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“L’enfer du Centre de
développement correctionnel,” Le Devoir. August 29, 1980. Page 06.

par Edgar Roussel

Alors détenu dans un «Centre de développement correctionnel», M. Edgar
Roussel avait adressé au député fédéral Mark MacGuigan, devenu ministre
des Affaires extérieures, une lettre manuscrite sur les conditions de détention.
La Ligue des droits et libertés qui en avait obtenu copie en avait publié la
teneur voici peu de mois. Ce document, daté du 12 avril 1980, prend une actualité
particulière à la lumière des événements survenus cette semaine à
l’Institut Laval, événements auxquels M. Roussel a présumément été mêlé. En
voici le texte intégral.


DEPUIS le 29 mars 1978, je suis détenu
au Centre de développement
correctionnel (CDC) où je sers une
peine d’emprisonnement à vie avec éligibilité
à 20 ans.

Sur les pénitenciers fédéraux, tout a été
dit, il ne me reste plus qu’à le redire, sauf
quand il s’agit d’unités spéciales de détention,
telles le CDC dont il sera question
dans cette lettre. La raison d’être de
ce genre d’institutions selon la directive
no 174 du Commissaire national est de
préparer la réinsertion pénitentiaire de
détenus considérés comme dangereux.

Pour ce faire l’administration offre un
programme que je vous propose d’examiner
soigneusement afin de découvrir de
quelle façon originale le système oeuvre
afin que se réalise la métamorphose tant
souhaitée, pour que le chrysalide devienne
papillon, comment en nous déconnectant
de la vie on prétend nous faire renaître
à la vie. On dénombré quatre paramètres
fixes comme des miradors à l’intérieur
desquels ce programme est élaboré:
une cellule, une salle commune, une
cour extérieure, et pour chapeauter le
tout, un département de socialisation.

C’est au CDC que le temps passé en cellule
se situe parmi le plus élevé dans les
pénitenciers fédéraux du Canada. Afin
d’éviter que le détenu ne sombre dans
l’ennui ou pis encore dans la folie, l’administration
accorde ce que d’autres institutions
refusent catégoriquement à leur population,
soit un appareil de télévision.
Ce cadeau dont le detenu est bénéficiaire
est on ne peut plus significatif quant au
désarroi dans lequel se trouve celui-ci
lorsque laissé à seul. Mais, c’est davantage
un aveu d’échec et aussi un manque
flagrant d’imagination, ce qui est plus
grave encore.

Les premiers jours, on s’en sert de
façon démesurée, pour diminuer graduellement
sa consommation et finalement
l’utiliser de nouveau mais cette fois, pour
couvrir les bruits qu’auparavant on ne
percevait pas.

La télévision agit tantôt comme une aspirine
pour calmer la souffrance tantôt
comme un prisme par lequel le monde
extérieur nous parvient. Après des mois
de ce régime c’est la nausée, la répulsion;
on ferme l’appareil pour faire connaissance
avec un phénomène nouveau: le bruit! Fouilles, rondes de gardiens, tout
est subordonné au bruit, qui en cellule est
omniprésent plus que partout ailleurs, jamais
d’accalmie. Quand très tard le soir on
parvient enfin à s’endormir, lorsque le
sommeil vient rétablir l’équilibre dangereusement
rompu durant la journée, c’est
la ronde de nuit qui commence. À chaque
heure, interminablement, le bruit des pas
du gardien effectuant sa ronde résonne
sur le plafond de la cellule. Au CDC on a
trouvé un moyen original de compter les
détenus, ça se fait par le haut; il est possible
au gardien d’avoir une pleine vue
sur le captif par un châssis à meme le plafond.
Cependant, il est toujours possible
de rattraper le sommeil perdu en sacrifiant
la marche quotidienne. Or, c’est justement
le temps que choisissent les gardiens
pour fouiller les cellules des detenus
qui sont à l’extérieur. Ils arrivent
dans la rangée telle une meute, le museau
en l’air, et bang! dans les murs afin de
voir s’il n’y a pas de trous, bang! au plafond
pour vérifier si le châssis nya pas été
coupe et bang! sur la trappe à air. Une
fois leur travail terminé, ils s’en vont en
n’oubliant surtout pas de faire refermer
les portes de cellules simultanément dans
un fracas infernal ; adieu sommeil et tranquillité
tant convoités!

 Pour ce qui est de l’aération il serait
difficile d’en parler parce qu’elle est inexistante:
pas de fenetre, des portes pleines
et cet air lourd qui pèse tel un voile
opaque.

L’été, c’est un four crématoire que l’inactivité
la plus totale rend intolérable;
nous suons à ne rien faire. Le matin,
symphonie de raclages de gorges, de
mouchages de nez, de toux rauques afin
de dégager les voies respiratoires.

Je couche à même le sol de ma cellule
depuis près de deux ans, la tête appuyée
sur le bas de la porte pour bénéficier de la
plus petite brise, richesse incomparable.

Pour les moments hors de la cellule,
une salle commune est mise à notre disposition
tous les soirs de 18 h 30 à 22 h 30
mais jamais plus de dix détenus à la fois.
Cette pratique fait partie de la socialisation;
on veut nous apprendre à être sociable
par petits groupes pour ensuite
nous plonger dans une population de trois
à quatre cents détenus avec les problèmes
d’adaptation que cela implique.

Quelques jeux de société, une autre télévision
et de la surveillance, beaucoup
de surveillance. Cette salle commune est
à toute fin pratique une cellule un peu
plus spacieuse que celle dans laquelle
nous sommes confinés la plupart du
temps faut bien le dire.

Nous disposons pour les activités extérieures
d’une cour de 75 pieds par 75
pieds où encore une fois jamais plus de
dix détenus ne sont admis, ni plus ni
moins; c’est une fixation administrative.
L’été, le vent est coupé par les hauts
murs tandis que, de l’asphalte dont le sol
est recouvert, monte cette chaleur accablante;
pas de verdure ni bancs, rien
sauf de l’asphalte, du ciment et du fer.

Comme activités physiques, nous pratiquons
la boxe sur un sac de guenilles payé
a même notre argent au prix de $172.
L’administration a raté une excellente
occasion de faire preuve de justice car
dans toutes les autres institutions cet article
est défrayé à même un budget (loisir)
réservé à cette fin. Toutes les activités
physiques sont pratiqués à nos risques
à cause de la surface asphaltée. La quasi
totalité de la population souffre d’un
problème musculaire quelconque; à cet
effet, il serait intéressant de jeter un coup
d’oeil sur les requêtes médicales et de
compter les détenus qui ont demandé des
espadrilles spéciales.

Notre plus grand réconfort et seul contact
avec le monde extérieur nous le devons
à nos visites; celles-ci sont fixées par
l’administration au jour et à l’heure qu’il
lui convient. Ce privilège est dispensé
parcimonieusement le mercredi et jeudi
de chague mois. Au CDC l’affectation est
considérée comme une faveur, prodiguée
au compte-gouttes et régie comme telle.

Pas de contact avec nos parents, femmes
et enfants, c’est de cette manière
que l’administration prône l’épanouissement
de l’individu.

Voici quelques années, les responsables
d’un «zoo» sont allés chercher un
éléphant-femelle à l’autre bout du monde
our que le mâle captif ne s’ennuie pas.
L’espace réservé aux animaux est réaménagé
sans cesse afin qu’il s’apparente le
plus possible à leur habitat naturel: toutes
proportions gardées, ils disposent
dans leurs parcs de plus d’espaces que
nous.

