Posts Tagged ‘prison for women’

“Two Mercer Escapees Nabbed In Hamilton,” The Globe and Mail. October 19, 1948. Page 05.

While crews of police cruisers searched the King St. W. vicinity of Mercer reformatory yesterday, two escaping women inmates calmly took a streetcar to the western city limits.

There, an obliging motorist, not noticing their white institutional smocks, drove them to the Humber River approach to the Queen Elizabeth Highway.

A cache of clothing, believed by police have been arranged by friends, enabled the escaping women to rid themselves of the reformatory apparel. A second motorist picked them up and took them to Hamilton, where, less than three hours after their escape, they were arrested.

The two, Camille Dinwoodle, 38, of Toronto, and Audrey Greenfield, 27, of Hamilton, were detailed yesterday afternoon to move garbage. They moved the garbage out and kept going. The matron saw them heading for freedom, gave chase and lost them. The pair clambered over a fence to railway tracks and escaped down the right-of-way.

While police searched, the couple took a streetcar to Sunnyside. Two rides later, they were in Hamilton at Mulberry and Railway Streets where detectives, alerted by Toronto police, picked them up.

‘Where did you get those coats?’ Hamilton police asked the women. They got no satisfactory answer. They will be returned to Toronto today.
Hamilton, October 18 (Staff). – Whether they objected to putting out the garbage or whether they wanted to see the profusion of autumn color along Hamilton’s Mountain, Camille Dinwoodle and Audrey Greenfield didn’t say when they were picked up.

Det.-Sgts. Clarence Preston and Orrie Young, informed of the girls’ escape by radio, were cruising in the Mulberry St. area when Det.-Sgt. Preston, who knew one of the girls, saw them. They made no attempt to escape when approached by the police officers.

They were lodged in Barton St. Jail, and will be returned to Mercer tomorrow.

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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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Prison for Women, Kingston, c. 1980s. Kodak colour photo sheet, stumbled upon in the archives. 

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P4W Memorial Garden – Solidarity Letter

March 21, 2018

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The P4W Memorial Collective requests your endorsement of our campaign to create a memorial garden to honour the women who died in the Kingston Prison for Women (P4W) on a small plot of land (12’ x 12’) adjacent to the front administration building.

Our Collective is composed of women from many different walks of life, but we have especially welcomed women with lived experience in prison or with connections to prisoners through community groups like E. Fry Kingston, the Native Sisterhood and Native Brotherhood, local religious ministries, and prisoner justice activism. Our main purpose is to honour the memory of women who died inside P4W, but we also want to raise awareness that, long after the closure of P4W, women are still dying in custody and suffering inhumane treatment in prisons across Canada.

The Federal Prison for Women in Kingston is one of the most notorious prisons in Canadian history. Just four years after it opened in 1934, the Archambault Report recommended its closure due to “disgraceful” conditions. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, experiments with LSD and electroconvulsive therapy were conducted on women at P4W, leading to a 1998 lawsuit against Dr. Mark Eveson (a Queen’s graduate). In 1964, a Queen’s M.A. student, Judith Martin, successfully defended a thesis on “Pain Tolerance and Narcotic Addiction” based on research on prisoners at P4W; she co-published the results of her research with Queen’s professor, James Inglis in 1965. In 1977, 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.  Between December 1988 and February 1991, seven women at the P4W committed suicide; six of these women were Indigenous. It was not until after Madame Justice Arbour’s 1994 condemnation of the disconnect between human rights, the rule of law and operational reality in P4W, that the process of transferring prisoners across the country to the six newly built institutions began in earnest.  The prison finally closed in 2000.

Seven years later, Queen’s University purchased the P4W site for a reported $2.8 million. The site is currently for sale, and we are concerned that it may be developed for commercial purposes that erase or trivialize its history. In 2016, Elizabeth Fry Kingston asked Queen’s if we could create a memorial garden at P4W, but the request was not honoured. In 2018, after ten years as the site’s owner, Queen’s University is uniquely situated to recognize the history of P4W and set aside land on site for a memorial garden. Given the University’s history of research on prisoners and its commitment to critical education and community engagement, and considering that the University has not paid taxes on this property—eight acres of prime real estate acquired at less than market value—Queen’s is well placed to fulfill it’s educational mandate and role as a good citizen.

