Prison Stopover – Part 1

In 2016, Colin McGregor changed penitentiaries. After 23 years in medium security he was moved to Laval. Before going to his new prison he was sent to the Regional Reception Centre in St-Anne-des-Plaines, a compulsory waystation for all transferees going down the security scale.

An inmate can spend several weeks at this place, which also serves to evaluate those who have recently been convicted of crimes, to gauge their needs and their security level.  

By Colin McGregor

There’s no sadder place in the entire Correctional Service of Canada than the Regional Reception Centre.

Here, those having been sentenced to sentences 2 years or more are sent to be “evaluated.” That’s where fates are sealed, and inmates are sent off to begin their terms in other penitentiaries, maximum, medium and minimum security, cut off from the outside world for years at a time.

Few spend more than a month or two in these sombre waystations.

Between meetings with psychologists and staff evaluating where they are to go, they wait.

They wait to collect their meals on green plastic trays, shuffling slowly like people for whom time has stood still. Faces are ashen and forlorn of all hope.

In the recreation area, its steel tables bolted to the floor, the men are quiet. TV screens affixed to the walls are filled with images of places these men may not see until their hair goes gray and their faces wrinkle – and some, never again.

In jail, what channel do we watch? The law of prison common room TVs is – sports rules. In other words, if there is a sport available on a channel, that’s what we watch. The ghostly images of some hockey game or baseball game flicker on the screens are watched, in “reception,” by group of men bored out of their skulls.   

I am there and not there – just passing through as I transfer from medium to minimum security. Closer than ever to the street, and to Café Graffiti. The sun is rising on my future. I am headed in the right direction.

But for the majority of largely younger men around me, their absent looks reveal that they foresee a future less hopeful for the time being.

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