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AL: All of the coverage of the shooting incident at Kingston General
Hospital by Millhaven Institution inmate Corey Ward has tended to
focus, understandably, on the effects it has had on the Hospital: staff
are feeling “traumatized” and “violated” according to Dr.
David Messenger, an emergency room doctor and head of the Queen’s
University department of emergency medicine. The
danger to other patients, the shock and fear of patients, their families and friends, and staff, and the need to bring in counselors and support all those deeply upset by the shooting, has been emphasized – again, understandably. The
Kingston-Whig
Standard
ran
with a story November 21
about the security and policy
changes that may take place at the Hospital, as well.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers has told the press that both officers feel “shaken up” by the incident, while Correctional Service of Canada officially praised the escort team for being “very diligent and professional.” Ward’s criminal record – 10 years for uttering death threats, violent assault and assaulting a police officer in 2012 – has been released as well.

This local story interests
me for a few other reasons. Initial reports from
CTV via the Canadian Press said Ward was “found unconscious”
in his cell –
this is why he was brought to emergency. But
unconscious
from what? Why? During his arraignment, Ward
asked for a 30-day psychiatric assessment and
complained
that his medications were being withheld – was he on medication?
For what? Is that connected to the medical emergency in his cell?  He
was charged with attempted murder and firing with intent. but
aside from the initial reports saying the firearm was discharged
during a struggle (it’s not unknown for guns to be fired
accidentally during such a situation) and not aimed at anyone
directly, there is no publicly available evidence to back up these
charges. The
Kingston Police claim the escape was not premeditated, either. Again,
during his arraignment, Ward shouted out: “they
[the
correctional officers]
took the cuffs off me and dared me to attack them.”
This
may be a post-hoc justification, of course, and perhaps his escort did nothing of the sort, but given the history and
current relationship between staff and inmates at Millhaven – not
good is an understatement – this is not out of the realm of the possible.

Ward is being transferred to the Regional Reception Centre
in Saint-Anne-Des-Plaines, Quebec, which also houses the super-max Special
Handling Unit – a punitive measure without a doubt. This will also make his legal defense more difficult. Finally,
during the few seconds Ward was taped by CTV being dragged into the
courtroom by the Emergency Response Team escort (doing their best
security theatre routine) he yelled something about “suicide” and
Ashley Smith.” What was he trying to say? Why has this not been
reported on by the CBC or the Whig-Standard in their coverage? Does
this not bear further investigation, that an inmate, no matter how
violent or dangerous, might have a strong historical and communal
understanding of the connection between prison conditions, mental health and suicide?

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“We are fortunate to now have in a French edition a collection of the five booklets produced by the

Groupe d’information sur les prisons

between February 1971 and January 1973 – Intolérable, numbers 1 through 4, and a collection of prisoners’ demands – combining questionnaires and inquiries on prison conditions, texts and declarations from prison uprisings, reports by prison psychiatrists, a dossier on the killing of George Jackson and the black prison movement in the US, and correspondence and information about the wave of suicides in French prisons. This small archive is all the richer inasmuch as it repels a reduction of its ambiguities through the flattening logic of the futur antèrieur (“it will have been the case” that these inquiries were a step away from Marxism and towards democracy…).

As the declaration and prefatory text to Intolérable 1 manifest, the GIP’s prison inquiries are a sui generis combination of methods and objectives stemming from the experience of French Maoism, the ferment in the penal system, broader shifts on the French Left, mutations in the figure of the intellectual, and the political thought of Michel Foucault. The GIP’s inauguration coincides with the end of a hunger strike of Maoist prisoners – and with their decision no longer to demand the status of “political prisoners,” in contradistinction to ordinary (droit commun) inmates. For all of the editor’s emphasis on the irreducible singularity of which the GIP is supposed to be the bare repeater or relay, the group’s pamphlets begin with a minimal but incontrovertible slogan: “Courts cops hospitals asylums school military service the press the TV the State and first of all the prisons are intolerable.” Refusing the horizon of “reformism,” they declare that allowing prisoners to speak on their own behalf, and using the group to transmit their speech and writing to other prisoners, is “the only means to unify in the same struggle the inside and outside of the prison” (16). It is not a matter of inculcating the “consciousness of oppression,” which could hardly be absent, nor knowledge of who the enemy is, a daily experience; rather, it is a question of countering the manner in which the means of formulating, expressing, and organizing this consciousness are systematically quashed and confiscated.

