Down the Tram Line to Party

The following account was told to Ruth Woodin of Hedley, by her father-in-law Barry Woodin. He was battling cancer and near the end of his life. He evidently never lost his sense of humour. She says he was more of a father to her than her own father ever was.

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Barry and Jean Woodin were in their early twenties and just married, ready to contend with any challenge life would present to them. Barry applied for a job at the Nickel Plate Mine near the peak of Nickel Plate Mountain. He was hired and they moved into one of the homes on the mine site, about 6,000 feet above sea level.

It was a delight to them when they learned that each Saturday night the mine provided a tram down the mountain to the Hedley town site. Workers and spouses could catch a ride in empty ore

Ore cars on exhibit at Hedley Museum
Ore cars on exhibit at Hedley Museum

cars. The ore cars were small, not equipped with seats, and not comfortable. It was simply a means of rapidly descending the steep mountain to enjoy an evening of partying in a more civilized setting. The ride down the mountain in what was essentially an open metal box was not for the faint of heart.

Former Tram Line on Nickel Plate Mountain
Former Tram Line on Nickel Plate Mountain

On their first Saturday at the mine, Barry burst through the door of their home after work and said, “hurry Jean, I don’t want to miss the tram!” Jean was doing her hair and pampering her face. “Leave me alone Barry,” she said. “I’ll be ready when I’m ready.”

After working in the mine all week, Barry was eager to get away and have some fun. “The tram won’t wait for us,” he told her. “If you aren’t done with your prettyin’ in time, I’m going on my own.”

Maybe she didn’t believe he’d go without her. Or maybe it was a young bride’s way of asserting herself. We can only guess at her reasoning but she wasn’t ready when it was time to leave. Barry had not been bluffing. “Good bye Sweetheart,” he said. See you later.”

He found a party and danced well into the night. Then, in the early hours of the morning, the tram rattled noisily back up the steep grade of Nickel Plate mountain, returning the weary but satisfied partyers. When Barry arrived at his front door, he fumbled with the latch. The door seemed stuck. Had he had one drink too many? After fiddling determinedly with the latch, leaning against the door, speaking to it in terms I won’t repeat here, he paused to consider.

After a moment of reflection he understood the problem. Fortunately, even with the cold mountain air nipping at his face and bare hands, he saw the humour in this. “She’s locked me out,” he said with a chuckle. “Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

He went to the mine workshop and found an axe. Returning to the house, he began chopping at the rear door, which was also locked, until there was a hole large enough for him to squeeze through. Before going to bed he hung a blanket to cover the opening. It would remain in place until he was able to find another door.

In spite of this incident, and probably at least a few more, Barry and Jean remained happily married until his passing at age 52.

When Barry finished telling Ruth this little story he said with a wink, “she was never late again.” According to Ruth, Jean never disputed any of the details of Barry’s story.

 

Two Senior Boys On Motorcycles

When Linda and I pulled into the parking lot at Manning Park this past Monday morning, my attention was immediately drawn to a couple of motorcycles. The riders were chatting with a third individual, obviously also a bike enthusiast.

The two bikes interested me in part because they gleamed, as though they had just been taken out of a showroom. Of greater interest was that one had two wheels in front, something I don’t

3 Wheel Harley
3 Wheel Harley

recall seeing previously. The other was a Harley with two wheels in the rear.

While I was looking with great fascination and admiration at the first one, the owner came over and we talked a few minutes.

Bob told me the bike was made by Bombardier, with some custom

Art With Bob & His Bombardier
Art With Bob & His Bombardier

items. “The Bombardier suspension system gives it great stability,” he said, “I like the three wheel design. My left hip doesn’t have the strength anymore to support a two wheel bike.” He obviously felt pride in the machine’s performance capacity, but he gave no indication of wanting to boast.

“It’s obviously in great shape,” I observed. “Is it be pretty new?”

“I bought it three months ago,” he answered.

I have no inner compulsion to own such a bike but I did have a need to know what an impressive machine like this would cost. “About $30,000” he said with just the slightest reticence. Maybe a few people have expressed surprise he paid that much for a bike. A decent car can be bought for that kind of money. I wasn’t surprised though. It is a very special bike.

I was now permitting my curiosity free reign. “Does this fall into the category of what we call a mid-life crises?” I asked.