Pour compléter le programme, un département
de socialisation, composé d’un
agent de classement ainsi que d’un
psychologue, c’est sans contredit le secteur
qui présente le plus de carences. Ces
spécialistes en sciences humaines, nous
les rencontrons quand nous sommes au
bout du rouleau et que tout risque de basculer,
alors nous bénéficions de leurs «lumières».

Leur préoccupation première est de savoir
si, dans l’état où nous sommes, nous
envisageons d’attaquer un membre du
personnel ou, ce qui est beaucoup moins
grave, l’objet de notre agression sera
intra-spécifique. Une fois cette tâche accomplie,
ces suppôts de l’administration
vont rendre compte de leurs conclusions
et c’est sur ja foi de leurs témoignages
itérera un déque
le comité national transférera un détenu.
Donc, plus souvent qu’autrement,
le jugement des membres du comité,
quoique bien intentionné, sera fondé sur
des rapports faussés au départ parce que
puisés à même une situation faussée alors
que le détenu est en proie au désarroi le
plus total.

Tous les spécialistes sont unanimes
quand ils affirment qu’une détention de
plus de cinq ans cause des troubles irréversibles
et ils ne parlaient pas d’unités
spéciales. Ce que nous subissons ne vise
qu’à nous rendre bestiaux, à développer
des instincts de tueurs. Il existe plusieurs
exemples de criminels ayant séjourné
plus pu moins longtemps en ségrégation
et qui sont autant d’exemples de ce que
j’avance.

Je me contenterai d’en citer quatre,
que j’ai personnellement connus, et dont
il m’a été possible de suivre le cheminement,
il s’agit de Jacques Mesrine,
Richard Blass, Jean-Paul Mercier et Jean
Lachapelle.

Tous ont certains points en commun:
ils ont passé plusieurs années en ségrégation
et tous sont morts aujourd’hui pour
avoir refusé de revivre, ne serait-ce
qu’une journée, ce qu’ils avaient connu
dans le passé.

Il serait peut-être utile ou enrichissant
de connaître leurs agissements après
avoir connu la ségrégation.

Jean Lachapelle, enfermé environ six
ans dans une cellule, a plaidé coupable à
neuf accusations de meurtres à son retour
derrière les barreaux; sans compter
qu’au cours de son évasion, l’ultime il va
sans dire, il fut lui-même troué de balles.

Quant à Richard Blass sa mort lui a
évité d’être accusé d’une quinzaine de
meurtres. Pour ce qui est de Jean-Paul
Mercier (trois ans, comme Blass, de
ségrégation) il avoue être l’auteur du
meurtre de deux garde-chasse, alors qu’il
était évadé, pour éviter d’être reconnu,
ce qui lui aurait valu quelques années de
ségrégation (isolation). En ce qui concerne
Jacques Mesrine, une lecture attentive
des deux volumes qu’il a rédigés est
plus que révélatrice quant à l’état mental
où l’ont conduit les années d’isolement
en cellule.

Aucun de ces quatre individus n’avait
été condamné pour meurtre avant de
faire de la ségrégation; est-ce que cela est
dû au hasard? Libre a vous de conclure
comme vous l’entendez. Le système vise
à rapetisser le criminel, comprimer la
moindre initiative, en un mot assassiner
sa personnalité pour la rendre conforme
au microcosme dans lequel on le force à
évoluer. Quand le détenu est devenu suffisamment
fourbe, hypocrite et menteur,
qu’il peut feindre de la reconnaissance
pour ses bourreaux, alors là, il est éligible
a un transfert.

Les individus considérés comme cas
«dangereux» sont le fruit d’un folklore
perpétué par les rites dont la fonction est
de garder intact le souvenir de nos actions.

Rien ne peut effacer une action, et
croire que le châtiment pourrait provoquer
une rédemption est un leurre.
Quand on tient à changer l’individu, ce
n’est ni plus ni moins qu’un effort par un
acte arbitraire pour le rendre semblable à
nous, alors que moi, je réclame le droit à
la différence.

Tous les détenus amenés ici en même
temps que moi ont été transférés depuis.
Alors, seule une soif inaltérable de vengeance
peut expliquer ma présence au
CDC. Le dernier détenu du groupe est
parti le 10 avril 1980 et son palmarès parle
par lui-même; dernièrement ce type écopait
d’une sentence d’un an pour agression
avec couteau.sur deux officiers du
CDC. Il avait été préalablement accusé de
tentative de meurtre mais les jurés ont
accepté de réduire l’accusation; selon
eux, le détenu était incapable de juger du
caractère de son geste à cause des conditions
inhérentes a sa détention qui avait
altéré sa raison.

II y a quelque temps on libérait un détenu
du CDC pour le remettre directement dans la société. Quelques mois auparavant,
cet individu était considéré
trop dangereux pour être transféré dans
un pénitencier à sécurité maximum.

Par cette longue lettre, j’ai tenté de
vous fournir le plus d’éléments possible
qui pourraient vous permettre de percevoir
de l’intérieur la situation qui est
mienne depuis trop longtemps. Aujourd’hui,
il m’arrive de parler seul, de
rire sans raison ou encore d’être secoué
par des spasmes nerveux. Je sens que
quelque enose détraque dans le mécanisme
et si personne n’intervient en ma
faveur, le pire est à prévoir. Le degré de
saturation est atteint, un incident si minime
soit-il pourrait être le déclencheur
pouvant conduire à une action désespérée.

Depuis deux longues et interminables
années, je n’ai pas serré ma femme, ma
mère ni ma fille et deux longues années
aussi j’ai été sans voir le clair de lune, les
étoiles; au plus vil des animaux, ce droit
n’est pas nié. Konrad Lorenz affirme
qu’il est dangereux de cerner un animal
dans un coin sans aucune chance de fuite.
Frederic Nietzche postule quant à lui
dans son oeuvre intitulé «Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra»
que l’homme a fait du loup
un chien et de l’homme lui-même le meilleur
animal domestique de l’homme. Il
dénonce aussi la cruauté vêtue des oripaux
de la justice, en introduction de ce
même volume: «C’est lors des tragédies,
des combats de taureaux et des crucifixions
que l’homme s’est jusqu’ici senti le
mieux sur la terre; lorsqu’il s’inventa
l’enfer, ce fut son paradis sur terre» (P.
XXIV) 

C’est au nom et en vénérant la pensée
de ces grands hommes que je vous demande
aujourd’hui d’intercéder en ma
faveur. Déjà en 1976 alors que vous agissiez
à titre de président d’un sous-comité
enquêtant sur la violence dans les pénitenciers,
vous dénonciez l’ineptie des administrateurs.
Votre nouvelle fonction
vous donne le rayonnement, le pouvoir
suffisant pour améliorer ma condition,
c’est le but de ma requête. 

C’est le but de ma requête.
Si ce document devait servir pour une
défense ultérieure devant les tribunaux,
c’est que la mutation de chrysalide au papillon
aura été un échec. 

J’ose espérer, M. le ministre, que mon
appel ne sera pas vain malgré toute la responsabilité
et le travail que représente
votre nouvelle fonction.

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“On Christmas Day 1959 at Clinton Prison in Dannemora, New York, a small group of Muslims had gathered in the recreation yard. As one prisoner remembered, it “was snowing and it was very cold, but as usual, on Friday we would meet to [have] a short prayer regardless of inclement weather or anything else.” The men, numbering from ten to seventy prisoners, had routinely met in this area for almost a year. The group had grown over the years, and their physical space expanded as well, encompassing a fifteen-yard long-by-seventy-yard-wide area paved with stones the men had collected from the yard. A stove was used for cooking and an oven for baking since the mess halls did not offer halal preparations. A blackboard contained illustrations and notes on current events and readings from the Qur’an. As was common, a prison officer monitored the congregation from ten feet away. Joseph X Magette reflected, we “were tolerated. I wouldn’t say we were admitted, but we weren’t denied the right to meet.”