There is irony in how the Maoist principle “no investigation, no right to speak” comes to inform these inquiries. For whereas the Maoists first tried to “establish” themselves in the factories to organize the struggle, they were thrown into jails against their will. And their first instinct was separation. Unity here is thus a matter of breaking a division that – as Foucault notes in a number of contemporaneous interviews – was both imposed upon and eventually affirmed by the workers’ movement, with its debilitating introjection of a bourgeois morality itself reproduced by legal and penal institutions: the division between the proletariat and the “non-proletarianized plebs.” The context of the rallying of the GP to the GIP, and of Foucault’s thinking at the time, is thus that of an attempt to overcome the segmentations among the oppressed, primarily between proletarians (or plebs) with a relationship to the factory and ones without.

To the extent that the penal system is aimed at producing the isolation of a (criminalized) fraction of the working class, Foucault presents the primary objective of the GIP as the “reintegration” of this fraction into political struggles. Moreover, this attempt to suture the fracture in the proletariat – reproduced both by the repressive apparatus and by the official institutions of the workers’ movement – is doubled by a different kind of alliance-building, in which what has become “intolerable” to “new social strata (intellectual, technicians, doctors, journalists, etc.)” (17) about the ruling order is connected to what has always been intolerable in the experience of the exploited class. “Intolerance” is thus framed not (just) as a humanist cry, but as a project for unifying struggles against capitalism – not by providing them with a “thinking head” but by allowing them to communicate with one another beyond their enforced isolation. These “intolerance-inquiries” (enquêtes-intolerance) have four principles: not to attenuate oppressive power but to attack it in a political act; to be the “first episode of a struggle” by targeting specific institutions and individuals,  naming names; to unite around these targets different strata kept separate by the ruling class, thus constituting a single “front of attack”; to be inquiries from the inside, in which the customary objects of investigation become the investigators, speaking on their own behalf and “taking charge of the struggle that will stop oppression from exercising itself” (18).

Despite the shifts in Foucault’s own accounts of the GIP, it is important to keep in mind this explicitly anti-capitalist dimension of the prison inquiries – conceived as instruments to organize a unity against the strategies of domination – if only not to have them retrospectively overwhelmed by the emphasis on “saying the event,” and on not interfering with the words of the imprisoned. The distance between the GIP and classical modes of Marxist organizing is evident enough: an explicit refusal of vanguard organizing, not to mention of traditional distinctions between disciplined workers and the delinquent rabble, is everywhere present. It is also true that many of the terms and practices of the GIP – its stress on public opinion or rights, for instance – seem to belong to a liberal firmament; and that, notwithstanding the protestations against reformism, Foucault himself mused about it calling forth “a new Beccaria.” 9 But the vanishing mediator narrative occludes the antagonistic dimensions of the project, not to mention how, be it in the documenting of George Jackson’s struggle or in Foucault’s coquetting with a vision of criminality as revolutionary (he quotes Hugo on crime as a “coup d’état from below”), it is anything but safely “democratic.”

Much of the willful political ambivalence in these inquiries lies in the very adjective that gives them their title: intolerable. Against the “commission of inquiry” (a common practice of the liberal or radical Left) or the sociological study, they reject the “accumulation of knowledge” for the sake of two aims: to allow prisoners to communicate their experiences and struggles to each other and the outside, in their own words; to intensify and organize an “active intolerance.” This intolerance leaves undetermined whether it would be assuaged by reform or realized in revolution (though we could hazard that the GIP’s tendency, as that of Foucault, is somehow to think a point of indifference between reform and revolt, while bracketing the question of revolution). Perhaps we could say that it lies very much on the hither side of such totalizing questions, though it need not avoid totalizing positions. Objecting to an interviewer’s request to delineate what for him would be an “ideal penal system,” Foucault puts the question as follows – in a class language which he often adopted in this period, allowing it to wane and disappear as the 1970s wore on: “I am simply trying to make visible, to allow to appear and to be transformed in a discourse readable to all, what is unbearable for the least privileged classes in the current system of justice.”

