On Growing Old in Prison (Part III)

Wandering around a federal prison before my parole, I asked myself, is my future all around me?

They are wheeled to and fro by other inmates; they creak and waddle to and from the cafeteria at mealtimes; they wander in the noonday sun talking to themselves.

They occupy prison hospital lineups in increasing, and heavy, numbers. It’s a silent and terrifying way to go gently into that good night. But as often as not, these older folks are smiling.

As has been observed, old age brings quietude and good behavior, even as the mind drifts away like the tides.

By Colin McGregor

The plight of the aged in prison is attracting some official attention in Canada. As the Greek philosopher Leucippus wrote 2,500 years ago, “Everything is driven by necessity.”

On July 22nd, 2019, Dalhousie law professor Adelina Iftene published “Punished for aging: Vulnerability, Rights and Access to Justice in Canadian Penitentiaries,” available through Amazon; while the Correctional Investigator of Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, issued an 88-page report entitled “Aging and Dying in Prison: an Investigation into the Experience of Older Individuals” (issued February 28th, 2019).

In response to all this interest the Correctional Service of Canada, which runs federal prisons, came up with a response to the Correctional Investigator’s report, and soon after began construction on the spanking brand new wings of the FTC equipped for older prisoners. To see CSC’s response, please go to htpps://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/publications/005007-1509-en.shtml.

The Correctional Investigator’s report says a whole lot of things.  One predictable conclusion: the prevalence of chronic disease among seniors in custody is far higher than in the general population. The most prevalent illnesses are: high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and chronic pain.

Another predictable observation: the number of older people in federal custody is on the rise. Social isolation is a huge issue among those behind bars for three, four or even five decades.

I learned when I read the report that at the time, I was one of the 199 federal inmates who are on their first sentence, are over 50 years old and have spent at least 20 years behind bars. A rare feat, that. “Some longer, older serving federal inmates,” the report concluded, “are being warehoused behind bars well past their parole eligibility dates.”

Luckily, I have been paroled since I wrote most of this article in 2019. “Granny dump mountain” is hopefully not in my future, but if I behave, my old age will be spent outside prison walls rather than within.

French version on the Reflet de Société website

1 Comment

  1. Great article! I think there’s a typo near the end : “(…) my old age will be spent be outside prison walls rather than within.” The word “be” shouldn’t be written between “spent” and “outside”.

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