The men gathered at Clinton Prison had arrived from a variety of different backgrounds during the mid-1950s. None were Muslim when sentenced, and unlike members of the Nation of Islam incarcerated in federal prisons during World War II for refusing to register with the selective service alongside six thousand other conscientious objectors, they did not have political backgrounds or political charges that brought them to prison. William X SaMarion was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and raised as Protestant Episcopalian before converting in prison under the teachings of Teddy Anderson, a Muslim associated with the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (AMI). SaMarion was incarcerated for stealing two pounds of pork chops, a slab of bacon, and 172 packs of cigarettes before later denouncing such items after converting. James X Walker and Magette both made their profession of faith at Clinton Prison in early 1959. Magette had experienced run-ins with the law since his early teens, having fled the scene of a burglary in Harlem before being shot twice by a police officer when he was fifteen. Martin X Sostre had the most political upbringing of the four. He was born to Puerto Rican and Haitian parents in 1923; his father was a Communist merchant seaman, and his mother was a cap maker. They settled in Harlem, where he was influenced by Lewis Michaux’s African National Memorial Bookstore and the stepladder orators on 125th Street. He dropped out of school in the tenth grade and was drafted in 1942. After serving a brief stint in the Korean War, he was arrested in 1952 for heroin possession. When asked if he used the drug, he responded: “I’m too smart for that. Only suckers use that stuff.” 

The men at Clinton Prison were part of a rich Muslim community, consisting, according to Sostre, of thirty believers belonging to “at least four different sects of Islam, both of orthodox and non-orthodox, namely Afamdiya [Ahmadiyya], Moorish, Science [Moorish Science Temple], Muhahhad [most likely Nation of Islam] and non-denomination.” Many of the men associated with the NOI credited their conversion to Anderson, who maintained the only copy of the Qur’an at the prison. “We would have to consult with him and borrow it from him,” Sostre remembered. “He was reluctant to lend it out, naturally, but usually he would loan it out to ones that wanted to peruse it.” Tomas X Bratcher later described a similar community at Auburn Prison: “some were Ahmadiyya, some were Moorish Science Islams, some were Sunni Muslims, some were Wahapi [Wahhabi]… . We had a non-sectarian class. Tat means that we did not lean to the teachings of any so-called sect in Islam.” Although many of the men were introduced to Islam through the AMI and other groups, they formed a small but growing community that gravitated toward the teachings of the NOI.

What separated the Nation of Islam from other Muslim sects also prompted concern from prison officials: its black nationalist politics and critique of global white supremacy. One of the principal activities of the brotherhood in prison was teaching a robust array of classes in the yard. SaMarion, along with Magette and Walker, was in charge of organizing these lessons; the group covered a diverse set of teachings, including business, Islam, Arabic, black history, and law. The “Mufti is known as the one that keeps the peace within the group, discipline,” SaMarion explained.

The treasurer is one that holds the finances, sees that—if we are short of toothpaste or tooth powder, or the brother has no money and is trying to buy some books, that he has the toothpaste or the tooth powder. Te librarian is the one that has the control of all the literature that we were able to fll our lockers with; literature pertaining to our own kind, Black Man’s literature, Black Man’s history, mathematics, Arabic, anything we thought would help us in our educational field… . The secretary is the one that would record the day’s activities, would record the statements of some of the brothers.

The Muslim Brotherhood (as the organization was known inside prisons) even had its own constitution and subscribed to a shared economic system that used tithing and organizational dues for “supplementing the diet of the members and further[ing] the cause of the Brotherhood.”

While the fundamental crux of prisoners’ legal cases against the state appeared to be religious rather than political, it is important to recognize how the Nation of Islam’s religious views were racialized by prison and state officials. For example, New York State prison inspector Richard Woodward described Demir Asan as “a Moslem but it must be assumed that he is of the legitimate religion as he is white and has a name that might be assumed to be from the Far East.” In the SaMarion trial, the prosecuting attorney Richard Griffin attempted to illustrate the way that “Muslim” was used by prison officials to connote blackness, while whiteness was often decoupled from reference to religious beliefs. Prisons even allowed access to The Glorious Koran, translated by the white English convert Marmaduke Pickthall in 1930 but refused copies of the Arabic translation with
English commentary by the Indian-born Maulana Muhammad Ali. In these ways the prison system’s distinction between legitimate (seemingly color-blind) and illegitimate (race-conscious) expressions of Islam underscored how the NOI’s religious beliefs were, in the state’s eyes, inextricable from racial militancy.

Despite prison officials’ efforts to divert Muslim converts toward the Ahmadiyya
Movement in Islam’s ostensibly apolitical teachings, the NOI continued to thrive in New York throughout the late 1950s. Because the Muslim prisoners were not given a formal space to hold services within the prison, informal prayers such as those described at Clinton Prison often took place in the prison yard. Prisoners relied on memorized prayer, passing surahs to one another through oral tradition. These prayers, SaMarion recalled, were “learned by heart, to be able to speak about.” The basis for many of these lessons were editorials by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, published in black newspapers in the late 1950s. “Most of us have never seen the inside of a Temple,” Tomas X Bratcher

wrote to Malcolm X, “we have had to make up our own lesson from articles appearing in the Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch.” While the censorship of black newspapers by prison officials was never as thorough as their ban of Muhammad Speaks beginning in the 1960s, prisons nevertheless monitored and confiscated newspapers carrying editorials by the Nation of Islam; these included the Pittsburgh Courier, the New York Amsterdam News, and the Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch

The stark contrast between the “tolerance” that Magette described at Clinton Prison prior to Christmas Day 1959 and the various punishments levied against Muslim prisoners after it reveals the strategies developed by the state to suppress political agitation and the spread of Islam in New York prisons over the following decade. “All of the sudden the situation changed completely,” he testified. “Thereafter we were in complete segregation” (solitary confinement). The officer monitoring the congregation that day had reported hearing one of the prisoners say that the group was going to take over solitary confinement. He then issued a disciplinary report charging them with hosting an “unauthorized meeting under the guise of an assembly for religious purposes.” The prisoner who made the remark was locked up immediately, and the other men were soon taken to disciplinary court and moved to a minimum-privilege area. Some even remained in solitary confinement until June of the following year. 

The timing of the response by prison officials was not accidental. An entire apparatus of state control emerged in the months following the airing of The Hate That Hate Produced in the summer of 1959. The serial documentary was almost singularly responsible for introducing the Nation of Islam to the broader public, and, as its name implied, it portrayed black nationalism as the by-product of white racism—a specter of “black hate” causing hysteria among white viewers while suturing their guilt by suggesting that racism was not racially distinct. The documentary positioned the NOI as a “hate group” not unlike George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi party and the Ku Klux Klan, often referring to them as “black racists” and “black supremacists.” As the historian Claude Clegg notes, the documentary marked a departure in media coverage of the NOI from the “othering” Orientalist tropes of “voodoo cults” and rumors of human sacrifice toward a discourse of “reverse racism.” In fact, the phrase “black racism” did not exist prior to the documentary, and within one month of its airing the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins had issued a public statement denouncing the group as teaching “black supremacy.”

