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“Prisoner work camps run in military style under study by N.S.,” The Globe and Mail. October 13, 1983. Page 10.

SYDNEY, N.S. – SYDNEY, N.S. (CP) – Most people convicted in Nova Scotia courts lack discipline, pride and motivation and those who aren’t dangerous would benefit from work camps run in army fashion, Attorney-General Harry How said yesterday.

Mr. How said his department will consider the idea of work camps for convicts when it takes over the operation of correctional centres from municipalities next year.

The minister told delegates to the annual conference of the Atlantic Provinces Criminology and Corrections Association that jailing “the disadvantaged person who turned to crime” brings him in touch with dangerous criminals who are likely to be the worst influence.

But probation is not the answer either, Mr. How said, because “they would be going back to the same underdisciplined and unmotivating environment that got them into trouble in the first place.” In 1979, he recommended developing a special corps of the Canadian Forces for non-dangerous criminals, but the Defence Department did not like the idea. “Some said it would reflect badly on the armed services,” the minister recalled.

Mr. How said he still believes the idea is a good one and if it cannot be implemented at the national level he will pursue it in Nova Scotia. “We have to motivate people and we have to give them the vision without which they would perish. ’‘These people aren’t bad. These people need somebody, some mechanism, or some program to give them a new sense of worth and a new sense of motivation.” Mr. How said the program could be run by a former army officer who would give criminals the disclipline and physical work they need to develop strong bodies. High school and trades teachers would be available to “excite their minds.” The program could develop projects in forestry, park development and the cutting of fuel wood for senior citizens, but would not intrude on the regular job market, Mr. How said.

Dennis Finlay, a spokesman for the Correctional Services Canada, said he knew of no one in the federal department developing a similar program of work camps.

But Mr. Finlay noted that the federal service already has forestry camps in Nova Scotia for inmates and is looking at eventually setting up an isolated penal community, which he said may be modelled on an island penal community in Mexico.

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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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“‘Super Max’ – It’s a solitary life of misery for convicts in special unit,” Globe and Mail. September 12, 1980. Page 05.

By VICTOR MALAREK

One at a time a few extremely dangerous convicts trudge out of their cells to exercise by themselves for an hour.

They are being punished, and for about a month their life will be sheer misery in a prison within a prison because they have no physical contact with other prisoners or with their keepers.

But their woes will not end after those 30-odds days of strict solitary confinement. Then they start a long stretch of living under intense security, segregated from the rest of the prisoners.

Their world will revolve around a tiny cell constructed completely of steel, cramped recreation areas that are monitored by cameras and close contact with prisoners, who like themselves, are some of the most violent criminals in the country.

Their world is known as the special handling unit or ‘special max.’ There are only two in Canada – one at Millhaven penitentiary in Bath, Ont., and the other at the correctional development centre in Laval, Que.

According to Millhaven’s warden, John Ryan, the units are used to protect prison society from those convicts who are bent on using violence on both the guards and fellow prisoners.

Rehabilitative value is nonexistent
Until a few weeks ago, the total population at the two units was about 50. That figure got a sudden spurt of new blood as nine inmates, who took part in the hostage-taking incident at Laval penitentiary in Quebec, were transferred to the unit at the Laval centre.

Criminologists, psychologists and prisoners alike maintain that the units have no rehabilitative value.

Pierre Landreville, a professor of criminology at the University of Montreal, said the way the units are run ‘right now, they are inhuman. I think I would have to say their only function is to break the spirit.’

But he added that he thought the units are necessary because ‘some of these people are quite dangerous.’

Fred Sweet, chairman of the prisoners’ committee at Millhaven, said in a recent interview at the penitentiary that the units should be eliminated.

‘Some of the guys they (the administrations) put into SHU are potentially dangerous convicts, but once they’re put in, you remove the potential and then they are dangerous,’ Mr. Sweet said, pounding his clenched fist – the letters F, R, E, and D tattooed on his knuckles – on a bare wooden table.

Bryan Reynolds, a 29-year-old convict serving life for murder at Millhaven, described the unit as ‘a breeding ground for violent animals.’

‘Think of living in a room the size of a toilet (bathroom) day after day after day for months on end, only the cell is worse than a…doghouse. You’d get charged by the humane society for treating dogs the way convicts are treated in SHU,’ Mr. Reynolds said angrily. He has spent nine months in the unit.

Mr. Sweet maintained that if the prisoners were treated with ‘human dignity in the first place, SHU would not be necessary.’

Dragan Cernetic, former warden of the British Columbia penitentiary, who now works in operations at Correctional Service of Canada headquarters in Ottawa, hotly defended the units in a recent interview.

‘There are only two ways you can deal with violent inmates. You can impose stringent security on, the whole prison population or you can segregate three or four of the trouble-makers in a place where they can…rot as far as I’m concerned.’

Mr. Cernetic said the kind of convict he would recommend for incarceration in a special handling unit ‘is a man who I could not take home for dinner and feel safe with him.’

On a recent tour of the unit at Millhaven rarely given to outsiders, David Page, the officer in charge of the unit, tersely described the living conditions.

