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ReportsWednesday, 23 April 2003
Miramichi --> Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada Rick had told me last night that I could easily sleep in until 10am. "Don't you have to be at work early tomorrow morning?" I had asked him.
"Oh no, my inmates are locked up anyway."
But I was pretty surprised when he woke me up at 9am. Rick told me he would take me along for lunch with one of his colleagues in a while. That was good to me, and with a shower and some coffee I really woke up. At 10.30am I was totally packed again, but expected to go out for that lunch in about an hour. It was then when Rick told me it was already 11.30am and we had to go.
Wait a minute... ???
"I guess you are still on Quebec time?" he asked. Then I started to understand what was going on. It appeared that New Brunswick has a different time zone from Quebec time, and I didn't know that!
I lost one hour and I couldn't figure out where I left it!
Outside it was dreary of the rain. "It's a pity that you came this time of the year, Miramichi is so depressing like this."
"Oh by the way, I bought you a bus ticket to get to Fredericton," said Rick and he showed me the ticket, worth some $18. "At least you don't have to hitchhike in the rain."
Still confused about my hour loss, however this was very amusing to Rick and his colleague Paul, I enjoyed an eggs and toast breakfast-lunch in a little along-the-road restaurant, south of Miramichi.
After this meal, Rick showed me around at The Canadian Correctional Institution, as the heavy security prison is nicely called to stay modern. Of course, for security reasons, I was not allowed to take anything with me except my ID, so I could not take any photos, except from the fenced outside.
At the front portal I was cleared and given a visitor's badge and Rick took me along to the main building. I was walking on the grounds of a heavy security prison. "We had one escape last year," Rick informed me. I looked at the high barb wires up the double fences, there were cameras in every corner and a truck drives around the terrain 24-hours-a-day. Prisoners know that if they get too close to this fence, they will be shot. So they won't ever go there either. "But that was an inmate who escaped from the hospital in town."
Did they get him again?
"Yes, after four months they found him again. After he had killed another four people, though."
Inside the prison I meet up with some other colleagues of Rick at the parole offices and then I am taken around for a tour. Most of the inmates were locked up in their units, during this tour through the rest of the building. Lunch time was just finished for them.
Rick has 28 of the 205 inmates under his cover as a parole officer. A total of 60 of all inmates are in segregation, as it is called. They do not meet up with any other prisoners at all. Rick explains me how there are different groups that go out in the recreation areas. "If people get into a fight with each other, they will be separated so they won't meet again."
At the gym I was amazed at all the security. What looked like a normal school gym building, had guards' see-through-mirrors high up in the wall and if anything would happen guns appear through the holes they had. Rick told me they would only shoot directly when somebody else is getting seriously hurt. "First they shoot warning shots at a plate on the other side of the wall, which is mostly enough."
With some of the balls around in the gym, I shot some hoops at the basket. Just so I can say I have played basketball in a prison later in life, haha. But it felt strange, knowing that you are watched from all corners.
"The prison is a community on its own," Rick said, "the people who live around this institution don't at all know what goes on here." A lot of things go on here, just like in the real world, only most of the people have committed a crime. Still, they do their daily thing. There is a store, there are class rooms, there is a chapel, there is a big workplace…
Inmates can sit in their cell all day and do nothing, that makes them earn $1 a day. But if they would go to school classes in the prison or work at the internal factory, they make $6.85 per day. "And they love to work or go to school; they make money to buy tobacco."
And the worse things continue too. "Family members try to smuggle in drugs, through various ways. When they come and visit the inmates, they transfer it by kissing each other. And some inmates feel the need to create their own weapons at the workplace for their security. It's actually a real world in here."
When Rick took me around to the units where the most criminal people of Canada are locked up, I felt even more strange. I am walking through this hallway and behind closed cell doors, just two metres away from me, I can look through little windows and peek inside the cells. When the inmates noticed us walking there, their eyes and noses would appear in the window. They scream, they swear, they pray for some attention. "Hey Rick! You know you are the worst parole officer I have ever met!"
About their language Rick told me that he would never hear anybody call him "sir" or something. "I hear the worst things, but then again I got used to it. They swear a lot when they know they have an audience to show off to. But when you have serious talks with inmates, like one-to-one, they act normal."
Rick had to have a talk with one of his inmates and he just took me along. Gates opened and gates closed. I was in another unit. Suddenly I was surrounded by men who were walking around in their blue shirts. I just couldn't forget the fact that these same men also committed the worst crimes to end up here. They were having talks with parole officers or other important people, or were cleaning the floors.