The Hate That Hate Produced also played a crucial role in pushing the doctoral student C. Eric Lincoln decisively toward publication of The Black Muslims in America. The phrase “Black Muslims” was Lincoln’s creation and was later rejected by the Nation of Islam in part because it severed the NOI from a global Muslim community. Malcolm X recalled the years he spent trying to refute the label: “Every newspaper and magazine writer and microphone I got close to: ‘No! We are black people here in America. Our religion is

Islam. We are properly called ‘Muslims!’” The combination of Mike Wallace’s documentary and Lincoln’s book provided a framework for carceral actors, ranging from police to prison officials, criminologists, and even federal judges, to understand the Nation of Islam as a hate group masquerading under the auspices of religion. The phrase “Black Muslims” became linguistic shorthand for this argument by the state. 

This understanding set the stage for a struggle between Muslim prisoners needing to legitimize their religious beliefs before the courts and prison officials fathering evidence to demonstrate that the group was, in fact, using religion to cover its subversive political aims. Bratcher astutely anticipated the attorney general’s defense in his letter to Malcolm X prior to SaMarion: “I can see that his main argument is going to be in the presenting of certain publications out of books, magazines, and papers about the Muslims… . He is going to try and justify the warden’s violation of our constitutional rights by submitting these published reports to the court saying that we are preaching ‘hate’ and we are a
fanatical group not recognized by the rest of Muslim World.”

Carceral authorities had an insatiable appetite for Lincoln’s book, positioned as an “objective” and nuanced portrait of the organization due to Lincoln’s identity as a black Christian scholar. As the NOI became a greater topic of conversation in race relations and as its presence in prisons grew, the state attempted to develop a consistent logic to justify suppression of Islam among prisoners. Lincoln’s book was widely read and distributed among criminologists and prison officials as the organization gained a stronger footing in America’s prison system. Soon after the book’s release, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) mailed Lincoln a copy of its review in the lapd newsletter with a personal note: “We thought you might like to see our Trainee’s review of your book.” Upon request, Lincoln had a copy of his book delivered to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and ensured his full cooperation. Reuben Horlick of the American Association of Correctional Psychologists invited Lincoln to participate in a panel discussion on the “Black Muslims” at the 1963 convention of the American Correctional Association (ACA). Bernard F. Robinson, a sociologist in the Illinois prison system, wrote Lincoln that not “only did I benefit by your very instructive statements regarding the Black Muslim Movement, but my fellow staff members also considered themselves well edified as a result of your correspondence.” And in May 1961 Richard Woodward reviewed what he called a “fine book by Eric Lincoln” for a new monthly memo on the Nation of Islam that would be distributed throughout the state prison system in New York.

These new highly confidential memos were instituted just after a meeting between Commissioner McGinnis and representatives from the offices of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz in January 1960. McGinnis called the meeting after having been named in a number of writs from Muslims at Clinton Prison. He reported that the Nation of Islam was “spreading like a cancerous growth and was becoming a most serious problem.” Since “it was going to be a continuing thing; and because of the racial feature, [McGinnis] felt that some policy should be formulated.” The Division of State Police then contacted what were known as “subversive units” in major cities across the country to cull information and form a special file on the Nation of Islam. Woodward would serve as a liaison officer between the Department of Correction and the New York State Police. More accurately than he could have known, Malcolm X noted in his autobiography that the NOI’s presence in prisons was “as big a single worry as the American prison system has today.” “I’m sure,” he added, that “they monitored what I wrote to add to the files which every state and federal prison keeps on the conversion of Negro prisoners by the teachings of Mr. Elijah Muhammad.” Indeed, in addition to these monthly memos, Woodward reported acting “in accordance with plans set up by the Commissioner of Correction” to turn over “arrest records and photographs of the following convicts who are confined in State Prisons throughout the State of New York.”

As part of this new programmatic suppression of Islam in state prisons, McGinnis promised those at the January meeting that he would “identify ringleaders and, upon

identifcation, transfer them to other prisons, pointing out to the receiving warden what to expect. In this way, he hoped to curb their activities in the Cult.” In June 1960, with many of the men at Clinton Prison still held in solitary confinement, the warden followed through on the commissioner’s promise, transferring four of the key organizers— Magette, SaMarion, Sostre, and Walker—to Attica Prison. There, they continued to grow through religious conversions and prison transfers until the group included almost sixty members and became one of the most active Muslim communities in American prisons.”

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 77-83

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“Historians have had difficulty reconciling the Nation of Islam’s seemingly incongruous black nationalist ideas of a separate state, flag (with a crescent and star), and ethnoracial identity (“Asiatic”), with its use of courts, litigation, and a rights-based framework to secure civil rights protections and constitutional guarantees. [Historian Dan] Berger argues that the prisoners’ rights movement “was less a claim to expand rights than it was a critique of rights-based frameworks.” But this is truer for a later period in the prisoners’ rights movement, following the important constitutional gains won through Muslim litigation in cases such as Cooper v. Pate. In the early 1960s, Muslim prisoners drew on section 1983 of the 1871 Civil Rights Act, which protected citizens against violations of constitutional rights by persons acting under state authority. They also frequently cited the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Cooper v. Pate, for example, Tomas X Cooper referenced the Illinois Bill of Rights as well as the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Muslim prisoners not only cited constitutional protections but also used direct-action strategies such as sit-ins, hunger strikes, and occupations of solitary confinement, that anticipated the “Jail, no bail” efforts of southern civil rights activists. Rather than see claims to constitutionalism and direct-action protest as irreconcilable with black nationalism, we might consider these as effective, if entangled, strategies to win protections for prisoners under the law while challenging white supremacy and incarceration more broadly. As C. Eric Lincoln noted: “the Muslims appear to believe in the efficacy of the white man’s law without believing in its justice.””

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 75.  

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“Outside: A prison protest; Inside: No fuss says guard,” Montreal Gazette. August 11, 1980. Page 03.

By DAVID JOHNSTON
of The Gazette

About 15 supporters of prison reform demonstrated yesterday outside the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Laval, as did hundreds across Canada on what has become a sort of national prisoner’s day.

Six years ago, a prisoner named Eddy Nalon killed himself in Ontario’s Millhaven penitentiary to protest living conditions inside federal prisons. Every Aug. 10 since, federal prisoners – including the 1,000 in the five prisons which make up the St. Vincent de Paul complex in Laval – have staged hunger and work strikes.

Officially, that is. Prison reform groups maintain that they have, but a prison guard at Laval yesterday told The Gazette it was more a case of business-as-usual on the inside.

‘This isn’t a day that is respected,’ said G. D. Morrette, 24, a guard of three years’ service patrolling outside the penitentiary gates in a truck.

‘Nothing changed today,’ he said. ‘Everyone’s eating.’

Prisoners normally don’t work on Sundays. A Gazette reporter was not allowed inside the prison to verify whether the prisoners were on a hunger strike. 

Members of the Prisoners’ Rights Office (PRO), an arm of the Montreal Civil Liberties Union, made up the majority of the demonstrators yesterday at Laval. A PRO official said a federal prisoner is paid $1 a day for eight hours of work, five days a week – work which can range from cleaning the prison kitchen to repairing faulty electrical systems.

The PRO says prisoners pay about 50 cents for a pack of cigarettes (they aren’t charged federal tax) and pay for their own stamps, paper and pencils. Some buy their own soap because they don’t like to use what is supplied by the prison, according to the PRO members.

Prison officials were not available to verify the claims.

Of the five St. Vincent de Paul prisons, two are maximum security – Laval and the Correctional Development Centre. Two others are medium security – the Federal Training Centre and the Leclerc Institute. The fifth prison, Monte St. Francois Institute, is minimum security.

About 86 of 130 inmates at Montee St. Francois have signed a petition to protest medical facilities.

One of the prisoners who signed it told The Gazette that there isn’t any first-aid equipment at Montee St. Francois. Officials were not available for comment yesterday.