He smiled a little and said, “It’s probably more of a senior mid-life crises.” I had noticed that his neatly trimmed beard did appear to be greying somewhat.

They were from Chilliwack on their way to Princeton on a day ride. Just two senior boys who apparently had been financially prudent when they were younger. They’d had the smarts to set aside something so that now they were able to afford this expensive item on their bucket list. It’s pretty awesome that they have the health and also the chutzpah to do what a lot of us just dream about.

Bob, for me seeing those two intriguing motorcycles and talking with you certainly made it a memorable encounter. In retrospect, I realize now I should have asked a few more questions. But maybe there is enough here so the example of you and your friend will inspire some of us to risk more and live our dreams.

A Hot Summer Day In Hedley

July 12. It’s 11:05 in sunny downtown Hedley. 31 degrees on the front walkway, which is in the shade.

At about 8 a.m. Linda and I picked Saskatoons for breakfast. The air was still pleasantly cool when we sat on the side deck having Cheerios topped with slices of banana and Saskatoons. Usually breakfast consists of oatmeal with fruit, but now we choose not to warm the house with cooking.

We feel fortunate in being able to harvest the berries. Angelique bought this lot, which is directly across the street from her home, several years ago. The historic St. John’s church is on this site. Being interested in history, she commissioned our local historian, Jennifer Douglass, to research its past. Much of the lot is used for gardening and I have a pumpkin plant and about 12 potato plants growing on her huglebeet. Last year my pumpkin growing experiment there produced plenty of vines but only 2 pumpkins.

In spite of the Hedley heat, the two Cleopoatras and Miss Lonely Hearts enter the laying box faithfully virtually every morning. I stay away from their little domain until about 9:30 am. If they hear me while they are in the box, they abandon the laying because they think I’m there to give them their treat of dry oatmeal.

The girls are as seriously addicted to the oatmeal as an addict to heroin. The Cleopatras lay first, and while they are in the box, Lonely Hearts stands inside the gate of their fence, insistently calling for me to bring the treat. Then she goes into the box and the Cleopatras begin the vociferous pleading. Because Lonely Hearts is a slow layer, they become quite impatient. Although they have only small mouths, their volume is incredible. If we want to hear the computer, we have to close the rear windows.

Our small garden is doing well. We’ve finished eating the row of radishes. Lately it’s been bokchoy cabbage, spinach, beet leaves, arugula, kale, etc. Linda uses the produce in salads. I frequently snatch a leaf while working on an outdoor project. Marauding cabbage moths are a minor plague this year. Our neighbour Kim said moths and their dog Dixie have destroyed about 80% of their

Art Pursuing A Cabbage Moth
Art Pursuing A Cabbage Moth

garden. Last year I found a butterfly net with a long handle at the Princeton Dollar Store to snare the moths. My technique is improving and in spite of their clever evasive tactics, I’m averaging about a dozen kills per day. Of course, within 10 minutes of clearing the garden of them, another squadron swoops over the fence on either side and the destruction of plants continues almost without pause. Linda finds considerable humour in my wild leaping around and waving of the net. Fortunately as yet there is no “Moth Rights Society” here.

Due to the heat, Linda and I have been leaving for our walk at about 9pm. By this time the No See’ims are on the prowl. They must fast all day because they are ravenous. Currently we are experimenting with brown Listerine, rubbed on all exposed parts of the body. It does make a difference for about an hour. If we plan to stay out longer, we’ll have to carry the bottle with us.

I just looked at the thermometer. 37 degrees. A hot day in Hedley. It’s a good time to go to 20 Mile Creek and dangle our feet in the water.

Developing Skills And Credibility

My first year of coordinating the M2/W2 (Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman) program at Matsqui Institution was in a volunteer capacity. It never occurred to me to think that not being paid for this work was unfair. Although I didn’t realize it then, this year was providing me with experience and skills I would require in various challenging circumstances throughout my life. Particularly important was a growing understanding that in any setting, especially a prison but also in my personal life, it was essential I develop credibility.

Two Men In Conversation
Two Men In Conversation

Credibility came in part out of many conversations with counsellors, living unit officers, psychologists and other staff. It came also from scrupulously observing the numerous prison rules and regulations, although at times I did give expression to my disagreement with a particular policy.