The inmate Rick talks to ("Oh by the way, this is Ramon, he is visiting prisons all around the world") his inmate, it's clear that the only reason he wanted to speak with Rick was to get cigarettes. He is about to transfer to another prison next week, but doesn't have a prison job at the moment to make money for cigarettes. "I want to do something, I need the money! Oh please!? Do I have to wait until next week for a smoke or something!?"
The man wasn't frightening at all. The man did not have many teeth and talked like a 16-year-old who was disappointed that he couldn't get what he want. Rick told me this person probably had a very low social upbringing and wasn't really high levelled. When I asked Rick what the man had done to have end up here, he said: "He's been after the ladies too much."
Now he only wants cigarettes.
The tour at the institution was more than extraordinary. Maybe it was because I have never been to any prison before and I was stirred to see how the lives of the inmates continued as normally, however they are confined in this building for perhaps the rest of their lives.
With all these serious convicted criminals, Rick does however oppose the death penalty (that Canada fortunately does not have). "I know that being in prison for the rest of your life is the worst thing that can happen in your life." I agreed with him, killing a convict is not punishing a criminal hard enough.
But I also had a bus to catch today!
After the two-hour walk through the institution, I got out of the prison safely (they didn't even want to keep me!). Rick drove me to a gas station down the road, where my bus arrived around 3.25pm. I thanked Rick for his support and the impressive tour at his work and boarded the bus to Fredericton.
Fredericton is the capital city of the New Brunswick province. I still wonder who made that mistake, because when I arrived (yes, it was still bucketing down rain), I could not see any sign that would make this place worth to be a capital city. I haven't seen much other towns and cities in New Brunswick, but if this is the capital city already, the rest won't… whatever…
There is barely any industry here and the population of 46,000 people mostly work for the government or the university.
The province of New Brunswick was created to cope with the sudden arrival of thousands of British Loyalists in the early 1780s. The New Englanders were concentrated in the south coastal city Saint John, which they expected to be their new provincial capital.
I arrived in Fredericton just after 5pm and at the bus terminal I had a collect call with my hostesses in town. They were happy to pick me up at the terminal.
It was Emaly Green who drove by and picked me up. Emaly is student at the arts and craft college in town and she lives together in a first-floor apartment with two other flatmates.
As we crossed the Saint John River, it was clear that the water had risen over its normal limits. "Oh my god, look how high the water is. That used to be my running path along the river." But I didn't see no running path anymore.
At the spacey apartment I met up with Hayley Outhouse and the third flatmate Liza. It was Emaly and Hayley who had sent me their invitation a few weeks ago. "We heard about you on the CBC radio a few months ago, when you were still in Vancouver. We have been tracking you down on the website, but forgot the invite all the time. And suddenly you were around the corner and thought 'why not?'."
Hayley expressed the reason to invite me over. "Well.. to be honest… It is fun to meet a refreshing personality. You have travelled, you are not from around here, and that's just a good experience for us!"
I was taken around for a tour around the house where all the flatmates showed me their rooms. Emaly and Liza both are arts and crafts students and their rooms were both very creative. Hayley, however is the nursing student, whose room was clean and very neat.
"I like things to be clean," Hayley explained. Her flatmates enjoy that in this house, dirty dishes never stay alive overnight and Hayley loves ironing. "She is our mum," said Emaly. "And sometimes we call her Monica, after this character on the Friends TV-series."
"I am not like Monica!" Hayley screams from her room. Her flatmates have a laugh.
It feels good to hang around with people around my age again. They just hang around and say whatever they want to say. And the ladies I was with were quite amusing too.
We had a late dinner tonight. But I have already noticed that it seems to be very normal to have dinner around 10pm in New Brunswick. The ladies decided to eat out and took me along to Mexi's, a Mexican cantina downtown Fredericton.
"Normally we eat by ourselves," Emaly said when I asked if they eat together most of the time. "We all have different time schedules with school and part-time jobs."
It seemed that Hayley was very stunned by the waiter Weston. Also a travelling man, Wes is now working as a waiter here and at a pub elsewhere in town. After dinner he treated us on a free Margarita mixes at the bar, which went down pretty good.
I will be staying another day with the students tomorrow, so I might find out what goes on between Hayley and Wes, because whatever it is, it's pretty much kept a secret in this town.
Good night Fredericton!