Earlier this month, Maurice Pelletier, a 55-year-old prisoner there, died after he suffered a heart attack in his cell and had to be transported to a hospital outside the prison.

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“First, the Nation of Islam’s prison organizing—and black nationalism more broadly (exemplified most prominently during these years by the NOI)—should be seen as a central current of the postwar struggle for black freedom. Its political strategies and conceptual legacies expand our understandings of the mid-century black freedom struggle, the prisoners’ rights movement, and the development of the punitive state. Secondly, prison organizing should not be narrated as a post–civil rights struggle but rather as one born out of, and alongside, the movement. Lastly, the carceral state was not simply a counterrevolutionary reaction to the gains of social movements through top-down policy changes and electoral shifts but was produced through daily, on-the-ground interplay with prisoners’ activism.

The dialectical relationship between prisoners’ radicalism and prison repression—what I term the “dialectics of discipline”—paradoxically helped develop the protest strategies and legal framework for the prisoners’ rights movement while fortifying and accelerating the expansion of the carceral state through new modes of punishment and surveillance. These dialectics took two major forms during this period in New York prisons. The first was the relationship between state methods of control such as prison transfers, confiscation of religious literature, solitary confinement, and loss of “good time” (sentence time reduction for good conduct) and the responses by Muslim prisoners through hunger strikes, writ writing, and take-overs of solitary confinement. The second was the interaction between Muslim religious practices and prison surveillance. An emerging web of state surveillance monitored Muslim rituals and attempted to construct a religio-racial formation to justify the suppression of Islam in prisons. Because grassroots organizing by prisoners and the production of state knowledge and discipline grew alongside one another, historians of the carceral state cannot supply one-sided histories relying on state-produced narratives while burying the physical and theoretical labor of those who opposed such systems. Rather than seeing the development of mass incarceration and carceral apparatuses in the tectonic shifts of electoral realignment and other federal policy measures, this essay points to the local and daily exchanges between prisoners and prison officials as ground zero for the rise of the prisoners’ rights movement and the extension of the carceral state.”

  

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 72-73.

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“Unrest at Industrial Farm – Burwash System Indicted by Salvation Officer,” Globe & Mail. July 8, 1948. Page 01 & 02.

By J. Y. NICOL
Sudbury, July 7 (Staff). At the Salvation Army service in Burwash Industrial Farm, a man no longer may stand, right up before his fellow men and say that he wants to be saved. Some guards curse the prisoners with the eloquence of a mule skinner. Some prisoners, in turn, flaunt authority by tossing their beans on the floor with the same gusto and impunity as they shoot crap on a Sabbath afternoon.

Incidents such as these are common knowledge in the Nickel City where a year ago, Reforms Minister George Dunbar came by plane from Burwash, 26 miles south, to announce the dawn of a new era the down-and-outer, with variations, after inspecting the prisons of England. This was to out-Borstal the Borstal plan.

‘I remember and well,’ he said at that time, ‘when at a tender age I set fire to a styrawstack. My father and I knelt together that night in prayer for forgiveness. The next morning he got up and flailed the hell out of me – and I know how easy it is for one to go astray.’

Twelve months have passed since he made that statement. So have two riots, and the firing of an unknown number of tear gas shells and a statement from both the minister and Ralph Ayres, Burwash superintendent, that everything is under control. Also, two Burwash strawstacks – barns included – have been set aflame.

The barns were burned in the first riot last October when an attempt was made to shift the blame for the outbreak on some of the underlings. They had left Dolly Quentin, the Windsor bad man, to linger too long there upon his approaching discharge, it was claimed.

But now at Burwash there is no Dolly Quentin to blame and more trouble may occur at any moment.

If it does the minister may sit on the information for more than four days, as he did about the outbreak of June 28 when the beans were tossed on the floor. 

In a nutshell, the department is trying to put over a noble idea with a parsimonious spirit. First, the minister has C. H. Neelands, as his deputy, who, with the late Norman Oliver and two lumberjack prisoners in one common tent, started Burwash more than 30 years ago as an adventure in reformation.

Through the years, Mr. Neelands advanced in the public service. Weathering changes of government and policy, he has proved invaluable.

You could call Mr. Neelands about any little matter and he could give you an immediate answer. Today, when you ask Mr. Neelands, he answers, ‘Sorry, I know nothing.’

Then there is A. R. Virgin, superintendent of all of Mr. Dunbar’s institutions and also a capable executive.

Mr. Dunbar has answered complaints about the rapid turnover in his staff by saying, ‘This is a natural situation in Northern Ontario.’ He is trying to hire guards at a monthly salary of $154 with a promise of housing accommodation which came, in one case, after a service of four years. Any man with a pair of shoulders and a yen for work can double that in the nickel mines.

Two Toronto ex-servicemen, with good war records, joined the Burwash staff. They brought their wives to Sudbury and paid $50 a month rent. When they did not get their houses as promised, they resigned for economic reasons. After being accepted for other government jobs, they were suddenly tossed out. The reason they received was this: ‘You didn’t stick it at Burwash.’

About the only person in this area who will come out openly in criticism, however, is Major A. McEachern of the Salvation Army, who occasionally visits the farm in the absence of the regular Army chaplain. 

He said ‘the services are conducted in a most mechanical way, and that is not as it used to be. The co-operation from the staff has deteriorated. There was a time when we could talk to the men with confidence. And if we passed a suggestion along to the authorities, it was considered, but not today.

‘There is a feeling of mistrust among the staff and this in turn breeds a greater feeling of distrust among the inmates. They think that every hand raised in their direction is against them.

Our idea is that a man may be down, but he is never out. The official attitude is that he is always down and always out. Some years ago, when we held service we could invite a man to come to the altar and say his prayers. We can’t do that any more. We cannot ask a man either to stand or to come forward and declare himself. At the most, he is permitted to raise his hand. Should he make any other move, he would be suspected of causing a demonstration. The atmosphere is not normal, even for Burwash.’

Major McEachern, who has experience in many other institutions besides Burwash, said that the guards seem to be imbued with the idea a prisoner is nothing but  a crook and a scoundrel, and that he must be told that frequently

‘I doubt,’ he added, ‘that much is to be gained by calling him a wretch or a scoundrel. I have met some talented men in Burwash – Men I Know can be restored to society. We of the Salvation Army, being practical people, do not for a moment believe that the solution is by pampering. We do believe that there is a helpful medium, and it is through mutual confidence.

The last time I conducted a service there, a prisoner told me, ‘Let me thank you for the words of kindness. They are the first I have heard for a long, long time,’ and I know he spoke sincerely.’

On May 11, James A. Small, a former Burwash guard, now living in Cartier, a railway town 34 miles northwest, wrote a letter to Attorney-General Blackwell, which said in part:

‘I would like very much for your office to look into the straight and truthful facts regarding Burwash Industrial Farm. I was employed approximately eight months. I took two inmates to the doctor about eight weeks ago one morning under the influence of drugs. These men could hardly stand on their own feet, but no action was taken regarding the serious condition of these men.

‘While working in April, one night about 9 p.m., I uncovered the place that an escape inmate was hiding to my sergeant, who in turn notified the senior sergeant. They captured the escaped inmate at 9:15, in the same place. I informed them on Sunday, April 18. I was instructed to take 140 men from the cell block to the show. I returned with the inmates and then reported to my dormitory the men who had stayed in all Sunday afternoon.

‘As I returned to the dormitory, a big crap game was in progress. Approximately 50 men were around a table 12 feet long and three feet wide. As I opened the main gate, the game broke up and the inmates stood around. I was asked to leave the dormitory by this crap-shooting crowd of inmates. I informed them that there would be no crap game as long as I was on duty.

