Prison TV Blog


 

BRIAN JUDGE created Prison TV in 1991 when he reached out to the Joyceville Institution lifer's group. PRISON TV was on-air for 6 seasons and offered 'an inside look at life behind bars.' Over the years, Judge has performed 1,000 + community escorts from Kingston area prisons; "I'm pleased to curate a video archive that continues to highlight important topics like recidivism, punishment and redemption." ~ brian at prisontv.net

 


Former Toronto gang member Ricky Atkinson turns a new page

Former Toronto gang member Ricky Atkinson turns a new page

By KENNY SHARPE, The Globe and Mail  

 

“Being a robber and a thief, you don’t need bank accounts. When you were broke, you had to steal something. You’d say to the guys, ‘You broke? You want to rob a bank?’ Twenty minutes later, you had money, it’s as simple as that.”

 

Ricky (Dirty Tricks) Atkinson is 62. He has spent 32 years of his life in prison cells across Canada. He’s still on parole and unable to communicate with certain associates, and tries to use his past as one of the country’s most nefarious to turn others away from the grip of gangs and crime.

His mother settled in Sudbury, Ont., by way of Ukraine and his father’s family has roots in Nova Scotia’s community of black Métis. Mr. Atkinson grew up in Toronto’s Alexandra Park neighbourhood.

 

For decades, he was a member of Toronto’s Dirty Tricks gang. Today, he teaches boxing and spins pottery during sessions with children in Alexandra Park as he tries to push them away from crime. He’s just released a new book, The Life Crimes and Hard Times of Ricky Atkinson.

 

When you think back about all those years spent in jail, what goes through your mind?

Unhappily, I report that I’ve spent 32 years in the system. Mostly for robbery-oriented offences … we were crime experts. We picked locks, we cracked safes, we climbed buildings, through sewers or down through the roof of places. What goes through my mind mostly are the words uttered by judges and people who were smarter than me within the system. Those who tried to steer me in another direction. And the only way you can steer a person like me, who has a lot of – self worth, let us say – is to gently guide them. It’s hard to push someone like me. So it took years for their gentle pushing to push me in the direction that I am going now. And that’s the bottom line. When I think back, I think I resonate mostly on how I should have listened more to the people who were trying to help me best. That’s the best way to put it … I stole for a living, so the psychology behind the thing that I did for a long time was anti-social behaviour.

 

Why did you write this book?

What happened was [in the mid-90s] I was charged with entrapment by the RCMP. So I was there, and I was going to have to fight it and thinking, “It’s going to take a couple of years.” So I am sitting there in the Don Jail and my late common law wife, Angela Casey, was charged with me. It was a big charge. It was international drug smuggling charges and an international robbery charge. So at the end of the day the people that were around me that were innocent, their charges were thrown out and I plead guilty to the offence. I cut everybody loose and I got the time that I got and then began this process of rehabilitation in a more serious manner than ever before. And I then said to myself, “If I am going to not do anything as I’ve done in the past then I should be more open and honest about what I did do in the past,” and I started to then, pen the novel in a sense, I started writing … it takes a kid to hear from a gang-banger not to follow another gang-banger because that person is sucking them in. That’s my message. And that is the essence of the message in my book because it didn’t exist for me …

It’s my method of giving back and changing the direction of some kids, hoping in my eyes that some gang leader, like I was, that is 12 or 13 years old and his vision is to lead a gang, that they can be changed.

 

What do the Dirty Tricks look like today?

All the Trickster guys are retired. There is probably one guy, let’s say, out of the 20 to 30 guys that we were doing stuff with, maybe one guy might be dabbling in dope. Maybe. But no other criminal activity because I am the head of the organization and the head is not working any more. It’s as simple as that. No, I can’t help you. If you have a financial problem, I can’t help you. If you have a social problem. Can’t help you. If you have a criminal problem, can’t help you. It’s as simple as that. So my gang, former gang members, most of them, 90 per cent of them have transitioned into legitimacy and have been working now for 20 to 25 years at those legitimate businesses or whatever they’re doing.

 

How would you describe the state of gang crime in Canada today versus your heyday, if I can call it that?

The gangs are more xenophobic. They are less multiracial. We had the largest multiracial gang in Canada when we were growing up. Primarily because of the neighbourhood that we came from was the most racially diverse neighbourhood on the planet. And I find that the gangs now have segregated themselves into small communities. And I am trying to … figure out why police are more effective in some areas and less in others. The methodology of committing crime has changed. The evolution of crime, we can say. So crime went technical. The big crime is in fraudulent thefts via the computer and the Internet versus breaking into a bank, circumventing their alarm system, stealing a transport truck, the stuff we used to do. Now you don’t do that. You use the computer to do that. The other thing is the retail sales of drugs. The different pharmaceuticals now are a big plague in America.

 

How are police handling gangs today versus in your day?

The police pulling into Alexandra Park in 1971 got zero information from the guys that were there. That allowed us criminals who were there at the time to proliferate and keep continuing to do our crime. I find it’s the same now in some pockets of Toronto where police say they are ineffective in going into those communities to talk to people because residents don’t respect them enough … today, they’re putting some resources into Alexandra Park in their bicycle patrols. With those bicycle patrols, they are more vulnerable, they are out there shaking people’s hands, talking to the people and that is the key.

 

What are you going to do with the years you have left?

For me to be effective in the gang-exit strategy as a motivational speaker, I have to put myself in the programs in order to help the kids. So I’ve been running a ceramic pottery program in Alexandra Park for three years now, at my own expense, my method again of giving back ... I play good blues-harmonica, so that gives me an out. I teach boxing. I’ve been training this guy now for well over a year just on his quest to turn pro. And I do the ceramic pottery classes. That’s what I do. That’s it. [In my book] what I am saying is this is how it happened to me and I hope it doesn’t happen to you in the same way. That is the message in my book. One of transformation and rehabilitation. Truly that is the story.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Sex Offender: Program Handouts

Sex Offender: Program Handouts

“An inmate shared this disturbing handout (which I am told is the tip of the iceberg) and has asked that it be shared. The inmate is disturbed with the program he is forced to undertake which is why he wants to share it. It is an inappropriate program for those found guilty of a sex offence, even if guilty. 

 

It shows questions and techniques as if to put the idea in an inmate's head, that he is suffering from something he may not even  be suffering from, or introduce things he does not even do. It mentions the "Switch Technique", which I have never heard of, and have found no research on yet. If there is no research on  the Switch Technique, then who named it and developed it?

 

I have found other studies however, that do a critical analysis of various types of programs which discuss whether or not a technique is appropriate or not, to help inmates. Studies discuss and question as to whether they are actually helping an inmate or not and if they should even be implemented at all. 

 

This hand out however, appears to be very haphazard. In addition, inmates who have few friends and no family visiting, (sometimes as the result of the charges) are bullied in the programs and they have no choice, but to comply. 

 

If an inmate is wrongfully convicted, he is within his rights to refuse filling out these forms, even if it jeopardizes chance of his parole. If an inmate is guilty, a method proven to help move him on a path of integrity is needed, not a path of humiliation".

 

Submitted by: Anonymous

 

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Technical Training Department @ Collins Bay

Technical Training Department @ Collins Bay

The Correctional Services of Canada says that by providing offenders with the employment experience and skills training they need to become productive citizens when they return to the community, CORCAN enhances public safety. Prior to the formation of CORCAN, in Kingston Ontario, prisoners frequently contributed their skills, be it carpentry, welding, woodworking, you name it, towards charities and non-profit groups. (Whig Standard photo - Submitted by: Barry Dennison; thanks from Prison TV. 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Convicts do time on TV

An Inside Look at Life Behind Bars from prison inmates in Kingston, Ontario

.

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Claire Culhane - - Prison Abolitionist

Claire Culhane - - Prison Abolitionist

Claire Culhane visited Kingston area prisons several times in her extraordinary career. This video was shot in 1993 by Prison TV crew. In it she shares the caution and joy of "fighting the good fight". RIP Claire Culhane.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Young And Restless: Cable TV In Prison

Young And Restless: Cable TV In Prison

By Ricky Atkinson:  Let’s go back to my first experience in Kingston Penitentiary – it’s January 1972. There is one black and white 20 inch TV sitting on a stand six feet in the air.

