Prison: Not Your Average Day Trip
I have, and now I can say I’m glad it’s a one-off.
I once made a trip to Saskatchewan Pennetentiary to visit an inmate convicted of killing his daughter’s boyfriend.
<Aside: it was for a documentary I was working on some time ago for a local company. To my knowledge the film has yet to come to fruition>
The family had accused the boyfriend of hooking their daughter on drugs, injecting her with morphine, sleeping with her (even though she was 14 and he was 22) and selling drugs to the town.
Sask Penn is old–a building of those old brick and stone walls that seem to tower above you to the clouds. The rough and rugged walls are topped not just with barbed wire, but with that extra-painful looking razor wire. Guard towers man every corner and double borders of chain link hug the building creating concentric circles of security.
Even so, security seems deceptively low key, even for this medium security facility; but maybe that has something to do with my media pass, camera-crew-entourage, and the presence of a minder. We sign in, present ID, go through a metal detector and have a guard look in all our bags. He shrugs as he paws through wires, lights, tripods and stacks of tapes. “How am I supposed to know what half this stuff is?” he says, But satisfied there’s no contraband, even among things he doesn’t recognize, we’re allowed to pass.
Three sets of steel and heavy glass doors keep the outside world safe. Each opens remotely with a loud “thunk” and an electronic buzz. Guards nod to
each other as we pass.
I see no other inmates, and only two other visitors. They seem like they belong here, in that they’ve probably been here many times. They are seated at small round tables bolted to the floor and with chairs attached to those tables by rigid arms.
We set up our equipment in a tiny visiting room. There are exactly three chairs and a faux wood folding table. Inmates who are not generally considered to be a problem are allowed to come here, with the priviledge of more privacy than is afforded others. More dangerous types use the single plexiglass boxes with phone connections in the room next to us.
I’m unsure of what to expect when I meet our interviewee. After all, he shot a man to death by firing 10 bullets at him and hitting him with 50% of them. The man bled out on the floor in front of him and his drug addicted daughter as he shakily dialed 911.
We’re here because there’s more to the story; the man believed his daughter was one injection away from an overdose; that the boyfriend had threatened to “make her disappear” as revenge for the parents intervening in the relationship. The father told us that when he arrived at the boyfriend’s house, he was threatened, and the boyfriend, a former bodybuilder, charged at him.
In so many ways this could be a self defense case. The jury didn’t see it that way.
The father shuffles towards the door with his head bowed, looking at the floor. He’s not wearing handcuffs or orange coveralls, but simple jeans, a white t-shirt and black runners. His red hair is still visible among the grey; mostly poking though his full beard. He definitely looks like the Scottsman he is. Dressed this way, he could be a plumber or a carpenter. Instead, in this context, he is simply his label; a killer, an inmate, a man to be locked up
and kept from society.
We shake hands; I can see he’s visibly nervous. His hands shake, his voice quivers, his eyes dart. He sits and fidgets with one rolled up pant cuff.
I can tell he’s frightened. The camera and bright lights will do that to people.
How interesting that a man convicted of murder is afraid of me, and the questions I’m about to ask him beside the unblinking eye of the video camera.
-Originally written for friends in 2006