‘On Sunday, about 5:50pm, I called an inmate from D dormitory. I had been informed that he was carrying money in this crap game. I searched the inmate and found a two-dollar bill. The rest he had eaten or discarded. Monday morning, April 19, I reported for work at 3:30 a.m., and I did my duties as laid down by my sergeant. I found that books and papers were being brought in. I asked one guard what he knew about this stuff, and he went to the senior sergeant about 7:25 a.m. and reported that there was an enormous amount of contraband in B and C dormitories.

‘The sergeant then called another sergeant, and told him to give C and B dormitories a thorough search. On these orders, three men came over to the dormitories at 8:50 a.m. I was in my own dormitory when six officers walked in and told the inmates remaining indoors to line up. They searched the clothing of the inmates, who were then told to go to a dormitory downstairs while their beds and clothing were given a complete frisk.

‘We completed 240 beds and 960 blankets in two hours and 20 minutes. In this frisk we discovered knives, bullets, tea, sugar, ham, shoe polish, extra clothing, wire files, razor blades, toilet soaps and small bottles containing gasoline and chains. Seven pillow slips were turned in, three parts full of contraband.

‘When the inmates returned they were surprised to see a frisk had been pulled. The acting superintendent and another sergeant (he had ordered the search) walked in and started to apologize to the inmates. They were told that anything that was missing would be replaced to quiet things down. They were informed that the officers responsible for the frisk would be suspended.

‘On this, the inmates started to holler and complain about losing tobacco, sun glasses and false teeth. One inmate went as far as to tell the sergeant who had directed the search that he wasn’t going to make his bed again. The ones who messed it up could do this.

‘I was called out of my dormitory and told to report to the superintendent’s office by the sergeant who ordered the search. There, I was suspended by another sergeant.

‘Immediately I left for Toronto to find out why I had been suspended. I talked to Mr. Neelands, and he said he would let me know in a day or so. ON April 23, Mr. Neelands telephoned me at 10 a.m. and asked me about my intentions. I told him I would ask for a transfer to another camp as the rest of the officers who took part in the search were transferred.

‘He told me then that I wouldn’t be reinstated. I told him I would certainly find out why not. With this, he warned me what would happen if I went any further.’

‘….I would like to have thrashed out very soon as I have nothing to hide on my part, so would like to hear from you as I know that the industrial farm is not a reform institution but a big political farce.

‘As I write this, four inmates have just escaped. Two were caught on the Toronto-bound train with first-class tickets. Two more sawed their way out of the kitchen. None of them was missed for 10 hours.’

A policeman commented: ‘I helped o fire tear gas at those birds. They had hung up some wet blankets expecting we’d shoot. The abuse they heaped at us before the got the gas blasted my eardrums. Just the same, I have heard a guard curse at a prisoner as if he was worse than a dog. No human being, at Burwash or out, can stand for treatment like that.

‘The Borstal plan is sound and it calls for discipline on one hand and incentive on the other. But it can’t work under bulldozing or mollycoddling, and at Burwash today they go from one extreme to the other. There will be more trouble unless they get down to business. We’re sick of being called in to shoot the tear gas.’

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“Warns Burwash Powder Keg, Trouble Deep-Seated – ‘Food Badly Served’  – Says Dunbar Should Go See For Himself,” Toronto Star. July 5, 1948. Page 21.

‘Burwarsh is a powder keg and it is going to blow up any day if conditions are not improved. They are even worse than they were before the trouble last October,’ said a prisoner just released. He said he was in both riots and claimed that the prisoners have banded together and are waiting their chance to stage an even bigger demonstration than the other two.

Dunbar Should Visit
‘Mr. Dunbar (Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions) should go up himself and talk to the prisoners and he would get an earful of what is going on,’ said the ex-inmate. ‘They told us he was coming up during the last trouble but he has never been there.

‘Food is the principal cause of the trouble,’ he claimed. ‘It’s not so much what is served, but how it is served. It is rank and cold. The same food could be cooked up in a style that would satisfy the men, but the attitude is take it or leave it.’

He declared that since the riot of last October there had been numerous hunger strikes of two or three days’ duration. When the men protested the menu, he stated, the superintendent Ralph Ayers would taste the food and say there was nothing wrong with it. Then they would have to eat it or go hungry.

‘The men work hard in the fields and need substantial food,’ he said. ‘They aren’t getting it and they are not going to work. The crops will rot in the fields and the temper of the prisoners is such that they are talking about burning the buildings and firing the fields in protest so that the public can learn what conditions are.

Raps Parole System
‘Another sore spot is the sysem of parole. This was one of the things that caused the first riot. The parole board comes to Burwash the second Wednesday in every month. They run through 100 prisoners each time. Then days later the prisoner will get a letter saying he does or does not get parole. The feeling is that the matter is settled before they come before the board.

‘Guards are going and coming all the time. They don’t pay them enough for them to stay. Some are minors. They are supposed to be trained but they don’t know how to handle men. Since they were given power of police officers to make arrests, their job has gone to their heads and they are pushing the prisoners around to show their authority.

He said after the investigation by Prof. Stuart Jaffary of the University of Toronto after the first riot, conditions improved. ‘But everything is going back to the way it was before. There is going to be serious trouble and someone might be killed.’

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“Guards Use Tear Gas To End Burwash Riot Over Baked Beans Fare,” The Globe & Mail. July 3, 1948. Page 01.

After being suppressed for four days, news of another riot at Burwash Industrial Farm, leaked out yesterday and Reform Institutions Minister George Dunbar then revealed the uprising was due to complaints against the food. The trouble which occurred Monday night, was finally settled after three hours of violence when the guards hurled tear gas at the prisoners.

The riot was the second at the huge industrial prison in eight months. It followed by three days a similar outbreak at the Mercer Reformatory for females in Toronto which was brought under control by city and provincial police.

Just how many prisoners took part in the more recent Burwash rebellion could not be definitely determined. Superintendent Ralph Ayres, who took over after the riots last October, refused to give any information. One guard said 510 inmates had to be subdued after they smashed tables, dormitory windows and attempted to batter down the steel corridor gates. Deputy MInister C. F. Neelands, who like Supt. Ayres, was uncommunicative, would only say that the number involved was considerably that mentioned by the guard.

The violence is said to have started over baked beans served for supper. The prisoners housed in dormitories reportedly complained about the fare, but ate it. Then 165 men from the cells filed into the mess hall and began banging on the tables with cups and plates. This action stirred the 345 men in the dormitories to a demonstration of their own.

After three hours of rioting destruction tear gas was thrown at the prisoners and order was restored. Eighteen men have been singled out as the ringleaders and will be disciplined presumably by being strapped, or being placed in solitary confinement.

On top of all this, two prisoners, Leonard Erwin Staley, 29, Toronto, and Admiral Killingsworth, 32, Hamilton, escaped Thursday night and the body of another escapee, Wilson Broch, was found in Long Lake at Bayswater, 16 miles south of Burwash. Broch had been missing since June 19. He was from Hamilton.

Dr. Gillies Desmarais, coroner, said Broch’s death was due to drowning. George Waynott, Hamilton, who escaped with Broch is still at large.

Tear gas was used last October when 10 prisoners, led by Raymond (Dolly) Quinton, Windsor, were in control of the 7,000 acre farm for three days. This ‘committee’ of 10 issued orders to prisoners and guards alike and commandeered trucks. The guards claimed they were powerless to resist the prisoners until they received authority to use the gas.