 

All 78 men on the range can listen to it via ancient ceramic speakers that ran down the range on a cord. Everyone voted on what to watch. Hockey game took priority over any votes. A line ran outside to a reception tower somewhere on a roof somewhere in the prison. Not everyone watched TV many choosing not to know what went on in the world outside the prison walls. Once a week there was an old movie shown on the wall in the gym and that had more interest.

 

In 1982 cable TV came to Collins Bay; in 1983 I negotiated the first contract with a local cable company for cable service to come into Joyceville Institution; in 1987 for Millhaven.

 

Cable changed a lot of social interaction within the prison population. Guys seemed to just sit around like lumps of rotting meat, glued to their TV’s and not paying much attention to the politics that affected their lives. It was also used as a behaviour modification tool by the warden and loss of TV privileges became normal punishments.

 

How strange it is to see a prison tough guy watching the Young and Restless and dabbing his eyes with Kleenex. Many guys like me watched the history channel or science channel more than the senseless garbage that plays on day after day.

 

I see the TV as a tool used to torture inmates by forcing them to see the world revolve without them. Imagine watching a soap opera for 25 years and everyone in it got old, the show closes down and a big party is given and yet, you are still in the same cell you were in 25 years earlier; for the life of you, you can’t get to that party. Take away TV in prison and the prison population will wake up to the misery of their existence.  ~ Ricky Atkinson

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Cop Car #5208

Cop Car #5208

By Ricky Atkinson:  In the early 1980’s, there was a rogue group of guards in Millhaven known as the "Millhaven mafia". They used to beat, stab and shoot inmates on a regular basis. One night three of the guard mafia went into an inmate’s cell stabbed him to death and tossed the knife into another inmate’s cell.

 

The police were called and the unfortunate inmate was charged with a murder he didn't do. The trial judge ruled that the inmate couldn't have possibly committed the murder and must have been the guards, next day there was a full Toronto Star article on that legal decision. I spent decades with those guards and witnessed much. Things have changed somewhat, the guard mafia are beginning to be retired, some jailed for other crimes, some committed suicide, others burnt out and work elsewhere.

 

But the one thing I know to be a fact, hit a dog in a cage over and over again and when that cage opens you will get bit. The difference with humans is that we have bigger teeth and a deeper bite. These guards, doing a job as civil servants wont look back and think of all the mayhem they caused and how these men beaten like dogs still exist waiting for freedom, still frothing at the mouth upon seeing a police uniform ... Cause and effect.

 

All the guards, who obviously assaulted the inmates profiled in the above video, should be charged but, prison is what it is and bullies are created from the examples given by some staff more than the inmates surrounding them. In a perfect prison setting bullying is not tolerated by inmates or staff alike and there are prison administrators that affect the rule of law and run such prisons but I haven’t seen this kind of professional empathy in a long time.

 

Many inmates have done their time without ever getting beaten by staff or inmates and those must leave in better mental shape than the ones beaten cause, I still remember the little piece of shit who hit me in the head with a Billy club when entering Millhaven back in 1972. I heard he was dead and wish he wasn't so I can continue to hate him. I had him on a Contact video telling the other guards how he had to jump up to get a good blow to my head.

 

41 years ago I was assaulted when another method could have been used other than violence to get me to respect authority. I was taken to a school yard in Toronto by five cops in car 5208 one summer when I was sixteen and beaten up pretty good. I don't hate those cops although I had to go seek medical attention cause I started the fight by throwing a handful of quarters into the cops face during an argument with them in a Young Street restaurant. Hey I wasn't charged with assault nor did I seek to charge the cops, go figure, tough times on the streets of Toronto the good.

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

In a Prison filled with psychopaths

In a Prison filled with psychopaths

By Ricky Atkinson:  In 1992, as inmate committee chairman at Joyceville Institution, I was called to the warden’s office after an inmate was stabbed 17 times by another. It was explained to me that five inmates under Governor General warrants (deemed criminally insane by the courts that convicted them) where temporarily in the prison population until the Oak Ridges treatment centre renovation was completed. Joyceville warden Jim Blackler agreed to take them.

 

I was standing outside the kitchen where prisoners get the food carts for each unit. One inmate bumped his food cart into another's food cart, "Hey pal you could have said sorry!" one inmate said to the other over the two cars touching. "Fuck off!" was the response.

 

As soon as one guy took a few steps away, the guy whose cart was bumped into said to a another prisoner, "I'm going to stab that cocksucker right after supper, I cant get anymore time!" Hearing that, I interrupted ... "Can’t get any more time, why?"

 

"Because I'm under a Governor General warrant!" Hearing that, I walked ahead to tell the other inmate to come to my office after supper count because he had a problem that I would like to discuss with him.

 

Being committee chairman, I was let out of my cell first and went to open the office and waited for general population to be released.

 

As a group of them came towards the gym door one stepped out and stabbed another, stabbing him repeatedly while he was down. "Don't apologize for bumping my cart your fucking goof, now you die!" He hissed through clenched teeth. The stabbed guy was rushed to the hospital where he lived; the stabber was taken off to the hole.

 

When I went to segregation to talk to the stabber, he was in a good mood and kept telling me he can’t get any more time even if the guy died because he is considered mentally insane. Once the general population heard that the five guys from the bug house were amongst them, many guys armed up, (got their knives out of hiding).

 

In a prison filled with psychopaths, anything can cause an increase in violence even the perception that there are inmates amongst them who don't have to abide by the rules written in the prison handbook, revised each month, or the inmate code written in blood over decades of hard time.

 

Historically, Joyceville Institution is more passive than the gladiator school like Collins Bay. I can assume from experience that someone sometime, in Collins Bay will run into an inmate who knows by law that he can inflict violence upon another without criminal liabilities. That fact alone will make Collins Bay more unstable and more violent.

 

http://www.ckwstv.com/news/kingston/story.aspx?ID=2025403

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

A Knife to a Gun Fight

A Knife to a Gun Fight

By Ricky Atkinson:  During the days when I “bugged” the police, I once heard two rookies talk about their police training methods. A police woman talking to a policeman said:

 

"I don't know why we have to use lethal force every time we fire our weapons, why can't we fire a shot to disarm someone? The male cop she was talking to said, "listen I just do what I'm told, three shots to the chest, let the guys up top figure out the rest!"

 

I believe that's the attitude with most police trained to fire their guns. I of course asked a few cops why this was the case and they all said what happens if we fire a disarming shot, miss and hit an innocent person? If we have to use deadly force, then the decision has been made to fire to kill so three to the chest is the easiest way to get it done!"

 

Since I have had the dubious experience of having been in several shoot-outs with the police and survived when others did not, I can say that shit happens really fast and at times without much thought put into how to survive once the shooting starts, how to protect your self and others is often all that runs through your head. How to do this right, without a lot of paperwork, must be on the minds of a lot of cops shooting someone.

 

Unless they had been ordered to assassinate a citizen due to their inability to catch them committing crimes, which is precisely what happened back in the day. The cop who brings a throw-in gun to manipulate the justice system is as much a criminal and would be murderer as the person they are killing. The cop who threw a illegal gun into my car to cover up their not by the book shooting is still on the force today and that criminal has risen to staff inspector level. Go figure; criminals in uniform, they exist. Thankfully they are a minority.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Serial killer cop show vs. Clockwork Orange

Serial killer cop show vs. Clockwork Orange

By Ricky Atkinson:  A senior manager in Joyceville prison once had a co-accused (who was the video operator in the joint) tossed in “the hole” for showing the inmate population the film "Clockwork Orange".

 

When fascist ideology and book burning are implemented on the prison population in the guise of public safety don’t you think that the ideology of restrictive control over what we can see or hear by the government will be forced upon the rest of society?

 

Since killers have the lowest number of recidivism within the prison population currently on parole one could argue that nothing viewed on TV, heard on the radio or read in a book during their incarceration negatively impacted their ability to successfully reintegrate back into society.