It was this credibility on my part, and on the part of our sponsors, that enabled us to have a Christmas party away from the institution that first year. Most of the inmates in our program were given a temporary absence pass for the evening. Individual temporary absences for outings with sponsors were also granted to some men who had not been trusted with a pass previously. The men were aware that if they went A.W.O.L. while on a pass with their sponsor, it would bring disrepute to the entire program and possibly prevent other inmates from going out with their sponsor.

As part of the orientation of sponsors at each institution, they were specifically advised to not carry out anything unless it had been cleared by the prison censor. Some years later I heard of a sponsor, a woman of excellent integrity at a female unit elsewhere, who agreed to let an inmate mail a letter while on a temporary absence. The prison authorities learned of this and called her in for a serious grilling. She was deeply embarrassed.

I felt the temporary absence program was an important tool for easing inmates back into the community and frequently made the case for an inmate to receive a TA. However, if the man was a serious escape risk, or if he had repeatedly demonstrated bad judgment within the institution, I would not lend such support.

Steve, a large burly man who had killed a prostitute on two separate occasions, was such a case. He seemingly could not control his emotions or make sound decisions when under the influence of alcohol. When he asked me for a letter of support for day parole, I declined. In the time I had known him, I had seen little indication of serious inner change or growth and I was concerned that another woman might lose her life. He had been granted a temporary absence recently and, contrary to the conditions of the TA, he had gone to a prostitute with a bottle of vodka.

I was certain the Parole Board would question my judgment if I supported Steve with a letter. Also, prison staff participated in parole hearings and I felt my credibility with them would be tainted if I advocated for an inmate with his record both inside and outside the prison. To be taken seriously when I supported an inmate’s application for a TA or for parole, my judgment should not be in question.

The Matsqui Institution experience taught me that whether I am dealing with prison officials, a parole officer, a news reporter, or my wife, children or grand children, my personal credibility must be intact.

 

 

Hedley Celebrates Canada Day

Art Martens with Constable Pankratz
Art Martens with Constable Pankratz

“Meet your Mountie” was definitely a crowd pleaser at the Hedley Canada Day celebration. The event, which took place at the

Hedley Museum, featured gold panning, face painting and a treasure hunt for the children. There was also music that might be described as a combination of old time, folk and blue grass. A hamburger and hot dog barbeque made it a complete day.

When Constable Anthony Pankratz of the Princeton RCMP Detachment agreed to pose for photos with celebration attendees, the response was enthusiastic. At 6 feet, 8 inches, he towered above those standing next to him for a picture. One enraptured lady looked up into his face and exclaimed, “oh, he’s cute!”

Later, in an interview with the festivities MC, he regaled the crowd with his impressions of life as a Mountie in the Similkameen Valley. He said “the biggest challenge that comes with being a police officer in a small town is that I know a lot of the people I have a responsibility to deal with.”

Just before the singing of “O Canada” at noon, Bill Day, a former Citizenship Judge, addressed the audience. The essence of his message was that, “ Canada has done many things right, but we have been very wrong in the way we have dealt with First Nations people.”

The musicians, Colleen Cox and George Huber are popular entertainers on the Blue Grass circuit. From 11 am to 2 pm, with a couple of intermissions, they sang and played such favourites as “You are my Sunshine” and “Country Roads.” George and Colleen’s passion for music and love of people, plus their engaging personalities held the attention of the crowd to the end. For the last few tunes they were joined on stage by talented local musician Eric Lance. Ben Murbach provided a delightful impromptu flute solo during one intermission.

Prior to the formal program, local historian Jennifer Douglass conducted a guided tour of Hedley. She has published articles on the area and provided little known insights into Hedley’s past.

The barbeque grill was ably tended by veteran hotel chef and camp cook, Jim Gray. With his stetson and massive greying beard, Jim could be mistaken for a cowboy philosopher. He is currently providing meals at the museum from 10 am to 4 pm. every day except Tuesday. Salads, pickles, tomatoes, watermelon slices and Canada Day cupcakes were provided by town ladies. Five cent ice cream cones were again a popular item.

Comments at the end suggested that everyone went home well fed and happy.