Such authority was vested in them by an act of the legislature at the last session when the guards of all reform institutions were given the powers of police officers in handling prisoners.

Prof. Stuart Jaffray, who investigated the October riots, said they were caused by a breakdown in the administration system. He also remarked that the food could be improved. In that outbreak, some $3,000 damage was done to furniture and other property.

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“Hunger Strike On At Burwash Sudbury Report,” Toronto Star. July 3, 1948. Page 01.

Special to The Star
Sudbury, July 3 – Prisoners at Burwash reformatory are staging a hunger strike against the quality of food being served, it was learned her today. Officials refused comment and Supt. Ralph Ayers said ‘everything is normal.’

The hunger strike followed the riot staged in No. 2 dormitory, which contains cells and in which are kept the more hardened and what is regarded as habitual, criminals. It was learned there have been several other hunger strikes, some among small groups of prisoners, since the big riot of last October, when prisoners were virtually in control of the whole farm.

The riot started when a plate of cold beans served last Monday night was hurled at Supt. Ayers. He had come to the dining-room on demand of the prisoners who protested serving of the beans cold. Other prisoners who ate at an earlier sitting had hot beans.

C. F. Neelands, deputy minister of reform institutions, said he ‘had no comment’ on the reported hunger strike. A prisoner released Thursday said no one in No. 2 dormitory had eaten since Monday night except maybe a ‘few scabs.’ They were being ‘tonge-lashed’ for it, he said.

Tear gas was used to get the prisoners into the cells last Monday, Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions stated. Windows were smashed and considerable other damage done.

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“Burwash Guards Use Tear Gas,” Toronto Star. July 2, 1948. Page 01.

REPORT 225 INVOLVED – SMASH MANY WINDOWS – EIGHT SAID ‘IN SOLITARY’

Sudbury, Ont., July 2 (CP) – Tear gas was used by guards to quell a riot in Burwash industrial farm last Monday night, it was revealed today. Hundreds of panes of window glass were broken in the dormitory and several tables were smashed.

The riot was reported to have centered in Camp 2, largest camp which serves as headquarters for the arm. About 225 prisoners were involved, but there was no trouble at the jail farm’s other two camps.

It is understand that the spark for the outbreak was set off over a protest about the quality of food being served.

Had Trouble Last Fall
The same jail farm was the scene of a major riot last fall when prisoners objected to their meals and general living conditions. An investigation was made by a board appointed by the department of reform institutions.

It was reported that last Monday’s riot broke ot when a guard slapped a piece of butter forcefully on a slice of pie and it splashed over the arm of a prisoner. After remonstrating the guard, the prisoner threw his pie on the floor and was removed from the dining hall.

Guards were reinforced and the prisoners were ordered to return to their cell block. When police surrounded the dormitories carrying rifles and tear gas occupants kicked out windows and pounded steel grills with heavy 12-foot tables.

The demonstration lasted almost three hours and tear gas was thrown in ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D’ dormitories.

Farm officials said today normal routine has been resumed but a field day, scheduled for Thursday, has been cancelled. Eight men were placed in solitary confinement. Superintendent Ralph Ayers said there has been tension at the farm for the past two weeks.

‘I can’t understand what is back of it all,’ he said. ‘We feel we may have been treating the inmates better this part winter, and have given them every consideration in their complaints up to now. There was no reason for this outbreak.’

Escapees Identified
Special to The Star
Burwash, July 2 – Two prisoners escaped from Burwash Industrial farm here last night after Monday’s riot.

They are: Leonard Erwin Staley, 28, of George St., sentenced to two years in Toronto, July 30, 1947, and Admiral Killingworth, 32, of Hamilton, sentenced to two years on Aug. 16, 1947.

The two escaped men, the minister of reform institutions reported at his office in Toronto today, ‘just walked off during a sports program on the grounds. Yesterday was a holiday and there were sports events held in the afternoon.’

He said ‘they won’t get very far. The black flies will probably drive them back.’

Recall Mercer Trouble
The Burwash riot was a repetition of the uprising at Mercer Reformatory for women in Toronto 10 days ago.

About 100 city policeman, were rushed to the building on King St. to try to restore order. Two of the officers were injured so badly they required hospital treatment. Det.-Sergt. Welsford had his wrist fractured with a baseball bat and will be off duty for five weeks, police said.

The women ringleaders were eventually locked in cells and given only weak tea and bread when they refused to stop their yelling and screaming. Their shoes were taken from them.

Dunbar Tells of Riot
The riot started Monday night during supper hour, Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions reported today.

‘A hothead in the dining room threw his supper on the floor,’ the minister said. ‘The guards immediately hustled him out, His friends started a rumbling in the dining room but took no action.

‘The next day, Tuesday, it rained all day and some of the men locked themselves in their dormitories and didn’t come down to eat breakfast. Guards threw tear gas into the block and everything quieted down,’ he said.

Mr. Dunbar said the disturbance occurred at Camp No. 2, where there are 156 cells. ‘The riot didn’t spread to any other camp,’ he added. ‘There was lots of noise, but no action was taken by the prisoners. It’s all over now.’

This is the first time tear gas has been used by Burwash guards since they were given the powers of police officers, officials said. A bill introduced by the attorney-general and passed at the last session of the legislature, gave them this power as well as that of being armed and making arrests.

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“20 Heave Bricks At Guards – Mercer On Bread, Weak Tea,” Toronto Star. June 28, 1948. Page 01.

A score of women prisoners at Mercer reformatory are ‘still holding out’ in their riot against the prison administration, officials said today. Although on rations of weak tea and bread as punishment for continued defiance, they have refused to stop shouting and during the week-end, some dislodged pieces of bricks from the wall and flung them at guards in the corridors.

Using nail files and spoons, broken and sharpened on stone, they picked at the mortar. Some whole bricks were heaved at the guards, but mostly the missiles were pieces of brick.

A dozen guards were brought from Guelph and Mimico reformatories. They are to replace Toronto police. Chief Chisholm has detailed three constables each eight hours to be on duty.

Will ‘Have Their Way’
T. M. Gourlay, inspector of prisons, is making a report on the disturbance to Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions. Meanwhile, no action is being taken.

Nine provincial police are still on duty. Toronto police are patrolling outside the building and the patrol sergeant in charge makes one trip through the jail with the matron.

Reduced rations had an effect on most of the women, who have returned to their regular work in the reformatory, officers said. The 20 out of the 100 who originally went on a sit-down strike and then rioted last Friday morning, seem determined to ‘have their way,’ they said.

Plans to remove the ringleaders to Don jail have been abandoned, officials stated.

The form of punishment to be meted out has not been decided. The superintendent, like the governor of all jails, has power to order the girls strapped, it was stated.

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“‘Siege for Days’ Seen in Mercer After Riot, Girls Scream Defiance,” Toronto Star. June 26, 1948. Page 01.

‘A state of siege that may last several days’ has developed inside Mercer Reformatory between police and guards and almost 100 women inmates who have been locked in their cells since a major riot Friday, Inspector Herb Harrison said today. More than 24 hours after the uprising, city and provincial police are still on duty as the belligerent women continue to yell and scream defiance at authorities, he said.

Friday more than 100 policemen were rushed to the old King St. W. institution when teh riot broke out during breakfast. At least two policemen were hospitalized, but have since returned to their homes. Det. Sergt. Sam Welsford had a wrist broken when he was clubbed with a baseball bat.

Toss Food Back
After struggling against clubs, fire hoses and innumerable missiles thrown at them, police and women attendants succeeded in locking the most serious offenders in the cell blocks.

When they continued to shout and break windows, their shoes were taken from them. Late last night and continuing through until late this morning, the prisoners kept up their shouting and swearing.

