How to Write from Prison (Part II)

“You want to be a journalist, my son?” said my late father, himself a journalist on the now-defunct Montreal Star, when I announced at a very young age my intentions to follow in his footsteps.

By Colin McGregor

“To write, he said, “You have to suffer.”

How did I begin to write for Reflet de Société and The Social Eyes, two socially committed publications? A fellow inmate was writing for the magazine already. Knowing what my past profession had been, he suggested I try my hand.

I was reluctant. He said, “Try something. Everyone knows what you did, and you haven’t lost any of your spirit.”

Despite my hesitancy I wrote a short essay on what it’s like to be isolated while in detention. The article was published, and appreciated.

Soon I earned the support of veteran publisher and activist Raymond Viger, as well as that of his creative, engaged journalists, graduates of the best journalism schools, each of which was blessed with a heard head and a soft heart.

One text after another spilled out of me. Nice letters started to trickle in. The most precious feedback I received was from a psychiatric patient in Quebec City who wrote me that she had aborted a suicide attempt after reading one of my funny articles. I always stressed in my pieces that no matter how grim life gets, there is always a reason to smile and stay alive.

I affixed her drawings to one wall of the prison upholstery workshop where I worked. Thanks to such encouragement, I carried on writing.

Above all, I valued the mission of our Journal de la Rue organization: Place the citizen at the heart of our mission; cast a novel, critical, compassionate eye at the great challenges of our society; help the marginalized to reintegrate into society by helping them become autonomous…

They became my values as well. If I could do that by writing and translating articles, poems and entire books, all the better…

First seen in: Reflet de Société, Vol. 27, no. 2, printemps (spring) 2019, pages 26-27.

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