The current silence of P4W’s abandoned architectural carcass is a betrayal of the histories it housed. The age and emptiness of the buildings can easily mislead passers by to think that the painful facts of women’s incarceration in Canada and the painful facts of colonization are things of the past. Indigenous people are the most marginalized, least secure, and the most incarcerated in Canada.  The links between these facts were made clear in the Truth and Reconciliation Report.  Recommendation 30 of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action says: “We call on federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so.” This overrepresentation is especially acute for Indigenous women.  Since P4W closed, more Indigenous women have been imprisoned than any other segment of the population (increasing by 109% between 2001-2012). A memorial garden with art and educational panels acknowledging the connections between colonization, residential schools, violence against Indigenous women, and the lives and deaths of women incarcerated at P4W represents a unique opportunity for community engagement and public education. Moreover, it would contribute to Queen’s efforts to uphold its commitment to new nation-wide Principles on Indigenous Education.

Please join us in asking Queen’s University to create a memorial garden on the former site of the Prison for Women.  Add your name and/or organization to the signatories below, or send a letter of support to P4Wmemorialcollective@gmail.com by March 30, 2018, if possible (but later endorsements will also be accepted).  A simple affirmation of support is more than welcome, but we would love to hear more about why you think this project is important. What have we learned since the prison closed in 2000? What do women learn doing federal time? What is learned off their backs? How do we share the responsibility of honouring their memory? As the twentieth anniversary of the prison’s closure approaches, we are planning a nation-wide gathering to reflect on these and many other questions.

In solidarity,

The P4W Memorial Collective

Yessica Rivera Belsham
Founder and Executive Director, Circle of Wellness

Fran Chaisson
Formerly Incarcerated at P4W

Jacqueline Davies
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Queen’s University

Lisa Guenther
Queen’s National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies

Ann Hansen
Formerly Incarcerated at P4W

Linda Mussell
PhD Candidate in Political Studies, Queen’s University


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Front cover and editorial by Beverly Whitney from Tightwire from the Prison for Women, Kingston, March/April 1980 issue.

“I have become very impatient with the women’s movement lately – talk, talk, talk. I think the Seattle women are right on. They are really the fighting force because they took a stand and now, undoubtedly, are faced with fines or imprisonment.”

An interesting example of the conjuncture of ‘mature’ second-wave feminism with prisoner activism around solitary confinement and prison riots, mistreatment of indigenous prisoners, the Stelco strike, and wages.

The whole issue can be found here: http://penalpress.com/name/tightwire/tightwire-23/, along with a huge archive of other prisoner newsletters, zines and papers curated by Melissa Munn. 

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“Conscience Pangs, Hangover Bring Women Back to Cells,” Montreal Gazette. August 11, 1952. Page 13.

“Two women who broke out of Fullum street jail Friday night are back in cells there today, one with a clear conscience and the other with a hangover.

At 9.45 pm Friday, Margaret Wheeler, alias Stone, 39, and Sandra Day, alias Reid, 26, staged the first double escape from the women’s jail in years when they scaled a 12-foot wall surrounding the east end institution.

Seven hours later, the Wheeler woman, who had been serving time on a narcotics charge, walked into the Protestant section of the jail and gave herself up.

A district-wide search went on for her companion.  It ended at noon yesterday when Provincial Police visited a McGill street rooming house and found the fugitive trying to shake off the effects of a drinking spree.

Det-Lieut Roger Gauthier said the Day woman ‘slept it off’ in cells at Notre Dame street headquarters before being returned to the Fullum street jail. She was given a three-month term for vagrancy last May, and was scheduled for release tomorrow.”

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