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July 22: Whoís on First?

The process set in motion by the murder of Christian Grenier and the A unit smash-up had only begun with the segregation of prisoners and the five-day reviews. When I returned to Kent on Tuesday, July 22, I spoke with Cacane Tremblay about the events leading up to Mr. Grenierís death. Some prisoners in A unit had drug debts with prisoners in C unit, and although a meeting between them seemed initially to resolve the matter, it escalated into a situation in the yard in which threats were uttered and knives were flashed. Claude Forget, who was serving a 20-year sentence for the attempted murder of two police officers, made it clear that anyone threatening Mr. Tremblay would have to go through him first. Knives were drawn, and Mr. Forget defended himself with a baseball bat. When Mr. Grenier came to his assistance, he was knifed. Mr. Forget was struck on the back of the head with a baseball bat. Mr. Tremblay told me that the A unit prisoners involved were in deep trouble. They could not return to the population without risking death or serious assault, and, given how well connected Claude Forget was, Mr. Tremblay could not think of any maximum-security institution to which they could be sent without encountering major problems.

On July 23, I interviewed Glen Rosenthal and Pat McKenna in segregation. Mr. Rosenthal provided me with a running commentary on the events in the exercise yard, concluding with these words:

When youíre on one team in a situation like this, you tag someone on the other team before they tag you. Thatís what happened. Thatís why Christian got killed.

The honest-to-god truth was that this Christian was a nice guy. There was nobody involved on our side [in A unit] that had any ill intentions towards him whatsoever. But the guyís got a baseball bat and heís swinging it at Kenny Makichuk and the person who stabbed him cared a lot about Kenny. They were in a relationship, and what are you going to do? Itís a husband-and-wife kind of thing, and if someone is swinging a baseball bat at your wife or your husband and youíre standing behind them with a knife, what are you going to do? Itís like the sparks in a gas tank, and thatís what erupted here. (Interview with Glen Rosenthal, Kent Institution, July 23, 1997)

At the beginning of my interview with Pat McKenna, I told him I had received information from the institution that he was the trigger for the smash-up in A unit. I asked if he could explain how he saw his role in it, and also what had caused the rage that led to such extensive damage and destruction. His explanation painted a very different picture from the institutional images of a rogue prisoner out of control.

I had got married just before the murder and I was in a private family visit with my wife in the trailer when it happened. I came out of the trailer on Friday and walked straight into a lock-down. My wife was scheduled to come out on Saturday, Sunday, and then again on Monday. Because of the lock-down, we didnít get Saturdayís visit, which was to be expected because there was just a murder. Thatís fine. Then comes Sundayís visit. Thatís cancelled. Thatís pushing it a bit, but still the administration is doing its investigation, and so thatís fine too. Now Monday afternoon comes, and in the meantime weíve been asking to see the warden or the deputy warden to try and get this whole thing resolved and end the lock-down. Jimmy Whitmore sent a letter to the warden explaining our concerns about the cancellation of our visits, the lack of showers and no tobacco. What we get back from the warden is a reply saying that the institution will remain on lock-down until further notice and that prisoners will receive nothing except one shower that night. And weíre thinking, how long is this going to go on for? I talked to a keeper to get some sense of how long it might be, and Iím figuring, "You gotta open it up sooner or later." He tells me that in the United States, Marion [a federal super maximum institution] is on twenty-three-hour lock-down all the time. "What makes you think this institution is ever going to open up?"

All that weekend and into the Monday weíd been trying to get the administrationís attention and it hasnít worked. The biggest thing was the visits. The whole smash-up could have been avoided if they had given us the visits. They could have ten less guys in the hole if they had given visits, because as soon as I walk into a visit, the first thing my wife is telling me is to calm down, chill out, donít let this bother you. And everybodyís visitor does that. So for them to take that away is mind-boggling.

So now youíre locked in your cell and your efforts to get their attention is exhausted, so what else are you going to do? So yes, I did set a fire. Now the fire is an easy way to get their attention. Smoke comes out onto the range so theyíre going to come down. Well, they came down, looked at the fire and said, "Let them burn" and left. I couldnít believe it. So I set the sprinkler off to try and put out the fire and that didnít work too good, so now Iíve got a cell filled with smoke. Thatís how come the window got taken out. Because I couldnít breathe in there. I kicked the window open to get some air. I was pretty desperate. And itís self-preservation now.

When the guards were taking me out of my cell to segregation, they had this video camera on me. So I figured that I hadnít had a chance to talk to the warden before, so this was going to be my only opportunity to speak to her and I did -- on camera. I spoke into the camera like a fool, and I said to the warden that this concern is not with the guards and I told the guards that "this isnít with you guys. This isnít personal. Weíre not doing this because of something you did on shift today. We donít expect you to clean it up. This is for the warden, and this is to let the warden know that there is a serious problem here in population." I probably shouldnít have done it, because now theyíve got me under investigation for inciting a riot. When she saw that tape it probably looked pretty bad. Iím covered in water and black smoke and Iím naked, walking backwards down the hall, giving my fifteen-second message into a videotape. And Iíve got six guards around me with cameras and shields and sticks. I probably look like a maniac. The fact is Iím probably one of the more reasonable guys down here. Iím not an animal. This whole smash-up could have been avoided if weíd had some communication. (Interview with Pat McKenna, Kent Institution, July 23, 1997)

Kenny Makichuk was one of two prisoners alleged to be directly involved in the stabbing of Christian Grenier. He had not been formally charged at the time of my first interview, but was later charged with first-degree murder. Mr. Makichuk was a striking figure. His hair was closely cropped, he wore a nose ring and earrings, and there was a bolt-of-lightning tattoo running from the centre of his forehead over his right eye and down his cheek. Nobody would have any difficulty picking him out in a police line up.

I had heard from the staff at Kent and some other prisoners that Mr. Makichuk, though possessed of tremendous energy and intelligence, was embarked on a course that suggested a death wish. He had recently overdosed and almost died. I knew he had told Prisonersí Legal Services that he wanted a woman lawyer to represent him on the charges he would likely face in the death of Christian Grenier. At the end of our conversation, he asked me to spell the word "misogynist." He told me he was writing to a woman friend and explaining to her that one of the difficulties of being in segregation this time was that some of the younger prisoners were unrepentant misogynists. He said he read a lot of feminist literature and was really impressed with it, this was one reason he preferred to be represented by a woman. Not for the first time, I was struck by the contradictions between the official perception of a prisoner and his presentation of himself.

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