new federal inmates in the Ontario region came here for assessment before being assigned to an institution with the appropriate level of security. ‘The criterion is what we usually refer to as dangerosity,’ says Art Trono, regional director of Correctional Services of Canada. ‘At a minimum-security prison you may have inmates doing life for murder, and in maximum you may have young guys doing the bare two years.’ (Inmates serving less than two years are incarcerated in provincial institutions.)

Last spring Kingston ceased to serve as the regional reception centre. It reverted to a maximum-security institution, and is used exclusively for protective-custody inmates. These are men who, at another prison, would have to be segregated from the general population for their own safety because their crimes are considered heinous by other inmates, because of prison debts, or because of their reputation as ‘snitches.’ In some ways the Kingston inmates are more easily managed than other prison populations. ‘Most of these guys don’t want to see a riot or any big flareups,’ a guard explains, ‘so they very quietly rat on anything that looks dangerous. For instance, we’re generally tupped off when a bunch of home-brew’s being prepared. Guys realize that if somebody gets drunk, he’s likely to start thinking that’s somebody else’s crime is dirtier than his.’

‘Without this move,’ says Graham, ‘bringing together all the protective custody people into one institution, they’d be deproved of the programmes open to them here. In the average institution, the PC population is a small, locked-away group that lives in fear. Here they can mingle with comparative safety. After all, they’re all tarred with the same brush. They live and let live.’

[Ted Wood fills his own writing with all the tired clichés of mainstream journalism on prison, and the photo used on the cover is 100% racist ‘look at the scary Native man’ bait, but the rest of the photos are pretty great.]

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