 

Politicians out for vote, will think up stupidity and feed that stupidity to a scared and gullible population who in turn eat it believing they are safe when in fact they are made less safe by that politician. Wake up before you all are fat with stupidity, go on a political hunger strike and save your freedoms.

 

http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/05/05/mark-twitchell-allowed-to-watch-dexter-in-prison/

 

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

The Riot Act

The Riot Act

By Ricky Atkinson:  Once a Warden reads the riot act, inmates have 30 minutes to comply with the act. Those that remain can receive sentences from two years to life, even if no injuries resulted in the said riot. This act came about because inmates, mostly in maximum security prisons, stayed out in the yard burning shit, talking shit and just not acting right in the eyes of the prison staff. The first time this revised act was read, was by Millhaven warden Remi Gobeil (I may not have spelled his last name right) while I was in Millhaven.

 

Most of the inmates didn't know about the act then and most don't know about it now. I'm sure those charged in the Joyceville riot didn't know about it. Unless the "riot act" is read it is not a riot but a disturbance. Most newspapers, TV etc always cry "riot" even when from an inmate’s point of view it was just bad night, in a bad jail with bad people acting up. A riot can be started by one guy over an issue as nonsensical as "I didn't get spaghetti sauce on my dam spaghetti and everyone else did, so what am I a goof?" and he goes off and others follow. This actually happened in Joyceville Institution in 1992.

 

Most inmates just want to do their time, pay their debt to society in a peaceful, humane day in day out boring routine without any disturbances that always result in administrative reprisals, but sometimes a few bad apples on both sides of the proverbial fence can cause you the tax payer, hundreds of thousands of tax dollars when shit goes kaboom.

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Keep On, Keeping On

Keep On, Keeping On
By Ricky Atkinson:  Sadly, I am packing for a move back to Vancouver so that I may go deeper into the reality of who I am.
There is something out there, a piece of wood, a lump of clay, a stone that must be picked up and examined, loved, adored and at times hated, as I turn into something so beautiful; some one, somewhere, somehow, would want to buy it, beg for it, steal it so that they can display it to others boasting about it's beauty.

 

That is art and life of an artist. I wanted to stay here and risk my life at what I love doing, talking to at risk kids in the heart of those communities that helped make me the gangster I was. I always say to them that three learned and esteemed judges said to me, "With your organizational ability, your business acumen and your intellect you could have been anything or anyone you wanted to, but you chose crime and for that reason, I will have no mercy on you!"

 

All three of those judges’ comments for sentencing are in my file, open to public scrutiny but unknown to those kids, who like me, believed that their destiny was in guns and gangs.

 

 

My stay in Toronto this past 18 months was to reach those kids, this government has threatened to destroy me if I continue to help these kids at risk - don't ask me why, there is not rhyme or reason - they said, "We are afraid you may turn those very same kids your trying to help into a gang that will reek havoc on Toronto the good and so the restrictions we place upon you is to ensure us that you can't be an instrument of crime and destruction” -  that statement is also open to the public; so I turn once again to my art for a solution and maybe through it can I reach other kids in other places and say to government, "fuck you”.

 

I can't and wont stop helping save one kid from falling through the cracks of life and ending up killing some other kid or spending his life in prison or in gangs; so I must go and will be gone in less than three weeks; anyone wanting to see me contact me soon.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Charity in Prison

Charity in Prison

By Ricky Atkinson:  In prison, money is raised from a number of methods for charities. Food drives are just one of them. Door to door (cell to cell) solicitation is another. Food drives are a win, win; hey give the prisoners something in return for kicking in their hard earned dollars. The lowest pay is 7 dollars a week and for someone to kick $5 for a drive is not uncommon. He just gave up 89% of his weekly pay to help someone he/she didn't even know. How many of you would give up your entire pay to help someone you don’t know?

 

How many correctional staff would do the same thing? They often contribute to charity drives within the prisons, but not many and not with most of their pay. Sometimes you might hear a prison warden say that he will get his staff to match dollar for dollar on some charity events.

 

With the cut backs in the ability to have charity drives... out of sight out of mind will prevail and the concept of prisoners giving back will take a back burner to the concept of taking what one wants - - an attitude that got most of the guys in prison in the first place. In order to appease some, for votes, the government is making society less safe in the long run.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Jane Hawtin “Live” (1996)

Jane Hawtin “Live” (1996)

By Ricky Atkinson:  When this show Jane Hawtin episode went to air I had yet to consider committing a crime, but a few months after I entertained the thought, crime and criminals came out of the woodwork. Due to this show, the head of the RCMP in Ottawa decided to set up a trap to see if I was clean and put an undercover cop in prison to get next to a guy who was about to be released and a friend of mine. Clive Clairmont (cops real name) braved all and went inside Beavercreek farm camp. After a year of trying to get next to me, he did, and the entrapment and conspiracy to import is now history. I went down big time and am still paying the price for putting my face next to this cop on TV and secondly, thinking I could beat the system after doing so.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Just Another Day In Millhaven

Just Another Day In Millhaven

By Ricky Atkinson:  Around 1984 a friend of mine started a fight in Millhaven's yard and a circle quickly formed to shield the fighters from the guards firing at the combatants.

 

A guard outside the prison fence fired four shots from his 12 gage to disperse the crowd, no one moved. The tower guard aimed his high powered rife towards the group and some guys yelled back to him it’s just a fist fight, don’t shoot. The fight lasted a few minutes then it was over the two fighters lived to enjoy each others company another day.

 

Not many of the prisoners in those days would have allowed either of the fighters to be continuously hit once down, the opportunity for a fare fight is why the circle forms in the first place. After that fight the warden passed a no warning shot rule for fights in the yard. In That same year Sandy Fitzpatrick doing a two year sentence for B&E and with only thirty days left on his sentence had a fight in the Millhaven's yard with a know informant. He was shot through the back by the tower guard and died instantly he left a 6 year old daughter. After that guys who need to get problems handled by some form of violence because mediation hasn't worked began to stab each other.

 

It's far easier to stab someone walk away before anyone notices and get he upper hand in whatever your beef was then chance getting shot by a guard in the yard. However once you stab someone you cant live as peacefully in the same prison as the guy you stab as Charlie my friend did with the guy he fought; therefore once you begin to stab someone its better to finish him of (kill him) rather than worry about him coming back at you later on. There was a time when the inmate committee over saw fist fight to ensure fairness and sometimes even the guards would do the same thing usually asking that the combatants shake hands as a sign of the beef being over and this was in Millhaven, Canada's most dangerous square mile.

 

Politics, people with less tolerance to being dissed by being beat in a fight, agitators looking for entertainment and sucking in someone to kill rather than fight another inmate, and no one willing or able to mediate or oversee fights due to administrative reprisals for being involved, make it almost impossible to fist fight and highly more probable for stabbing or killing to take place instead.

 

How things have changed and not for the better, prison violence will always be and can never be stopped, the degree to that violence can be controlled by a prison administration and prison population who understands that men will be men and fights will happen, how they will end is another thing.

 

Another case to look at ... two guys start fighting in the common room in Millhaven’s “A” unit. A guard slides open the gun slot and fires two blasts from his shot gun into the room. "No fighting on my shift boys he yelled back into the room" - the keeper and six guards came asked if all was ok, the boys explained just a fight its over and everybody went back to playing cards, watching TV or playing chess; just another day in Millhaven, again 1984

 

http://www.thewhig.com/2012/12/11/inquest-sheds-light-on-prison-culture-guard-limitations

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

I AM FOUND

I AM FOUND
By Ricky Atkinson:  I got my Eastern woodland Métis card in the mail today. Mixed emotions ... I was raised black by a black father, who never spoke of his native relatives, more importantly he never spoke of his relatives, period.
 
What I know about his family’s history was by the gossip spoken by those whose ears were clogged with misperceptions.

 

I know more about my white mother's family and she didn't know much about her father or mother's history, not where they were originally from, (Russia) not who they were related to nor about their friends beyond a small social circle. I have put many years to the study of history, more specifically the study of Black and Native America that I know what having a Native I.D. card to certify me in the eyes of the government means.

