Halifax Media Co-op

News from Nova Scotia's Grassroots

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!

Dispatches From Burnside, Episode Four: Fishing in the hole.

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Photo via Shannon O'Toole, flickr.
Photo via Shannon O'Toole, flickr.

By Phoenix

BURNSIDE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, Nova Scotia - I'm currently sitting in the Burnside 'hole', writing this dispatch between the lines of a court transcript document. I guess this brings new meaning to the phrase: “read between the lines.” They took all my stuff, and this is the mail that just happened to arrive, so this is all I've got to write on. Luckily I know how to sneak a pen in.

What brought me to the hole this time was a colourfully mixed cocktail of boredom, aggravation, stress, lack of appreciation of consequences and a desire to make my life slightly more random.

So there I was, on the range, locked down for another fifteen or so days, because the guards didn't open my door when I supposed to be loose and a yelling match ensued. I didn't do that so much because I have anger issues or a discipline problem. Quite the contrary.

I carefully calculated it because I have to feign a serious impulse control issue, or else everybody walks all over me all the time if they think I am psychologically stable. Pretty messed up if you ask me, but this has been my life for the past four years.

So since I was stuck behind a door, everybody on the range was screwing with me; not paying their debts, feeding me 'BS' stories like I'm a returned 'newbie' or something. Sure, this is my first rodeo, but it's been four years straight. And that's enough time to know that exactly thirty seconds after meds are passed out in the morning, all the pills are carefully hidden in everyone's cheeks. Exactly five minutes after that, all the uppers are fully inhaled through various nose drills, and begins the sniffly and loud process of post-nasal drip.

(Editor's note: We have omitted the details of the lead-up to Phoenix's subsequent altercation with the guards. We pick back up the narrative with several guards in Phoenix's cell on the range.)

...The guard sternly warns me that there are no cameras in the adjudication room, so if my legs, arms, ribs, face, etcetera, get broke, it's only my word against theirs. I'm quickly ushered out of there after this...

During times like these, a little 'Burnside hardball' is the spice of life. It'll be the 'mattress protocol' for me for the next ten or fifteen days, which means no mattress, sheets, or blankets from 8am until 10pm. So I'd better make all my 'fishing lines' tonight.

Making a fishing line involves tying some sort of heavy anchor, like a battery or a lotion bottle, onto a piece of sheet. In 'seg' (segregation cell), however, there is a piece of metal welded under the door. So only a sugar packet or a shampoo packet will fit under, with a piece of blanket string. The idea is to throw your line out in front of another guy's cell, so he can fish in your line and pass stuff from cell to cell, even while segregated. Usually things like 'kites' (secret jail notes) or pills get passed by fishing.

The most difficult and prized fish to reel in would be the mighty 'Concerta 54' (refers to a Concerta 54mg dose pill, a stimulant used to treat ADHD), or the 'Gavapentin 600' (refers to Gavapentin 600 mg dose pill, a pain reliever used to treat epilepsy and peripheral neuropathic pain). Those are some big pills that barely fit under the widest part of the door.

Occasionally, an obstacle is in the way such as someone's shoes or laundry hamper. One clever inmate I know came up with a creative way to get a new guard to remove the obstacle. He looked him straight in the eye and solemnly told him that he has a phobia of laundry hampers, and could the guard please move it off to the side. The new guard, not having a clue about how twisted people are around here, promptly complied.

After he went back to the 'seg' desk, and told the other, more experienced, guard what had just transpired, he laughed and told him that they were just trying to fish from cell to cell. He brought up the video feed which, sure enough, showed a shampoo pack on a fishing line winging out of my clever buddy's cell. Everything in 'seg' is on 24 hour, see in the dark, video. That doesn't stop people from fishing, or smoking, or snorting pills right on camera...If the guards tried to stop all that, it would be a 28 hour a day job and would just force inmates to be more sneaky.

The irony is, the guard only comes to bother you when you cover your camera because it makes a big, obvious, blind-spot in the 'multi-plex' video feed out front in reception. Then they call down to the 'seg' office to get the camera uncovered.

I'm in an isolated spot in segregation, with only three cells, called 'the closet'. This part has a special, two door, 'breadbox' that's attached to the meal slot, so that I can't throw anything weird at the guards when it opens. Its hard to fish in this area because there's a lip under the door which catches the blanket string.

One time I used some string from a suicide blanket, which is a lot stronger. Ironically, it's basically unbreakable if you wanted to hang yourself. I fished a burning wick into the closet so the guys over there could light up their cigarettes and weed. That was quite a feat to be proud of. Wicks are made by rolling toilet paper into a tight, quarter-inch roll, and lighting it with a lighter or a battery and a staple.

The incident that got me on level in the first place was trying to mail out court documents. One managed to slip by and I appeared today for an appeal. I explained that I would not be able to file anything for the matter, because they are blocking all my communications and had to send this appeal by sneaking it through someone else.

I find out that the judge, through the return address, noted it was someone else's name. He suggested that I shouldn't give out my secrets. He was sort of nonchalant about it, as though being blocked from access to the courts was a normal thing and that I should be more sneaky in trying to access this essential facility of justice. It seemed as if he accepted as normal that certain classes of people have no rights, not even the right to access the courts, and it chilled me to the bone.

There are a lot of self-defeating, ironic, policies here, like how I can't call my friend for the first five days I'm in 'seg'. She would have told me not to 'shit bomb' the guard and I probably would have listened. I can't even call a lawyer or the ombudsman, which I think must be illegal. But that's the least of the illegal stuff that management does to us here.

Nice role models they are, when in one breath they tell me not to make threats, then in the next sentence they harshly explain that there are no cameras in the room, so they can get away with breaking my bones. Ah, good old Burnside.

This is better than watching Trailer Park Boys.

End Dispatch.

Phoenix's earlier installments can be found here, here and here.

Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.
1239 words

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.