‘All the cells have been completely converted to steel. A steel desk, steel walls, steels sinks, and steel toilets. All the steel is painted. The beds are bolted to the walls.’

During the visit, the convicts were locked in their cells behind massive steel doors. Lunch was being passed to them through a hole in the middle of the door. Intense security was ever present through a maze of electronically controlled steel portals.

Every movement outside the cells is closely monitored either visually or by television cameras. Guards patrol the cell block about every 45 minutes when the men are locked in their cells and peep through a tiny glass opening in the doors to ensure nothing is amiss.

Red panic buttons, in case of trouble, prominently protrude from the walls in every cubicle in the ranges.

One hour a day to exercise alone
On the Phase I block, the tightest security area, a convict’s wiry hand jutted out of a hole in the door where meals are passed. Another prisoner yelled for a guard. ‘Can you come here for a mine. It’s important. I want to discuss my welfare.’

In Phase I, Mr. Page said, inmates get out of their cells one at a time for only an hour a day to exercise.

Conditions improve as the prisoners graduate to Phase 2 and 3, where periods outside the cells and contact with inmates is increased to a little more than six and eight hours a day respectively.

It’s in those latter phases, ‘other than the fact that their movement is contained, the prisoners are a lot better off in some cases than the other inmates. The other inmates don’t have television in their cells,’ Mr. Page said.

A couple of cells have been converted into recreation rooms and mini-gyms where inmates can either play guitars, listen to music or pound out their frustrations on a heavy punching bag.

Inmates can also go outside occassionally to a yard aptly referred to by the guards and prisoners as a ‘cloister.’ They get movies twice a week.

James Hayes, a psychologist at Millhaven, said that sicne the program was started at the penitentiary ‘we’ve had no returnees. The recidivism rate is nil.

Mr. Hayes said that ‘the inmates knows very clearly what he has to do to get his release back to the normal prison population.’

The operative word is co-operation. Inmates must not be mouthy to the guards and must show they can get along with their fellow inmates in the unit.

No limit is placed on the number of visits by family members to inmates in the unit, but the convict and visitor are separated by a cage, glass and screens.

‘The visits are inhuman,’ said Mr. Sweet. ‘The prisoner sits in a cage while he visits with his family. It’s degrading.’

Of his stay in the unit, Mr. Reynolds said the intense security ‘bothers you at first but you get used to it…We’re human beings. What they’re doing in SHU is illegal…(It) is morally illegal because it is cruel and unusual punishment.’

Frank Steel, a member of the three-man board at the Correctional Service of Canada in Ottawa that decides who goes into units, said inmates who take hostages during an escape attempt are almost automatically sent there.

Other infractions leading to an incarceration are murder or or assault on a prison guard or another convict.

‘SHU candidates are those who are determined to be dangerous…inmates perceived to be particularly violent while under sentence,’ Mr. Steel said.

Confinement in the units is relatively free of bureaucratic red tape. A warden holds an in-penitentiary review of the cases and makes a recommendation that goes to regional headquarters and then to the special handling unit in Ottawa.

The board is made up of the deputy comminisioner of security, the head of offender programs and the director-general of medical services.

‘Once we recommend SHU, the case is reviewed monthly at the institution and every six months at national headquarters. Every six months we go to the SHUs and interview those inmates who wish to be interviewed. Usually they all want to be interviewed,’ Mr. Steel said.

Cases reviewed every month
‘We talk about thee progress he’s been making and sometimes give him an indication of when he can expect to be released to the normal population. Our biggest complaint (from the inmates) is the perceived capriciousness of the system and the uncertainty of when an inmate can expect to be released.’

The average stay in the unit is between 18 months and two years, Mr. Steel said.

One convict, who was involved the hostage-taking incident at the B.C. Penitentiary in June, 1975, in which Mary Steinhauser, a classification officer, was killed by prison guards, was released last June from the Millhaven unit.

Paul Caouette, executive secretary of the Union of Solicitor-General Employees, vehemently defended the use of the units, ‘especially when it involves the safety of the guards.’

Mr. Caouette warned that if politicians ever fell to the demands of prisoners’ rights groups of convicts to ban the units, they would see a rapid dwindling in the number of guards.

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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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“Lisa Neve was once Canada’s most dangerous woman. In 1994, she was jailed indefinitely and became one one of only four Canadian women in history to be given a dangerous offender designation.

She hasn’t spoken publicly since that dangerous offender status was controversially overturned back in 1999 and she was released. On Tuesday she sat in front of a Senate committee to testify on the human rights of prisoners in the federal correctional system.

The Senate committee on human rights is conducting a “comprehensive cross-country study” and was in Edmonton for what it calls a “fact-finding mission,” looking into what really goes on inside local correctional facilities.

“I want people to know you can’t take away someone’s life and tell them they are unredeemable at 21 years old,” Neve told Global News in an interview. “I’m not Canada’s most dangerous woman. I’m Lisa Neve. I’m a sister, a partner, a friend.”

Neve has more than 20 convictions on her record ranging from forcible confinement to aggravated assault. She said the convictions stem from five incidents.