 

Often we are attracted to the study of things that lead down roads we wonder why we are travelling upon, only to find out it wasn't a wasted trip after all. I am who I am, related throughout 14 billion years of history to every living man woman and child, related, to the earth, the water the air, related to the vibration of sound, light of distant stars and hum of the universe. I am all that and more; related to each and every one of you. I am found and smile at the thought.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Horrific treatment - Ashley Smith

Horrific treatment - Ashley Smith

By Ricky Atkinson:  What I noticed most about the horrific treatment of Ashley Smith from the video, now made public after a long and expensive struggle by CSC to prevent its release, was the absolute fear of correctional staff, nurses and the pilot over transferring an average sized girl, whose crime was throwing an apple at a postman.

 

She was not a highly trained military assassin; neither was she a trained terrorist leader with comrades ready to kill to free her from captivity.

 

This fear was not always present in correctional staff, police, and emergency service workers. For example, when I was being transferred from Millhaven Institution’s transfer unit in Ontario to a prison in British Columbia aboard Con-Air, I shot my mouth off to the head of transfers standing on the Tarmac.

 

He shot back to the guards on the plane, "Watch this one, he is one of the most dangerous men in the Ontario prison system". I was instantly treated differently and placed at the front of the plane, sandwiched between rows of guards - guarding 20 other prisoners on Con-Air.

 

Here I was a big, six foot three professional boxer, trained in military tactics from Black Panthers, hard from thirty years of prison and gang-life survival, and yet I didn't get full tactical teams watching my every move. I wasn’t ducked taped to the seat of the plane. I wasn’t rolled into a cell on a gurney, tied down like a wild beast.

 

How does a small girl generate such fear in adult men and women in uniform who are trained to handle violent situations?

 

We now live in a military state, where tanks sit in most police stations. The response to anti-social situations by government officials is expensive and life threatening. Tactical responses that anger the public highlight the belief that violence is the only way to handle any situation.

 

Mediation, a kind word, an attitude of we are here to help, change, transform, rehabilitate or get you ready to live with us in society has slowly been supplanted with the message of “we are your worst enemy don't get out of line, or else”.

 

I have seen lots of prison violence and know many who have killed themselves. I have seen guards stand by and watch someone die, or, shoot them dead.

 

I have also seen guards smash through windows and break down doors to rush in and save an inmate’s life. Back in 1975, I stood only a few feet from a guard, who from his guard tower post, responded to five native prisoners going over the wall at Collins Bay.

 

His walkie talkie crackled “shoot them, shoot them”, and he whispered to himself “I'm not going to kill them. They won’t get more then fifty feet into that field”. The guard and I both watched as the prisoners were stopped at gun point less than a hundred yards away.

 

I think in today’s climate of fear and ultimate power, all five of those inmates would have been gunned down by most guards today patrolling our prisons or police on the streets.

Violence begets violence and the world seems to be spiraling out of control led by government officials who are using less and less restraint in dealing with the populace.

 

Men like me who have seen it all, done it all, realize that only through dialogue, restraint, mediation and compassion for our fellow man do our children and grandchildren have a chance of living in a world even faintly resembling the world we grew up in. Let’s stop the madness by asking government to use restraint and compassion in their desire to protect us from ourselves.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Such Is Life

Such Is Life

By Ricky Atkinson:  What I have come to realize is that there is always a reciprocal reaction to crime both from the victims and family of the criminal. Suffering goes around and comes around, there is never a winner. The murdered son, father or daughter is met by the loss of the son, father and daughter who rots away in prison. Who suffers more?

 

“At least you can get to hug your son” the mother of someone killed cries out to the mother of the son in prison, and the prisoner’s mother says, "I feel your pain woman".

 

And so, we all, each to the other, cause pain and suffering and such is life. The goal of each of us should be to end pain and suffering for others and for ourselves. There is a way and it’s called total awakening within our selves to the needs of the whole universe, which each and every one of us is connected to.

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Capital Punishment?

Capital Punishment?

By Ricky Atkinson:  Michael Rafferty, convicted of first-degree murder, sexual assault and kidnapping in the slaying of an eight-year-old Woodstock, Ontario girl, will not be torn apart by a mob on convicts bent on prison justice. He is more likely to get killed owing someone a bag of chips, chocolate bar and pop than anything else.

 

Nice to see a frenzied mob crying out for murderous justice. It reminds me of days gone by when black people were hung from trees for having the audacity of looking a white woman in the eye; and going further back, when free spirited women were burnt at the stake for being witches. We know from experience that where there is the death penalty there is greater violence and more crime.

 

The death penalty does not have its desired effect in stopping murder but it does appease an uneducated mob of ill informed fanatics. This ‘hump and dumper’ as he will be called when he gets down below will not be torn apart by a mob on convicts bent on prison justice. He is more likely to get killed owing someone a unit (bag of chips, chocolate bar and pop) then anything else. He will get smacked out for staring too long at someone, or disrespecting another by butting in line or not apologizing when bumping into someone. But getting murdered?

 

Not likely in any jail in Canada because most jails are filled with guys just like him and integrated with the general population in such a way that to step out and kill him risking your own freedom especially when the prison administration will punish harshly anyone who even voices a dislike to anyone else because of their beef.

 

I spent a decade in Millhaven Institution and, as chairman of its inmate committee, sitting at the top of the prison hierarchy, I saw many guys murdered for a variety of reasons. It is without a doubt a place where a hound like Michael Rafferty could get killed but realistically not likely that this idiot will ever get there. His notoriety will send him to a protective custody joint either in Quebec or BC.

 

Stop crying out for a law (capital punishment) that was repealed due to the educated, long assessed and fought over decision of law maker’s years ago. Cry out for the death penalty long enough and you may find yourself swinging from a tree, taking your last look and breath at a frenzied mob because of some social mishap or going back only a few years,  because of the colour of your skin. Violence has never ceased violence. Let him rot his life away in a small cell is the worst punishment one can give one day he will wake up and wish he were dead to end that misery.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Contra Band - Collin's Bay

Contra Band - Collin's Bay

By Ricky Atkinson:  A few years ago, while serving on the inmate committee at Mission Institution (Mission, B.C.), I asked the Warden if we could bring in a band to entertain at a family social; the answer was “no”. The Warden said, "I believe the public hearing that we brought in someone to entertain the men would launch so many complaints that I would be buried in paper work”.

 

I appealed to the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) member to intervene and he reiterated what the warden had said, adding, "I deal with the public every day and they would find you guys having fun and being entertained, disturbing!"

 

I had to fire back and say that I find both you and the warden’s position very disturbing because you’re not supposed to bow to public opinion; if you did we would all be drawn and quartered or hung by our thumbs until dead! As I was talking to this man the sound of men laughing and clapping over the sweet sound of Christian music coming from a chapel social event filled the air. I pointed in the sounds direction and said, "Why is that happiness any different from the joy the rest of the prison population might experience – many do not go to the chapel?"

 

The CAC member looked at me and said. "Most of the people in this area are Christians!" It wasn't until I got out and was able to travel around the area of the prison did I realize that just like the rest of Canada, the area was a multi-cultural and multi-religious. The bottom line is that musical concerts are frowned upon by the conservative right and no warden wants to be perceived as too liberal.

 

Prison TV’s Brian Judge asked recently, "Do you think we could ever get another 'Contact show' going again in any prison?" My response: the freedom we enjoyed back in the 1990’s was condoned by many wardens, deputy wardens, security heads, the commissioner of prisons all the way up to the justice minister; allowing us to film and interview them while portraying the truth about Canadian prisons will never happen again. Yet the truth, although hidden and harder to come by, must still be told so that billions of our dollars can be directed to the best areas of need, creating a better society.

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

I am back, I am home

I am back, I am home

By Ricky Atkinson:  It's been a month since I flew back to Toronto from Vancouver wondering what changes had taken place over the past 14 years I have been away. Finding the time to spend with my children and missing the one who I haven’t yet met up with is a challenge. Bought a car to get around and haven’t yet finished putting the apartment together. Networking with many to help YAVIN SOCIETY of which I'm a board member, and the creation of a new program to help those who think thug life is the life, to think otherwise.