Church Men Go To Prison

In the first year after receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree from matsqui2SFU, I didn’t earn a single dollar using this hard won education. I was not troubled by that. My volunteer activity at Matsqui Institution was, in essence, an unpaid apprenticeship in corrections. I was experiencing challenge and fulfillment, and there were plenty of opportunities for learning, exploring and growing. The experience I was gaining would prove to be of immense benefit once I became serious about launching a career. My working arrangement with Dad in his landscaping business allowed me considerable flexibility to attend to my M2 prison responsibilities.

Our program rapidly became known within the prison and the flow of applications increased at a rate that alarmed me. As yet we had none of the sponsors I had promised.

Persuading men to become the friend of an inmate proved to be more challenging than finding inmates who wanted to participate. Fortunately at some churches there were groups of men who invited me to come and present the opportunity to make a significant difference in someone’s life. Sometimes I was able to arrange for an inmate to accompany me to these sessions. I had found an exceptionally strong, patient sponsor for Roy, and he soon lost his stern expression and unfolded his massive arms. He was one of the men I took along at times. Although he remained silent during the meetings, he became quite willing to answer questions afterward.

On one occasion I arranged for several inmates to join me in a church group discussion about the corrections system and what was helpful for rehabilitation. One of the inmates I brought to this meeting was Albert, a man of about 60 with a lengthy prison record, much of it for drug possession and trafficking in heroin. In a group setting, Albert was relaxed and congenial, and he expressed himself coherently. Wearing a grey suit and striped tie, his appearance, bearing and speech were entirely distinguished.

One of the church men arrived late. After the meeting he said to me, “I’m really impressed that the warden came.” I was puzzled at this. The warden had not been there. From his description, I realized he thought Albert was the warden. Certainly Albert’s appearance and demeanour could have caused anyone to conclude he was a highly placed official at Matsqui. As a prisoner, he was responsible and his capabilities were exceptional. Unfortunately, out of prison this gifted man had always reverted quickly to his street mentality. On the street he saw himself only as a user and seller of heroin.

I knew a lot of men would be intimidated by the thought of developing a relationship with a man doing prison time. How would they possibly find anything to talk about with someone who had long been confined behind a high perimeter fence? Some were also concerned about their own safety and that of their family.

To counter the various anxieties, I began inviting individual men to go with me to visit an inmate who wanted a sponsor. I phoned a man I had gone to school with but hadn’t talked with in years. I also approached a successful businessman who had previously been with CBC television. Another was a tradesman I didn’t know well but respected highly. I was pleasantly surprised when each agreed to go to the prison with me And, like many others, each decided to sponsor the man they visited. Once they met the individual and talked with him, they realized that this man had many of the same desires, concerns and needs they had. It became an effective strategy and it meant I could select men I believed had sound judgment and would be dependable.

In time, the decision makers at Matsqui came to believe that our sponsors were of good character and would not assist inmates in anything contrary to prison regulations. This gave us considerable credibility and sponsors were able to take inmates out on day passes when they became eligible. Often they took them to their homes for a meal and to meet their family.

Almost without exception, inmates were grateful for these excursions beyond the high, confining prison fences and did not take advantage of their sponsor. The relationship gave them an opportunity to view life in mainstream society. The experience challenged their thinking and in some cases persuaded them this was a life they too could have. Although they would find that straightening out their badly bent lives was difficult, they had someone willing to walk along this path at their side, possibly for the first time.

Need For Miracles At Matsqui Institution

When I graduated from SFU, I didn’t immediately look for work where I could apply what I had learned. During my 4 years at the university, I had put in quite a lot of time with Dad in his landscaping business. My role had mostly been to operate a John Deere front end loader and deliver top soil, sand, and gravel with a dump truck. Knowing Dad had more work than he could look after alone, I decided to stay with him temporarily.

I arranged a meeting with Doug McGregor to give him a copy of the paper I had written, based on my research at Matsqui Institution. I told him about M2/W2 and asked if he would consider having the organization set up a program at Matsqui.

“Do you think this is the answer to problems with inmate rehabilitation?” he asked. I wondered later if this had been his way of ascertaining how naïve I was in regard to prison issues.

“We don’t claim it will solve all problems,” I replied. “I do believe though that if an inmate has a friend in the community, he won’t feel as isolated from mainstream society. An M/2 Sponsor would commit to visit him once every two weeks. He and his family and friends could be a positive influence in his life. When the inmate is paroled, the sponsor might be able to assist him in finding employment.”