It is fitting that the Intolérable inquiries approached this task by beginning in illegality: prisoners were not allowed to participate in the initial questionnaire so these had to be covertly distributed, by various contacts, especially family members (“some families have become investigators,” the pamphlet notes), in the punitively surveilled context of the “prison visit” (one of the key objects of the inquiries). The approach of Intolérable 1 is methodical. The booklet includes two full questionnaires, two long accounts of prison conditions by prisoners in different establishments, and an anthology of representative statements, thematically classified, from the remainder of the questionnaires. Contrary to Artières’s suggestion in his postface that the GIP had no slogan but that of letting the prisoners speak for themselves (itself a declaration that could be easily problematized: “letting speak” is a very complex act), the first booklet does present itself as connected to a campaign – against the criminal record, posited as a key site for fighting the state’s unlimited power, the hypocrisy of its claims to reeducation, and the endemic violation of labour rights, which turns every release into a mere reprieve.

The questionnaires cover, in detail at once harrowing and repetitious, the conditions of prison life in France in 1971 – from the unavailability of dentistry to the brutality of solitary confinement (le mitard), from the lack of books to the filthiness of living quarters, and from the hyper-exploitation of prison labour to the repression of sexual life. Filled out clandestinely, as noted in at least one questionnaire, they are succinct, if detailed, and bleak – like many workers’ inquiries neither enjoyable nor entertaining, and, given the passing of time, also disconnected as reports from the historical immediacy that originally lent them their moral and political force. While Engels’s Manchester still makes for vivid reading, these archives, disjoined from the practice of the GIP, necessarily test the reader – at least for Intolérable 1, it is the monotony of oppression and not the singularity of the voices that stands out. The first questionnaire may give us a clue to this, when, asked “Can you describe the conditions of the prison visit (what seems most intolerable to you)?,” the inmate answers: “No. You cannot describe the conditions of the visit, you have to live them” (though he proceeds to list the noise, the dirt and the anxiety generated by the limit on time) (20).  What is perhaps most revealing, though, is his answer to the last question, which asks for general views about the questionnaire and the inquiry. Starkly, he states “you have the wrong address” – meaning that the prison is not a site that could be reformed on its own without taking on the whole of the justice system, where the police engages in forms of violence even more brutal than the ones meted out by prison guards. Though he welcomes the inquiry, as part of a broader investigation into the barbarities of the justice system, its danger is that “the effect is taken for the cause” (31).

This recalls an important point made by Foucault in his preface to Livrozet’s De la prison à la revolte, where he notes that though prison writings, namely in the form of memoirs, have been tolerated – as long as they were “as extreme and singular as possible,” adventure writings that served as the converse of the forensic thrills of detective fictions – what has always been proscribed has been the production in the first person of theory from prison, especially in the guise of “a thinking of infraction … a certain reflection on law linked to the refusal of law.” Such theorizing must be left in the hands of the social scientists, for whom the prisoner is the investigated, never the investigator, and prisoners can only form a dispersed collection, never a collective movement. Against the idea that “saying the event” requires celebrating irreducible singularity, the GIP’s inquiries can in part also be seen as a move against the temptation, present in the public genre of the prison memoir, to “conjure away everything that is quotidian, familiar, extremely probable, and in the final analysis that is central in our relationship to the police and to justice.” With their detailed enumeration of unwashed toilets, noise, humidity, mediocre slop, cramped “exercise yards,” frustrated sexuality, or the grinding labour of assembling chairs for a local factory owner, the questionnaires are a taxing testament to this everydayness of oppression, as endemic in its generality as it is arbitrary in its individual manifestations (random censorship, whimsical punishments, bizarre regulations). Indescribable suffering channeled into deadpan descriptions: “8 meters square lit by an armoured window; a basin, a toilet, two mattresses, an interphone. Total isolation. The need for contact turns into delirium. I bang my head against the wall to break the monotony.””

– Alberto Toscano, “The Intolerable-Inquiry: The Documents of the Groupe d’information sur les prisons.” Viewpoint Magazine. September 25, 2013.

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Causes of in-custody deaths. Suicide was the leading cause of death among the pre-trial deaths for which Reuters found causes. Deaths of people awaiting trial were more likely to be suicides than those of sentenced inmates.