 

How is my life...? It's great. So many attempts have been made over the years to end mine either through the slow torture of imprisonment or worse. How can I complain about my yesterdays? I dare not waste my time hating anyone for any reason, when so much work must be done today so that my tomorrow has a greater impact to create change. Many have offered to help me and I thank them. I know many more are waiting to help me tomorrow; that fills me with an energy that makes me glow with the love of living for all who know me. I am back, I am home. God willing I will awake tomorrow feeling as good as I did today.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Double Bunking

Double Bunking

 By Ricky Atkinson:  As I listen to this bit of video I hear country music in the back ground. How do two or three guys listen to two or three different radio stations at once while double or tripled bunked? Prisoners are doubled bunked in solitary confinement for various prison infractions, one of which is not being able to get along in a double-bunked situation while in general population.  Years ago I had a fight with my own brother while doubled-bunked. If family cant get along in the confines of a small space how can “strangers” playing their country music, rap, rock n’ roll, snoring, farting, laughing at cartoons, yelling during sporting games, get along? For those of you who say “who cares, they’re only convicts”... there are as many prisoners in one American prison as all the federal prisons in Canada combined. The Canadian prison population is small enough that we have overcome the violent tension that double-bunking generates through sensible allocation of prison space, realistic parole availabilities, cascading to lower security institutions and more releases to community facilities. Are we not living in this one world? Together?  

 

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Family Visits in Prison

Family Visits in Prison

By Ricky Atkinson:  Family or conjugal visits were initially implemented in San Quentin prison in 1979 after the first female guard began to work in male units. That was the trade off in controlling the inmate population and allowing something as unusual as a female in the cell blocks.

 

Seeing the American’s smiling faces over this issue, we Canadians prisoners lobbied our government for trailer visits as they were first called; I think it was 1981 or 1982 that the first “trailer” rolled into Millhaven Pen as and experiment, likewise, the first female officers started working the units in Collins Bay prison. Uniformed female guards in the all male units changed the way prisoners reacted to staff and many including me, hated the look, smell, sound and attitude from them. In the Prison for Women until the day it closed, female prisoners would yell “man on the range!” anytime a male guard walked into their all woman world.

 

This historic evolution in family visits wasn’t as accepting by the entire prison population as one would think. It was voted on and the vote was won by a narrow margin. The consensus that it was an administration tool to destroy the unity of the prisoners; some thought the institution would threaten to take away the carrot of ‘family visits’ for the slightest infraction of prison rules.


I had a co-accused who ratted out someone over a murder to get one more day in the trailers with his wife in Millhaven in 1987. I had another co-accused who whined like a baby when his trailer was cancelled over a stabbing in Millhaven. He stated how inept the attacker was in not killing his victim because murder investigations normally took only three days and the investigation over the attempt murder took over a week. Naturally the prison remained on lock-down until the investigation was completed.


In the beginning only married lifers were allowed trailer visits. Lifers were, and still are the most calming influence within a prison environment. Inmates who lived common law protested vigorously and within a year or two they too were allowed trailers. They needed to prove a common-law relationship existing for at least two years prior to their arrest. I believe around 1984 or ‘85 it changed again, to anyone doing over five years married or not. By the late 1980’s the door opened for all prisoners who could prove a stable, on-going relationship with someone who had been visiting them for a protracted period of time.


The prison landlord Olie Ingstrup visited Millhaven in 1989; being on the inmate committee I asked that a third trailer be brought into the institution to facilitate the growing number of prisoners who had confirmed stable relationship wanting to use them. We disliked that the convicts in Bath minimum security institution were using Millhaven’s trailers units. The result was that, small houses were built in all the prisons that stand to this day. They help facilitate the family visit programs. Female guards are now entrenched in every facet of prison life and the misery of doing time continues for those who live and work inside our prisons.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences/Parole

Mandatory Minimum Sentences/Parole

By Ricky Atkinson:  Everyone is talking about the proposed Conservative crime bill that will get passed this autumn. But there are always three sides to any issue: his side, her side and the truth.

 

Pamela Stephens speaks for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson: “We remain unwavering in our commitment to fighting crime and protecting Canadians so that our communities are safe places for people to live, raise their family and do business!” 

 

What sane, normal person wouldn’t want that to happen and why is that statement such a contentious issue in our country right now?  I have kids and grandchildren and I’m working hard, paying taxes; who doesn’t want safer communities?

 

Errol Mendes, professor of international law from Universityof Ottawa says this about the proposed crime bill: "The legislation is more based on punishment than prevention and that is dramatically new. It is one of the most punishment focused [agendas] in Canadian history”.

 

But Mr. Mr. Mendes, criminals expect to be punished if caught. Why keep warning us of past punishments and relating them to future punishments? 

 

I’ve been around long enough to know all about those “past punishments” and I’ll be around long after Stephen Harper has faded from the public while his anti-crime initiatives are still haunting Canadians.

 

When Canada still had the death penalty I walked around with a gun, completely aware that ‘hanging’ still existed. But never for a fleeting moment did I think I would ever have to face it.

 

Robbery carried a life sentence, yet I often robbed - never once thinking that I would ever receive a life sentence.

 

Breaking into a store carried a 14-year sentence but stores were broken into frequently.

 

Mandatory minimum sentences don't make society any safer. They simply give the police a tool to take someone out of the community for a protracted period of time. When I entered the adult prison system in 1972 the Trudeau government had implemented “mandatory parole” that took the ‘good time’ a prisoner earned while doing time and forced that prisoner to do that ‘good time’ while on parole.

 

Basically it was an attempt to appease the public by sounding harsh on crime and give the inmate some structure to aid in reintegration back to society. Prisoners hated this new system because they felt if they were deemed ‘good enough’ to get a break on their sentence, why should they have to do that earned remission time again, while out on mandatory parole?  

 

Having experienced mandatory parole repeatedly, I can tell you that I didn't like it, but I understand where the government was coming from. The idea is to help me reintegrate back to society but with a shorter leash and more controls over my freedom.

 

Like anyone facing a judge, I expect to be punished in a fair and civil manner.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Short. Sharp. Sentences.

Short. Sharp. Sentences.

By Ricky Atkinson:  In 1987 I found my self in front of a judge considered the most lenient in the Ontario judiciary - - - Judge Cannon. I was facing a bank robbery charge where, although I was considered the leader, I did not enter the bank; I was parked blocks away monitoring the score with police scanners and walkie talkies. I jumped at the chance to plead guilty in front of this judge because I assumed he was a judicial a pussy cat and would live up to his moniker of “One Day Cannon”. 

 

He turned out to be a judicial lion and I received a thirteen year sentence in the penitentiary. My point is, that by initiating mandatory sentences we take away the power of a judge to use their discretion in handing out a sentence. Justice Cannon was tuned-in to the public abhorrence over a series of robberies that had taken place across the country. As the judicial representative of the people he reacted accordingly and hammered me.

 

The police and their representatives in government always try to convince us to lose faith in our Judges and to place more faith in a system without judges or fair trials. Often the police will give an interview about how soft Judges are and on how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect criminals. And then the first time one of them is charged with a crime they scream Charter arguments and beg for kid glove leniency by the judiciary.

 

After serving fourteen years I was released into the community two years ago and have done well.  Working hard, paying taxes, I honestly believe that I have overcome the devils that raged within me and I now see our sun in a far different light. I am a good example of our systems failure but also its success.

 

I haven’t change my evil ways because of the fear of harsher laws or tougher prisons.  I have never feared either. I changed because I was given a lump of clay and asked to make something of myself.

 

After spending five years in a prison pottery room producing works of art, I decided that making art in the free world was far more rewarding then making it in prison and for me and most criminals it gets to be that simple; a matter of choice, because there were choices to be had.