Although he didn’t say anything, I sensed that Doug was listening intently. “In cases where a solid relationship is developed,” I continued, “ the man doing time has someone of good character in his life. This means he doesn’t have to feel as dependent on his past criminal associations. Some men recognize that they need to sever those connections completely, but that certainly doesn’t happen in every case.”

Doug asked a few more questions and then agreed to meet with Ray Coles, the executive director of M2/W2. Several weeks later Ray asked if I would consider coordinating the program at Matsqui in a volunteer capacity. I had derived considerable satisfaction from doing the research at the institution, and although there would be no remuneration, I felt this was a good move for me. It would enable me to gain further experience in corrections. My interest was in the realm of rehabilitation, not in becoming part of the bureaucracy and being enmeshed in its often stifling web.

A few days later I requested a meeting with interested inmates. The staff liaison, who coordinated the activities of the various groups coming into the institution, recognized the benefit of having inmates interact with citizens from the community. She advertised the program among the inmate population and invited interested individuals to attend an informational meeting with me. This meeting took place in one of the institutions’ classrooms. At the time inmates were able to upgrade to a high school level education, something they frequently lacked. Several university courses were also offered.

The meeting attracted just over a dozen men. Some were simply curious or looking for a break from prison tedium. Others desperately hoped for something that would halt the downward trend of their lives. The men straggled in, usually one at a time, all clad in the drab grey prison uniforms. As though hoping not to be noticed, each cautiously took a seat as close to the rear of the room as possible. Prison life had tutored them in the art of distrust.

They observed me furtively. Only two or three made even minimal eye contact. These were hardened, discontented, discouraged men who had known mostly failure. Sexual and physical abuse was a common thread in their history. Feeling alone, unappreciated and unloved, they desperately needed a miracle. Of course, they didn’t have the capacity to believe in miracles.

For these desolate men heroin, cocaine and alcohol were the only means of escaping from the sorrow and rage that simmered deep within.  Even for the younger ones, the time had passed when they would willingly make the effort to change and grow. Looking into these disconsolate faces and sensing their lack of ability to believe, I felt a powerful urge to bring into their lives men who might be able to help them accept that good things were still possible.

Several days later, I received seven applications for a sponsor. Among them were three I particularly recall.

One was Steve, a large sombre man of about 55 who had two times killed a prostitute in a drunken rage. He was doing life. He’d need help if he was to get out of prison before he was too old to care. The damage done to his psyche in earlier years was immense. In the time I knew him, I never saw him smile.

Also in attendance at the meeting was Roy, a balding, barrel chested stocky man of about 40. He had come early to secure a seat at the very back of the room. He sat through the entire meeting with his arms folded across his chest and his face radiating distrust. Everything about him suggested extreme skepticism, lack of hope and a strong measure of defiance. I doubted he’d want anything to do with our program but I instinctively felt that if he did, he would be difficult.

Al, doing significant time for an armed robbery in which he had shot a policeman in the leg, also applied for a sponsor. His most recent contact with his parents had been a 45 minute visit six years ago at Stony Mountain Prison in Manitoba. Although he was only 36, he already thought of himself as a hard core con. He spoke out of the side of his mouth and his attitude and values were those of a man who has spent many years behind prison bars.

Looking through the applications, I was mystified when I saw the name of Roy, who had placed an impenetrable wall of reserve and skepticism between himself and me. He did prove to be a handful, as I guessed, but not in the way I had expected. In fairness to him, each of the others also proved to be extremely difficult. In spite of the challenges though, several of the relationships that developed from this first meeting would last a decade or more. As in every other prison, miracles at Matsqui Institution were scarce, but at times we got close.

 

Meriam Ibrahim Still Needs Our Help

Late yesterday Linda and I read an online report stating that an appeals court had released the Sudanese Christian woman, Meriam Ibrahim and her children from prison. This morning we read that the Sudanese National Intelligence Security Service had re-arrested Meriam and her 2 young children and her husband at a Sudanese airport.

We listened to the CKNW news this morning, hoping to learn more. There was no mention of this situation. I called the station’s news room, told Gord McDonald what I had heard and asked if CKNW was going to shed more light on this issue. He promised to get it on their news.