She left home when she was just 12 years old and was in and out of correctional centres starting at the age of 15. Neve lived with mental health issues and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She said being put on medications to help regulate the illness changed her life.

“I’ve had a crazy life,” Neve said. “When the judge said my sentence expires at my natural time of death, that was the most profound thing.”

Neve said knowing she would never get her life back inspired her to make a change. She said she was also deeply affected by victim impact statements given in court.

“There are all of these people testifying about all of these horrible things you’ve done and it makes you feel less than human,” she said. “You hurt these people with no regard until it’s too late. You can’t say sorry.”

Neve said she heard similar stories while going through a victim-reconciliation program while she was incarcerated.

“It has an immense impact on the way you feel,” she said. “You don’t know the impact until you hear a full story.”

Neve testified that the program helped her to change her life around and would see benefits if more programs like it are introduced in more correctional facilities.

What she doesn’t want to see more of is dangerous offender designations, especially for women.

“It’s got to stop,” she said. “Women who have been declared dangerous offenders, if you put them up against a man it’s so vastly different.”

“If a woman acts violent it’s appalling,” Neve continued. “It’s like they’ve gone against every gender [stereotype] available.”

It’s something Senator Kim Pate, who is on the Human Rights Committee, agrees with, while pointing out that the majority of dangerous offenders in Canada are Indigenous, like Neve, who is Métis.

“We should really take pause because many of them have histories of abuse,” Pate said.

According to Correctional Service Canada, in 2016, 681 people were serving sentences with a dangerous offender designation.

In response to 1969’s Ouimet report, the federal government repealed the habitual offender and dangerous sexual offender rules in 1977 and introduced the current dangerous offender system.

“I think we need a similar review,” Pate said, adding it should include long-term sentences along with “people who have been sentenced [at] essentially every other stage in our society.””

– Quinn Ohler,

“Former dangerous offender Lisa Neve speaks about her once notorious designation: ‘You lose all hope’.” Global News, August 8, 2018.

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“What do we remember as a society, and what – or whom – do we forget?

This week, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson announced plans for what he called the “exciting redevelopment” of the former Prison for Women (P4W) by the developer ABNA Investment Ltd. For months, ABNA has been in negotiations with Queen’s University to buy the former prison, located at the edge of the downtown core and near Lake Ontario.

But not everyone is excited by the idea of turning a prison into a playground for the rich. Since moving to Kingston, I have been meeting regularly with a group of formerly incarcerated women and allies in a group called the P4W Memorial Collective.

The goal of the Collective is to create a memorial garden to honour the women who died in P4W. The group has organized healing circles, film screenings and a letter of solidarity with more than 200 signatories. But they have been largely shut out of meetings to discuss the future – and even the past – of P4W. Where are the voices and perspectives of formerly incarcerated women in the conversation about commercial development and heritage preservation? And where does the memorial garden fit into the plans for redevelopment?

Working with the P4W Memorial Collective has taught me a lot about the history of the prison, which was Canada’s only federal penitentiary for women from 1934-2000. That means no matter where you lived or where your support network was located, if you were a woman sentenced to two years or more in Canada, you would be sent to Kingston to serve your time.

Numerous reports acknowledge that conditions at P4W were harsher than most men’s prisons, including Kingston Penitentiary. Just four years after P4W opened in 1934, the Archambault Report recommended its closure owing to “disgraceful” conditions. More than 40 years later, the MacGuigan Report called for the closure of P4W once again, declaring the prison “unfit for bears, much less for women.” Still, the prison remained open.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, experiments with LSD and electroconvulsive therapy were conducted on women at P4W, leading to a 1998 lawsuit. Even after such controversial research ended and more ethical standards for research were implemented, professors and graduate students at Queen’s and other universities continued to learn from women incarcerated at P4W, often in ways that did not benefit the women themselves. Careers have been launched on the backs of incarcerated women, even as these women remained confined in a cold, decrepit institution. And if they died without family to bury them, their bodies were either buried in a nameless grave or donated to Queen’s Medical School for anatomy lessons.

Between December, 1988, and February, 1991, seven women committed suicide at P4W. Six of these women were Indigenous. A protest broke out in April, 1994, and was suppressed by an all-male Institutional Emergency Response Team who stripped the women naked and left them shackled on the floor for six hours. The whole thing was caught on videotape and broadcast on The Fifth Estate. The final nail in the coffin for P4W was the Arbour Report in 1996, which led to the prison’s closure in 2000 and the creation of smaller, regionally based federal prisons for women.

Seven years after the closure of P4W, Queen’s University purchased the prison for a reported $2.8-million. Initially, the plan was to move the university archives into the former prison. But it turns out that a building unfit for bears is also unfit for valuable documents.

As Gayle K. Horii, a former prisoner at P4W, argued in a 1994 article called Disarm the Infamous Thing, the prison is a former site of state violence. But without a public memorial to acknowledge the women who lived and died at P4W, the prison is not visible as an “infamous thing.” It’s just another piece of real estate to be bought, sold and developed in response to the market’s demands.”

– Lisa Guenther, “What is lost when we pave over a prison.” The Globe & Mail, July 6, 2018.

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