 

Stopping crime starts with readjusting the behaviour of children, giving them choices, guidance; lets create a community with them rather than slapping them in prison for the most minor affairs and hoping that punishment turns them into happy productive citizens.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Just Visiting: Jo Jo Chinto Goes to Prison

Just Visiting: Jo Jo Chinto Goes to Prison

By Ricky Atkinson:  When this clip was first aired in the mid 90’s, the attitude of showcasing one of the best prison systems in the world allowed Brian Judge and I to produce the first ever prison based TV show. Wardens like Fred Sisson allowed us to roam the institution without hindrance or censorship from him or his staff

 

So when Jo Jo Chinto, former crime reporter for City TV in Toronto Ontario, decided to just drop by and visit while I was in Frontenac minimum security institution, bringing with him a film crew, it was fortunate that Corrections Canada had a policy that enabled their doors to be open for media types to visit prisons and interview prisoners.  

 

Today that access would not and could not happen.

 

New policies have curtailed access to the media by prisoners. Wardens simply close the door and are directed by Ottawa politicians, far away from the front lines of prisons across the country. 

 

In the video, Eli Askov and I are not whining about our sentences or the conditions of our incarceration. We are simply trying to bring light to our situation and inform the Canadian public as to how we perceive our incarcerated predicaments. 

 

Jo Jo calls me a model prisoner, something I have always been, having one of the best institutional records for someone who has done my kind of time, anywhere in Canada. Such an unblemished prison record has not translated into gaining ‘early release’ for me. As a matter of fact, it has worked against me. Prison officials have told me over the years that by having nothing for them to assess in my behaviour over time (no drug charges, fighting or stabbings, attempt escapes, damaging government property or just a shitty attitude towards my captors) leads them to think in  more cautious manner and to deny my release applications again and again.

 

There’s a game that prisoners play of being bad when first entering the system, then allowing the programs in place to ‘correct’ the unacceptable behaviour giving the prison officials something to assess, correct and cover their collective asses with. I have never played that game, even though I’ve known it existed. I believed in doing my own time, not causing any problems was the best way for me to survive the horrors of prison life even if it took a few more years to get out. 


Watching the video clip you see us laughing and looking optimistically towards our future because we both believed in the end, we would be released back in to society. What the video does not show or allude to, is our future.  Eli was released, stole another truck full of goods and was stripped of his refugee status, his citizenship taken from him and kicked out of Canadafor good.

 

I was released on a day parole but allowed the government to entrap me into committing a drug conspiracy; I was arrested and sentenced to an additional twenty years of which I served another fifteen years of that sentence.  I can still laugh as I had with Eli and Jo Jo, but find less and less joy in a prison system that is loosing its uniqueness and mimicking the abysmal American system.

 

I still hope for a better future but know that fifteen years has gone by without much progress in the direction most of us want our lives to go in. I will grasp what is left of life with a firm hand and work towards making a more socially positive footprint to leave behind. Hopefully for the balance of this journey I can change the lives of kids destined to be what I was . . . a model prisoner . . .  and instead help them to become model citizens . . .  much to the chagrin of those who profit from incarcerated men and women.

 

Number of replies: 2 | Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Medium Security Summer

Medium Security Summer

By Ricky Atkinson:  In the mid 1970’s there was a tension filled, racial dynamic at Collins Bay Institution and I organized a BIFA group, (Black Inmate and Friends Association) to ease the racial pressure after a race riot there.


During the 1990s, while chairman of the inmate committee at Joyceville Institution, I helped organize a multi-cultural group comprised of all racial and religious groups at the prison, to ease the tension after a race-related murder in that joint.

 

We held a multi-cultural social and we all worked together to make the event happen; actually it was one of the first Prisontv.net shows to be aired.


Today I worry about prison administrators seeking to separate racial groups in order to get a handle on their prison populations, when the solution to easing racial tension is not in separation of the races.


Canadians have worked hard on racial unity and we pride ourselves on being the most racially mixed population in the world.

 

As the former leader of one of Ontario’s largest racially mixed criminal gangs, I warn prison administration to seek solutions that bring together the prison populations and resist a sub-group’s natural instinct to stick together along racial and gang affiliated bonds to survive a violent prison existence.

 

Corrections Canada has stated that only 10% of Joyceville prison population is gang affiliated; what about the other 90%? Why should they suffer segregation due to race and racial tension? And they will if you implement American correctional policy of separation and segregation; it’s the bane of corrections watchdogs around the world.


Since I started doing time, mob gangs, biker gangs, various dynamic racial gangs have existed. Why suddenly is it so disconcerting to prison administrators to deal with these groups, when older correctional staff have dealt with such groups, under periods of unrest and violence, for decades.

 

Have prison administrators, through policies made in Ottawa, taken away the voice of those experienced correctional officers? Have such policies also prevented experienced older inmates from mediating and working with the prison officials to make the prison a better place to exist to do time?


The tension we are now seeing may not be racially or gang motivated as the prison officials state, but could be a result of over crowding and a lack of social and educational programs. Indeed, there does seem to be a lack of hope for peace and unity by both the front line guards and the prison population. Yet the world watches us as we brag about having the world’s best judicial/correctional system.

 

If that boast is not full of hot air, then getting to the bottom of a problem that is caused by only a small portion of the prison population should not be such a hurdle to overcome for the world’s best.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

KP Riot: 40 years ago this month

KP Riot: 40 years ago this month

 It was mid-April 1971 when convicts at Kingston Penitentiary held guards hostage and destroyed the cellblocks. They also killed two prisoners deemed "undesirables."

 

Shortly after the riot at KP, along with three other Dirty Tricks Gang members, I walked into Kingston Penitentiary’s cavernous dome and was stunned into silence by the enormity of the damage to the cell blocks and other infrastructures that made up the oldest toughest prison in Canada.

 

I was only 17 years old and knew that if hell was anywhere I had just been inducted into it. Within 60 days I was working on the prison mason gang helping to rebuild what the angry mob of prisoners tried to rip down. I was transferred to Millhaven prison, 'the most dangerous square mile in Canada' to begin my prison sentence and over the next 35 years would find myself in so many prisons, having met so many prisoners, guards and wardens, that all the faces and names have blurred with time.

 

What has not faded is the realization that the KP riot was an exercise in futility.

 

The prison was rebuilt by convicts like me; the protective custody inmates like the ones that were preyed upon are now on inmate committee's in most prisons in Canada and in essence run the prisons; more money and bigger prisons are being built, more prisoners are being sent to them . . . and at younger and younger ages.

 

All prisons are shinny examples of society’s failure and inability to stop crime before it starts. I have learned after forty years of running a gang that to stop crime and prevent the need for prisons, we must look to those who can help change the path a child walks, in his quest to be “in” a gang. These people will come from the courts, police, sociology students, churches, informed parents and through former convicts and motivational speakers like me. 

 

When I look back at Kingston Penitentiary the way it was 40 years ago I wonder why being there didn’t stop me from a life of crime. I know now that at 17 years old, it was already too late; I would have to have see it at as a 5 year old!

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Hard Times for Family Visiting Prison (1995)

Hard Times for Family Visiting Prison (1995)

No matter what you think about the person doing time and the crime they committed, their family and friends were also made victims.

What good does it do to remove the criminal so far away from society that their friends and family feel the pain of imprisonment and suffer?  What about crimes that are victimless, should that criminal also be removed from his or her family for the duration of their punishment. Separation from the world is the ultimate punishment.

 

Keep in mind that only ten percent of all prisoners get regular visits. For those that don't, sitting with the family of a friend at a social event is as close as you may come to getting a ‘visit’. I realize how hard it must be on someone who has lost a loved one to think that the person responsible for their death is going on with their life as if everything is normal. You may even say at least they get to see their loved one and you don't and in ways you’re right to feel great pain and sorrow.

 

Although you see me smiling in the picture that was taken with my mother and children, I am definitely hurting inside. The visit was only two hours long; my children grew up without me, knowing me only from periodic visits in closely monitored and controlled environments. Each time they left a visit not knowing if I would ever see them again.

 

Generally speaking, the guards were polite and respectful during visits. My family’s only crime was that they loved a prisoner. At other times, hasty decisions are made by security staff and our families are embarrassed, hurt, denigrated, and made to feel like prisoners themselves. Correction Canada is run by humans and not precision made machines; the odd guard passes through the cracks of psychological testing and exhibits extreme psychopathic behavior. Some are rude and unforgiving.