I admit that often when I feel something is wrong, I hesitate to express my concern publicly. Sometimes I question my own thinking. Is my concern valid? Will others consider it foolish?

At times our timidity prevents us from drawing attention to a government or corporate policy that is hurting vulnerable individuals. Hurricane Rubin Carter believed that “the most powerful enemy of justice is inertia.” A racially charged trial cost him 20 years in the Trenton State Prison for 3 murders committed by someone else. Surely there must have been individuals who realized that the process was flawed and that this innocent man needed people to speak loudly on his behalf.

When we allow the media to guide our thinking, we tend not to question whether a matter is being dealt with fairly or justly. And even when we realize that something should be done, we expect someone else to do it.

If the problem isn’t resolved rapidly, we are diverted from it by the next issue being reported by the media. The case of the Nigerian girls who were abducted is a prime example. Is the Nigerian government still looking for them? They assured parents they would find them. But now the media has lost interest and the government no longer feels international pressure.

We become complacent so easily. We are quickly diverted. We are fearful and hesitant. This permits base, corrupt, dishonest individuals to carry on with their nefarious schemes. An ancient Israeli poet once asked, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can good citizens do?”

In the game of life, we cannot be bystanders. At this writing, it is not known where the family has been taken. Whatever country we live in, each of us can ask our national government to press Sudan to release them. Meriam Ibrahim and her family, and many others, desperately need our help in drawing attention to their plight.

 

A Sunday In Hedley

Like every other day of the week, Linda and I began today with stretches and exercises. I was up earlier than usual and Linda doesn’t go to the Senior Centre for coffee Sunday morning, so we started at 6:45 am. Unlike every other day, I took half an anacin this morning. My body isn’t as limber as in the past and I’ve often considered anacin to make the workout easier. Until this morning, I’ve always resisted the temptation. I’m learning that holding age at bay requires a good deal of will and focus.

By 8 am the sun had popped over the mountain to the east and Linda asked if I wanted to have breakfast on the patio. We carried out our bowls of porridge, laden with Saskatoon berries and basked in the warmth of the sun. Clean air, birds chirping happily, the girls clucking after receiving their treat, mountains surrounding us. We have reason to be content and grateful.

At 9:15 we set out for the little church on Ellis Street. A 5 minute walk. Several people were away so, counting children, there were 17 in attendance. Pastor Graham entitled his message “The Scarlet Rope”. It was about Rahab, the woman who protected 2 Israeli spies and helped them escape from the city of Jericho. He emphasized that God can use us for a good purpose in spite of our past.

After the service most people stayed for coffee and cookies. I noticed little Evangeline, about age 3, tiptoe past me daintily holding the 2 halves of an Oreo cookie. She was licking the icing off the centres. A little later she came to me and offered me one well licked half. I accepted it but when she saw that I was just holding it in my hand, she said “eat it.”

For lunch we went to the Hedley Heritage Museum. Jim Gray serves food in the Tea Room from Friday to Sunday. Beryl joined us and we each had a very satisfying sandwich. We learned that Beryl and Bruce spent three and a half months in India some years ago. In addition to extensive travelling about the country, she volunteered in a Mother Teresa orphanage and fell in love with the children. I’m often surprised at what some people have done. Most of us probably need to take a few more risks to enliven our existence.

Usually we walk along 20 Mile Creek to the Big Rock which is at the far end of the meadow (actually what is left of a tailings pond from gold mining days). Today Linda suggested a hike along the Similkameen River. We saw some Saskatoon bushes with nearly ripe berries. Doesn’t look like it will be a bumper crop though. When we returned home Linda prepared dinner while I began writing this post.

It wasn’t an exciting Sunday. Most Hedley Sundays are not. A few people in town may have gotten aroused by the soccer games being played in Brazil. Probably not many though. Haven’t heard any talk about it. I suppose we prefer to live our own lives rather than sit in front of a television, watching others live theirs. For Linda and me, it was a satisfying day.

 

A Door Opens At Matsqui Institution

Although I did not gain a deep sense of satisfaction or fulfillment from the Oakalla experience, it did foster within me an interest in prisons and prison life. I was asking questions such as, “what is the role of personal choices in producing men and women who spend years of their lives behind prison bars and high perimeter fences?” “What part does the family play in this?” “What about societal factors?” “And how does prison life influence and impact the thinking, attitudes, actions and futures of inmates?”