From

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

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“Despondent Over His Time,” Kingston Daily Standard. August 1, 1912. Page 02.

Convict Shaw, Suicide, Had Been Brooding.

He Had Petioned For His Parole, But It Was Not Granted – Had Been A Model Prisoner.

That convict James Shaw, who was found hanged in his cell at the Penitentiary yesterday morning, had been brooding for some time, because the department had not granted his parole, was brought out in the evidence given before the Coroner’s jury which inquired into the death last night.

Several guards gave evidence to the effect that the deceased had been morose and despondent for about two months. A convict in the cell adjoining Shaw stated that he had expected something would happen, when he was told that Shaw had suicided. In his evidence to the jury this prisoner swore that Shaw told him on Tuesday afternoon that he would never spend another holiday in the Penitentiary and that if something did not come of his petition, he would end it all. All the witnesses testified to the convict having been a model prisoner. He was quiet and obedient and had never given any trouble.

The last to see Shaw alive were two of the night watchmen. In their evidence they stated that apparently he was asleep when they passed on their rounds about 4.50 on Tuesday morning. He was discovered dead on the next round about 5.45.

The verdict of the jury was to the effect that the deceased came to his death by his own hand by hanging, and that any blame could be placed on the officials.

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“Convict Shaw Suicides at ‘Pen’,” Kingston Daily Standard. July 31, 1912. Page 01.

Body Found Early This Morning by Watchman

Attached Towel to Barrier Above Cell Door and Hanged – Good Prisoner on Short Term.

His dead body swinging from the barrier above his cell door, James Shaw, a convict serving a three year term at the Portsmouth Penitentiary, was found ealry this morning by Watchman Montgomery. The man had been dead only a short time. A towel had been used by the dead man to commit the deed. He had probably secreted it in his clothes following ‘wash-up’ parade. He had been a quiet, inoffensive prisoner according to the officials at the penitentiary, and no reason can be found for the deed. He was sentenced in Toronto on September 27, 1910, for three years on the charge of wounding with intent to kill, so his term was within a year of completion, and despondency from having a long sentence could not have been the cause.

Shaw was a young man, being only twenty-three years of age. His conduct since arriving at the pen has been quiet and satisfactory. He was not doing ‘punishment’ and had never expressed himself as being dissatisified with his treatment.

The relative in Toronto have been notified and the body, following embalming, will be held for a couple of days to allow his friends the privilege of burial if they so desire.

Coroner Ross has been notified and an inquest will be held to-night to investigate the circumstances surrounding the act. It is felt that the relatives would not be satisfied unless an inquest were held.

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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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“Institut Laval: le gaz
était la seule solution,” Le Soleil. June 5, 1980. Page 07.

MONTREAL (PC). — Les gardiens de l’institution à sécurité maximum de Laval
n’avaient pas d’autre choix
que d’utiliser les gaz lorsque
sept prisonniers se sont tranchés
les poignets dans une
tentative de suicide collectif
la semaine dernière, a indiqué.
hier, un porte-parole du
service fédéral des pénitenciers. 

M Guy Verreault a ajouté
qu’une faible quantité de gaz
avait été utilisée afin qu’un
médecin et une infirmière
puissent approcher de l’endroit
où I’incident s’est produit
sans être menacés par
les cinq ou huit autres prisonniers
qui se trouvaient là

“Pouvez-vous vous imaginer
ce qui se serait passé si
nous avions envahi la place,” a indiqué M Verreault réfutant
du même coup les allégations
d’un groupe de défense
des droits des détenus
qui prétend que l’utilisation

des gaz n’était pas nécessaire.

Les sept prisonniers, tous
gardés dans des cachots, ont
utilisé des lames de rasoir
pour se trancher les poignets.
Six d’entre eux ont été
soignés à la prison et Réal
Brousseau a été conduit dans
un hôpital de la région 

Les autorités pênitenciaires
ont demandé à la Sûreté
du Québec de faire enquête. M Jean-Claude Bernheim,
un porte-parole de la Ligue
des droits des détenus, a
demandé, mardi, que le solliciteur
général du Canada. M.
Robert Kaplan, exige une
enquête.  

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