 

In the end, the prisoner usually goes home to the very family who visited, who endured the incarceration and put up with the loneliness of living without their loved one.  If all goes well the prisoner blends back into society and becomes your coworker, neighbor, member of your sports team and even your friend. You may not even know his/her past history. A country’s humanity can be measured by how it treats its poor, its mentally disabled and its prisoners; how do we measure up against an increasingly hostile world with a growing prison population?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Youth & Crime Prevention

Youth & Crime Prevention

1994 video of me hosting the popular prison television "Contact" show from Kingston, Ontario. Like most teenagers I resisted any of the advice that adults gave me. Advice that could have led me away from a 40 year foray into crime and prison. Back in the day I believed most adults just couldn’t understand me. I thought they were from a generation that just didn't understand, weren't cool enough. Mostly though, I didn't trust adults because they represented authority.


Lifer Greg McMaster makes a poignant comment to our teenage guests that went something like: "Just take a minute to look at the adults trying to give you advice as being teenagers much like yourself  - - because they were at one time. Soon you will begin to understand where they are coming from”.

 

McMaster is right. I’m now the adult I feared when I was a kid and resistant to the words of wisdom coming from community leaders, coaches, teachers and even my parents. Today when I speak to kids about prison and crime I try to let them see that at one time I was them. I tell them that I was once like them . . . forced to listen to a stranger coming into the prison in an attempt to teach some valuable lesson . . . and I didn't listen. I resisted. I thought I knew it all. It cost me 30 years of being locked up.

 

My advice to adults mentoring teens is to show them who you once were. Grow together with each sentence until you become the adult that they too, will become one day.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Inmate Pay: Corcan Training Programs

Inmate Pay: Corcan Training Programs

Warkworth prison, 1974 and all the cons are told to assemble in the prison yard. As we do that a small plane buzzes over head before darting off into the sun set. The warden explains that inmates can now work in a shop building sheet-metal bodies for crop dusting airplanes just like the one flying above. Those fortunate to be chosen to work can make an incentive pay of about 10 cents more than other prisoners.

 

Fast forward to 1991 (when this video was shot) and the maximum regular inmate pay at Joyceville prison is about $45/canteen period.  The guys working in the metal shop making lockers earned around $300/canteen. They worked way more than eight hours/day and most times they did six days a week. Not every inmate wanted to work building airplanes in 1974 and not every con wanted to work the metal shop in Joyceville either. Many are satisfied with meager inmate pay and instead choose to supplement their “pay” by selling hobby crafts and art work.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Part two: Squamish 5 and Litton Bombing

Part two: Squamish 5 and Litton Bombing

Rosie Rowbotham asks convicted bomber Brent Taylor about his role in the Litton episode that sent him to prison for years. As I watched his response I thought how easily I could have been labeled a revolutionary, a bomber.

 

Double agent Warren Hart, a former captain of the Baltimore Black Panther Party, taught an intensive course in improvised bomb making to me and my friends. And like Brent Taylor, I shared a revolutionary ideology. He worried about the military industrial complex, the war machine where accidents such as the Bhopal gas leak and Chernobyl are common place. He was ready and willing to create change by any means necessary.

 

Similarly, my political ideology at the time of being wooed into Black Panthers in Toronto via Warren Hart was to bring to the world a conscious reality of the racial inequality that existed in North America. And I was ready and willing by any means necessary to create change in the status quo. If that meant blowing up a building, a police car, or hijacking a plane to bring to light the reality of racial inequality, so be it. Other like minded organizations were forcing change; the White Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army and the FLQ all used bombs to frighten the citizens and to make the case against the duplicity and underhandedness of the politics of the day.

 

Rosie questions Brent about using “other available means” of communication, rather than bombs, to get a point across, and Brent agrees. He concurs that after years of introspective incarceration, he would do things differently than in his early life journey. Me, too; after years of incarceration I realize I could have done things differently. 

 

I was convicted of robbing a bakery to feed the Black Panther defense fund and I used Warren Hart’s gun. This is the very same weapon that the Canadian government allowed him to have in his role as agent provocateur. My point is, that had my mentor and bomb instructor given me a bomb instead of the use of his gun, at the time, given the mental state I was in, I may have been a convicted bomber too, just like Brent Taylor.  

 

Today seeing the world wide turmoil, I know from personal experience, that revolutionaries are induced, coerced, bought and manipulated all with the goal to strike out and to create change – and sometimes by any means necessary. People will fall victim to agent provocateurs like Warren Hart; others will commit to blowing up a building and risk prison, injury or death like Brent Taylor.

 

My bottom line: after decades of choosing crime and violence to meet my goals I’ve come to believe that Gandhi and Martin Luther King got it right. Change comes through intense dialogue not guns and bombs. I am only a small voice trying to roar like a lion and be heard . . . I often wonder if anyone out there is listening.  

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Part 2: Citizens Against Child Exploitation

Part 2: Citizens Against Child Exploitation

Despite her own personal victimization, Monica Rainey, founder of the advocacy group "Citizens Against Child Exploitation" (CACE) advocated for vigilance. She wanted sex offenders to have legal restraints, controls, supervision, rehabilitation and punishment.  She never screamed for heads to roll or people to be burnt at the stake. Monica realized that we are all on this earth together; we are all related and must be our brother’s keepers and find solutions to crime and punishment. Since this interview, laws she lobbied for have been passed and we as a society have become more vigilant and aware of crimes against children. But all is not perfect. Children are sold into sexual slavery at an appalling rate every day. The world is not safe for many, and we still don’t see each other as friends and brothers. Politicians still scream for heads to roll and people to be burnt at the stake; they excite our passions and hate for a quick vote, without much thought about our children's, children. I have daughters who have given the world my grand daughters. I wish for all to be protected and to safely evolve into wholesome, unmolested human beings. Its time to think out solutions and put away personal prejudices in order to get the laws we need to live as one; free and safe.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Citizens Against Child Exploitation

Citizens Against Child Exploitation

Monica Rainey and her group Citizens Against Child Exploitation helped bring legislation that makes treatment of sex offenders mandatory; sex offenders now commonly face extended periods of judicial (probation) monitoring thanks to the efforts of groups like Monica’s. I remember that day we talked at Bath Institution (1994) she mentioned the seething hate still held for the molester that impacted her life.  Curiously, I pointed out that the very same offender could be seen walking across the prison compound located meters behind her. She was stunned and wondered why he wasn't in protective custody. I explained that the Bath Institution, like most prisons by 1995, had fully integrated protective custody inmates into the regular prison population.

 

In the 20 years since the implementation of that program, sex offenders, child molesters and rapists walk the prison yards in all but the most maximum security prisons unharmed. They are often educated, socially adjusted, outstanding community leaders; social workers, camp counselors, church ministers, you name it. Today they’re voted on to the inmate committee, they get canteen, library and school jobs.  

 

The reason the hard core convicts don’t rise up and exact vengeance on these soft, predators is because of the absolute zero tolerance from prison officials for anyone verbally or physically bothering a sex offender. Prison administration has at all cost, tried to end the convict code of yesteryear. They will simply ship an “aggressor” to higher level security. I’ve found it easier to do my time by simply not socializing with anyone least I bump into one of these incompatibles in the gym, library, canteen lineup and they pimp the prison administration with false clams of aggression from me. Most of us would rather go straight than have to serve another day double bunked or under the thumb of an incompatible. 

 

 

Number of replies: 1 | Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Talking about parole . . . (2011)

Talking about parole . . . (2011)
After years of trying I finally entered another phase of my life. The National Parole Board granted me a full parole today (1/18/2011). No, they have not lost their minds; they saw in me a changed person, whose mission is to create change in kids at risk. I cannot be stopped and others will come to my aid to make the world a safer place, one misguided soul at a time.
In this video its 1996 and I had moved to a Hamilton half-way house and was appearing in a variety of media in the GTA. I was talking about my experience in the prison system and my unique role as a prison TV talk show host. Appearing on the Jane Hawtin “Live” show, a phone-in program seen coast to coast in the 1990’s could be an intimidating and stressful experience. The show dealt mainly with dark, sensitive and controversial issues. On this particular episode, me, Jane Hawtin and Rick Hanson, a Calgary police superintendent, debate whether the parole system works. It did today!

