Full Employment for Prisoners

A long field covered in brown grass, spreads itself between the prison factory and the cell I live in. For years this field was empty.

Today, it has sprung to life. I notice it as I am coming back from lunch one day. There are numerous trucks filled with sand. Workers are shoveling, digging huge holes. I can see pyramids of soil pointed towards the sky.

By Colin McGregor

At the edge of the site stands a circle of engineers, or what look like engineers, chatting away amiably, their eyes riveted on the trucks. Nobody seems to tremble in fear of all the prisoners walking by.

A resident of this region wrote me a letter, which I think about before lunch. She tells me about all the economic problems this area is facing. Once this region was a mecca for Americans who would cross over the nearby border, motivated by our cheap dollar and easy customs officials. Some were attracted by the bucolic beauty of the Eastern Townships. Once upon a time, shopping in Knowlton was chic for families from Outremont and Bair D’Urfé. No longer.

The Canadian dollar is riding high. The U.S. is in recession. Getting over the border is more complicated. With the Internet, people can shop for everything they want without leaving home. For years now the Anglo-Montreal crowds of my youth no longer visit the region for natural beauty or for shopping – at least, not in their former numbers. Granby businesses are folding their tents.

Back to Prison

I leave the letter aside and head to the cafeteria for lunch. Too late. There’s no salad left, and I have to content myself with bean stew and an orange. Good food for my 50 year old digestive system! The men I eat with at my table are still there. A prison cafeteria is territorial. We’ve taken possession of a small round table in a corner.

Looking at my tablemates brings a smile. Every day, these two Montréal Francophones make fun of my writing and of my accent when I speak French. I tell them that they’re just jealous because I watch TV5 every day and imitate my heroes on the program Des chiffres et des lettres. They tell me I’m a “Crazy tête-carrée.” We laugh and eat.

Leaving the cafeteria someone comes up to me and asks me: “When is the government going to put us in orange jump suits?” For the moment we wear white or blue t-shirts and blue jeans. I shrug my shoulders and say I have no idea, but I hope not soon.

Behind the cellblocks the trucks are still there. They start before sunrise and finish well after dusk.

In my section of the jail new prisoners are double-bunked.  

They are young, hip-hop, with baseball caps worn jauntily to one side. They wear oversized jeans that ride low on their hips. They talk too loud and are full of energy. Prison is exciting for them, almost an adventure. But soon they will learn that their energy will remain bottled up, with no place to expend it, and that jail is no rap video.

I close my cell door and turn on my tiny TV. The news announces the closure of yet another local factory. Men and women are devastated. Some have worked 30 years for their company. They don’t understand. But the closure is just one small item on the news. The announcer moves on quickly to politics.

A bell rings. The sound is pleasant, harmonious. My cell door opens. It’s time to go back to work. I am serving a life sentence. I will not be paroled tomorrow. I have full job security.

First seen on Raymond Viger’s blog October 9th, 2012

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