‘Food has had to be carried to them and everyone has been fed, although some just tossed it back out again,’ one official said.

To relieve city and provincial police now stationed within the building to check further disturbances, 15 male guards from the Ontario reformatory at Guelph are being brought to Toronto.

A. R. Virgin, provincial director of reform institutions, could not be reached this morning. His secretary said ‘he was too busy to talk.’

‘Tire Them Out’
Late this morning almost a score of city police and provincial officers were stationed in the building.

‘It looks as if it will be a matter of tiring them out,’ one official said. ‘They have shown no inclination to want to obey the regulations.’

Parcels addressed to inmates and brought to the buildings by the post-office department were being refused, it was learned.

A uniformed policeman patrolling the west wing near the kitchen was met with jeers and shouts of ‘There goes the law,’ every time he passed the windows.

Close to midnight last night, Chief John Chisholm and Inspector of Detectives Archie McCathie visited the reformatory, and left word that city police would stand guard until provincial authorities could muster enough men to take over.

While it is believed some punishments will be meted out to those taking part in the disturbance, provincial officials would not comment. They said a complete investigation must be held.

Under the reformatory act, the authorities have some powers to administer punishment but major penalties can only be applied by bringing accused before courts.

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“100 In Mercer Riot, Club Police,” Toronto Star. June 25, 1948. Page 01 & 02.

Scratch, Kick, Scream – Girls Hurt 3 Officers With Hose, Chair Legs

One hundred screaming women, wielding scores of chair legs, battled with police for half an hour today before a riot was put down at Mercer reformatory. Three policemen were hurt and several thousand dollars in damages was done before the riot that started with a sit-down strike [was over]. 

Scratching and kicking, the women were carried into their cells by police. Even after they were locked up they continued to scream.

An attempted mass escape was foiled by arrival of police, it was attested. A number of women were breaking down a back door to get out when first reinforcements arrived, Sergt. of Detectives William McAllister said.

About 100 police were required to quell the disturbance, which was said to be one of the worst in the history of the old institution.

OFFICER SLUGGED ON HEAD
One officer was hit with a baseball bat and another struck on the head as dished were hurled about the dining-room which was left a shambles.

The girls seized fire hoses and soaked the police who rushed into the building in answer to the riot call. Chief Constable Chisolm sent every available officer to the institution. Long after the actual riot ceased the girls were screaming at the top of their voices.

Prisoners charged two inmates were pushed down the steps by matrons. Expectant mothers in the institution were harshly dealt with, one girl prisoner told a reporter through a window as police ringed the building.

At 1:20pm, the girls were still shouting and screaming in their cells.

Rush 30 Cruisers
Police said there isn’t a whole dish in the place. They were hurled out the windows when the riot started in the dining room. The prisoners are said to have demanded the release of a girl, a favorite among them, from solitary confinement.

When their demands were refused by the superintendent, they refused to go to the factory. A sit-down strike started, police said, and when matrons attempted to break it up, the fighting began.

One of the first offenders to arrive, Det.-Sergt. Sam Welsford was the target of swinging chairs. He was warding off the blows with his arms when one of the girls who had a baseball bat struck him on the arm.

Taken to Hospital
Det.-Sergt. Arthur H. Keay was struck on the side of the head by a cup. He required medical treatment at the prison hospital. Sergt. Welsford was taken to hospital for x-ray and it was found he had a broken wrist.

Police sent 30 cruisers with instructions to pick up every available officer on the way to put down the trouble.The girls broke several windows in the east wing of the building and sang and shouted in profane language.

Fifteen provincial police were sent to assist Toronto police and the prisoners were finally herded into their cells. They continued to scream and shout long afterward. Work was called off for the day.

Miss Jean Milne, the superintendent, was bitten when removing a girl from the dining room at supper time last night. The girl was put in solitary. During the night the prisoners decided to riot if their demands that girl be removed from solitary confinement were not met.

Traffic Officer J. Masters was struck in the eye by a cup hurled from the cells by one woman but did not require hospital treatment.

The prisoners armed themselves with legs of chairs. Not a chair was left with a leg on, police said, as the women roamed through the dining-room and corridors, smashing windows. The halls were running with water from fire hoses.

Keay. Welsford and Det. Sergt. Angus Taylor were bruised as they warded off blows from chair legs.

Welsford and Keay were at the bottom of a heap of women who were kicking them. Keay was first to go down and Welsford tumbled on top of him and then all the women piled on top.

‘It was just like being at the bottom in a rugby tackle,’ said Keay at Toronto General Hospital, where six stitches were put in his head.

The reformatory was surrounded to prevent any possible escape, police said. There hasn’t been any trouble at Mercer reformatory for more than 10 years, police said.

A member of the superintendent’s staff said: ‘The trouble is pretty well over and the situation is under control.’

Asked if the girls had staged a sitdown strike, she said: ‘Something like that.’

The staff doctor said no girls were hurt, but said all further details would have to come from Queen’s Park.

At the reformatory, a woman who answered the telephone said the superintendent ‘is very busy right now. I can’t tell you anything.’

Prisoners at Mercer, who come from all over Ontario, mostly do laundry work and dressmaking.

May Face Charges
A. R. Virgin, director of reform institutions and Chief Inspector Robert Anderson who was in charge of the police detail conferred in the office of the superintendent after the trouble had been put down. It was said likely some of the ringleaders would face charges.

100 SCRATCHING KICKING WOMEN CARRIED BACK TO MERCER REFORMATORY CELLS AFTER BATTLE WITH POLICE

Photo captions from left to right: 
1) RIOTING WOMEN INMATES at Mercer Reformatory squirt stream from fire hose through barred windows at squads of police outside. Some officers were injured as 100 police put down riot. One was hit with a baseball bat, one by a flying dish. 

2) 30 POLICE CRUISERS rushed to reformatory and officers were soaked by fire hoses, hit with chair legs in hands of screaming women as they rushed into building. One hundred women, scratching and kicking, had to be carried back to cells after the fight

3) SEVERAL THOUSAND dollars damage was done, including broken windows, in riot that started with sit-down strike. Girls tried to break down door to freedom, charged prisoners had received harsh treatment.

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Memorandum for Mr. Hackett

Re. Convict F. B. Watson
In reply to the enquiry contained in your letter of the 13th inst I have to state that convict attended the services in the Roman Catholic Chapel from the site of his admission May 1911 until he was transferred. He had no option in the matter. (See Reg. 174) I have no information as to whether he availed himself of the Sacrements or not; (b) I informed Father McDonald that I had the authority of the Department for making the transfer. I did not tell him the transfer was effected under orders of the Department.

As to query ( C ) see information sheet attached.

Douglas Stewart, Inspector
for Warden

Letter 520

June 15, 1912.

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Memorandum for Mr. Hackett,

Re Convict Maret
The Warden forwarded to us, at Ottawa, an application from convict Maret about Mar 1st 1911 but it was couched in such violent and insulting language that we refused to consider it. See file in Inspector’s office. There is no evidence that he was a protestant before his admission here. In fact, he admits that his change of views took place since his admission. He is an excitable man and he and his champlain whether from incompatibility of temperament or similiarity of temperament do not agree. I do not think that Father McDonald can hereafter exercise any beneficial influence over him, but am decidedly of opinion that it would not tend to good discipline to permit the change, as it would serve to gratify the convict’s vindictive feeling towards the chaplain. If he had a long term to serve the case would be different, but a man who has adhered to one faith for 45 years is not greatly prejudiced if he is required to continue the same chapel services for two years longer.

Douglas Stewart, Inspector

No. 518

June 15, 1912

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