At the beginning of 1971 I needed to write a major paper to complete the requirements for an Honours BA. I discussed my interest in prisons, and especially inmate culture, with one of the SFU profs who would supervise me in this. Fortunately he had an acquaintance who was a department head at what was then the Regional Psychiatric Centre. He readily offered to make arrangements for me to meet him.

On arriving at the Psychiatric Centre, which was actually a high security prison, I quickly realized that the emphasis was definitely on security. An electronically controlled steel door slid open to admit me. I understood at once that from this point on, I would not be master of my own fate until someone opened this door for me again and allowed me to exit. I was buzzed into a small building where an aging, very thin officer was waiting for me. A sheet of glass with a metal aperture separated us. He pushed a book through the opening at the bottom of the glass and said “fill in the blanks, print your name and then sign.”

When I had provided the requisite information, he appeared grudgingly satisfied and said, “wait here, someone will escort you to your appointment.” A young security officer appeared from somewhere behind him. He smiled and said, “follow me”. I gathered that unlike the older man, he was not yet institutionalized and not bored.

Although it was much newer than Oakalla, the place had an intimidating institutional personality. It occurred to me that I probably would not be able to walk anywhere along these halls without being tracked by a camera. My psyche felt under siege and I questioned my wisdom in wanting to do a study in this forbidding place.

The department head was middle aged, balding and experienced. He very likely understood immediately that the high level of security and the nature of their inmates might be overly daunting for me. “We deal with extremely difficult cases,” he said, evidently feeling a need to establish a direction for our conversation. “Our clientele includes a number of sexual offenders.” Possibly he didn’t want to discourage me so he allowed some time for discussion. As we talked, I had the sense he was considering where my request might be looked upon favourably. After about 10 minutes he seemed to have come up with

Matsqui Institution by ian lindsay Vancouver Sun
Matsqui Institution by ian lindsay Vancouver Sun

a possible plan. “I think Matsqui Institution would be a more appropriate place for you to do what you have in mind,” he said. “They have the type of clientele you should be talking with. There is more of a cross section of inmates. The Superintendent is Doug McGregor. I’m quite certain he would be open to this. I’ll give him a call and ask him to talk with you.”

Matsqui Institution is a federal medium security prison on the same tract of land as the Psychiatric Centre. I knew it had a reputation as a prison that dealt with a high number of drug users and traffickers. Many were incarcerated for crimes that supported their habit.

I had read in the local papers that at some risk to his own career, Doug McGregor was experimenting with a Day Pass system for inmates. Some in the Fraser Valley community were experiencing considerable anxiety at the idea that federal prisoners were being granted either escorted or unescorted passes.

When I entered Doug’s office, he greeted me cordially and gesturing toward a chair, invited me to sit down. He was wearing slacks, and his shirt was open at the neck. Very relaxed and confident, he helped me to feel at ease. I liked him immediately. For nearly half an hour we talked about prisons, especially his experimentation with the Day Pass System.

When I explained the nature of the research I hoped to do, he listened intently, breaking in occasionally to ask a question. His alert mind quickly grasped what I was requesting. The idea of a study of inmate culture interested him. “Go ahead and do it,” he said. “Just give me a copy of your paper when you’re finished.”

For almost three months, several days a week, I sat in a small room interviewing men doing time for crimes such as break & entry, trafficking in heroin and cocaine, armed robbery, murder, etc. Their sentences ranged from 2 years to life. A life sentence did not mean they would never be released. Occasionally, a man died in the prison as a result of being stabbed, hit over the head with a metal pipe, an overdose of heroin, or some other unnatural cause.

I also spent time talking with counsellors, living unit officers, the warden, and others. Sometimes I was invited to have lunch in the prison dining room and I observed inmates serving food to staff. A senior security officer gave me a tour of the living units. Occasionally counsellors invited me to attend group sessions they were doing with inmates. I had numerous discussions with counsellors and also at times with the prison psychologists.

When I completed the research paper, I gave Doug McGregor a copy, as promised.

Now, more than 40 years later, I still appreciate the prof who arranged my meeting with the department head. I also value the department head for introducing me to Doug McGregor. And I am thankful to Doug for opening the many doors of Matsqui Institution so I could move about virtually without restraint.

A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.