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Blues Jam @ Joyceville Institution (1991)

Blues Jam @ Joyceville Institution (1991)

I'm often asked about the "good times" of doing time. I usually tell people that in the 30 + years of being in prison, I can explain the good times in less than five minutes. The bad times would take me years of review. Playing my harp with Brendan Rooney, who died shortly after this jam session, was one of those good times. A pattern always seem to emerge that ended our good time - that's when the overhead speakers blasted out ..."All prisoners return to your cells for count!". Sadly these days, budgets have replaced music rooms with more cells and bigger guns. ~Ricky Atkinson

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Spooky Tales from Prison (1996)

Spooky Tales from Prison (1996)

In 1995 Robert “Rosie” Rowbotham became the host/producer of Prison TV after I received parole and moved to a Hamilton half-way house.  Curiously, while filming a documentary with CJOH TV at Millhaven Institution, Brian and I stumbled upon Rosie being held in custody on a parole violation. We talked that day in Millhaven and Brian later met him after he received pen placement at Pittsburgh Institution. It was a fitting and unique hand-off of important duties. In this video clip its Halloween and Rosie takes a call from from John Q. Public.

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter @ Queen's University

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter @ Queen's University

Rubin Carter was ‘free and on fire’ when Prison TV caught up with him giving a passionate speech at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario about the American justice system. In 1966, at the height of his boxing career, Rubin Carter was wrongly convicted – twice - of a triple murder and imprisoned for nearly two decades. During the mid-1970s, his case became a cause celébrè for a number of civil rights leaders, politicians, and entertainers. He was ultimately exonerated, in 1985, after a United Statesdistrict court judge declared the convictions to be based on racial prejudice. Upon his release, Rubin moved to Toronto, Ontariointo the home of the group that had worked to free him. He worked on a new book, Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Untold Story of the Freeing of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter published in 1991. The former prizefighter was given an honorary championship title belt in 1993 by the World Boxing Council and served as director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted.  

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Squamish 5 and the Litton bombing

Squamish 5 and the Litton bombing

In 1995 Prison TV's Robert “Rosie” Rowbotham interviewed political activist and former prisoner Brent Taylor who, along with Ann Hansen, Julie Belmas and Doug Stewart filled a van with 500 pounds of dynamite and drove cross-country in 1982 to target Litton Systems in Toronto. The van was parked in full view of corporate security, and an elaborate "warning box" was duct-taped to the hood, displaying a message, a digital clock counting down, and a single stick of dynamite to show it was no joke. Belmas called the security desk and warned them of the explosion, giving instructions on exactly what to do and where the danger area was. But security did not respond the way they expected. The evacuation was just getting started when the bomb exploded minutes ahead of schedule. Seven people were injured in the incident.  (Part 1)

 

Number of replies: 1 | Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Faint Hope, Capital Punishment & Warren Allmand

Faint Hope, Capital Punishment & Warren Allmand

After making my way to minimum security Frontenac Institution in 1995 the ability to produce a weekly TV show improved greatly. Using the escorted temporary pass program, I booked a ½ day inside Collin’s Bay to record and interview Member of Parliament Warren Allmand who was speaking at a John Howard event.  In 1976, as Solicitor General, Allmand tabled the bill that abolished the death penalty in Canada. In part 1  of this video he discusses the origins of Section 745 commonly referred to as the ‘faint hope clause’. He reviews the emerging power of organized victim groups and laments a caucus colleague’s approach to getting tough on crime.Human rights issues are Allmand’s passion and he continues to be a member of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group that follows dossiers like that of Maher Arar, a Canadian who was tortured by the Syrian government.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Pregnant in prison

Pregnant in prison

In 1994, Prison TV's Kas Fer interviewed Molly Goddard on what its like to be ‘Pregnant in Prison’. Molly talked about fear and anxiety and wondered whether Corrections Canada would let her keep her baby at the prison. She explained how noise and tension on the cell block can be a distraction and noted how staff does the best they can to accommodate her special needs. Since this interview, Corrections Canada has implemented a mother-child program with a goal to “provide mechanisms that foster and promote stability and continuity for the child in its relationship with its mother”. The best interests of the child, including the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, is the primary consideration in decisions relating to participation in the mother-child program, says the Correctional Services. There are aprox 350 federal women offenders living at Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia; Joliette Institution in Joliette, Quebec; Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario; Edmonton Institution for Women in Edmonton, Alberta; and the Okimaw Ochi Healing Lodge, in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. Women offenders in British Columbia are incarcerated at the provincial Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Jane Hawtin: Does rehabilitation work?

Jane Hawtin: Does rehabilitation work?

By 1996 I had moved to a Hamilton half-way house and was appearing in a variety of media in the GTA and elsewhere talking about my experiences in the prison system and my unique role as a TV talk show host. Appearing on the Jane Hawtin “Live” show, a phone-in program seen coast to coast in the 1990’s was an intimidating and stressful experience because the show dealt mainly with dark, sensitive and controversial issues. On this particular episode, Jane Hawtin asks whether we should "do away" with the faint hope clause.

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Knives in Prison; Tour of Bath Institution Kitchen Services

Knives in Prison; Tour of Bath Institution Kitchen Services
Prison TV (1994) tours Bath Institution kitchen services and talks with Norman Schwehr, Assistant Chief, Food Services about security issues involving common kitchen utensils.
 

 

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Double Bunking

Double Bunking

Move bunk beds into your washroom and spend the weekend there with a total stranger. That’s how most prisoners describe double bunking. There's been a lot of news about the CSC plan to build thousands of additional prison cells even as the crime rate continues to fall. Commissioner's Directive 550, identifies single cells as the most desirable and appropriate method of housing offenders. CSC’s current policy reflects a belief that double bunking (one cell designed for one inmate occupied by two) is inappropriate as a permanent accommodation measure within the context of good corrections. The concern is that forecasted increases resulting from the passing of the Tackling Violent Crime Act and the Truth in Sentencing Act, and normal growth projections will exert great pressure on current capacities to accommodate prisoners. It seems logical that CSC will be forced to increase the level of double bunking in turn creating an increased in the level of tension in prisons.  

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Native sisterhood @ Prison for Women

Native sisterhood @ Prison for Women

Before approval was given to create its own production unit, Prison TV was a frequent visitor to Prison for Women where it recorded interviews and social activities. In this 1994 video excerpt, I get to talk with “Yvonne” from the Native Sisterhood about systemic issues of concern to native prisoners.

No amount of tinkering with prisons can heal the before-prison lives of the Aboriginal women who live or have lived within their walls. Prison cannot remedy the problem of the poverty of reserves. It cannot deal with immediate or historical memories of genocide that Europeans worked upon our people. It cannot remedy violence, alcohol abuse, sexual assault during childhood, rape and other violence Aboriginal women experience at the hands of men. Prison cannot heal the past abuse of foster homes, or that indifference and racism of Canada's justice system in its dealings with Aboriginal people.” (From the report ‘First Nations women in the Canadian federal prison system’.)

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.

Prison landlord tenant issues

Prison landlord tenant issues

By Ricky Atkinson:  It was a real coup for us to land an interview with the “landlord”. A temporary escorted pass allowed two members of the Prison TV production crew to travel to Ottawa and interview the Commissioner of Correctional Services of Canada. John Edwards was Commissioner from 1993-96. To commemorate our first official road trip, crew member “Randy” from Bath Institution painted a unique water colour postcard. We may do a T-shirt with the image and sell it here on the site! Before arriving at CSC headquarters in downtown Ottawa, I spoke to a national morning show audience via Canada A.M. Later, during the wide ranging interview with Commissioner Edwards, we hear him speak to the need for a greater emphasis to be placed on crime prevention and early intervention strategies. This is the only way to help stem the tide of people going to prison.   

 

Leave a Reply | Bookmark the permalink.