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Measuring Progress (II) -- The Voices of the Prisoners
The Prince Albert SHU 1984-1997

In February 1995, I spent three days interviewing about a dozen prisoners at the Special Handling Unit in Prince Albert. They ranged from men who were still in the assessment phase on their first admission to the SHU to those who had been there on several previous occasions. Three of the men I interviewed had been in the SHU since the day it had opened. Rodney Camphaug was serving his third period in the SHU. The first time he had arrived was in July 1985:

At that particular time, they had no programs whatsoever which is pro and con depending on how you look at the programs. They tried the army treatment when it first opened, standing at attention and you had to be dressed for your meals and there was straight regimentation. There was no outside yard. It took a lot of grievances and a lot of aggravation to get to the point where you were even allowed to have a chin-up bar on phase one and two. You'd go down to the gym and you were allowed to the gym area itself with a basketball and a racquetball but no racquets. (Interview with Rodney Camphaug, February 13, 1995, Prince Albert SHU)

Mr. Camphaug returned to the Special Handling Unit for the second time in February 1988. In the intervening three years there had been some observable changes:

They started feeding you your breakfast in the common room area. Before you'd get breakfast in your cell. They started loosening up a bit. The guards sort of became living unit officers and they found out that nobody was striking out here. People were complaining, and a few guys got beat up but there was nobody actually swinging back at the guards so they thought to make their job a lot easier they would just ignore a lot of things.

The third time Mr. Camphaug returned to the SHU was in January 1992 and at the time of my interview he had been back for three years. There had been further changes in the regime:

Now on this last trip here we get all our meals in the common room. The other difference is that there no longer is the phase program. On my first two trips you spent thirty days basically in the hole and then you'd go into phase two where you'd get a TV and you had access to the common room and then eventually you might make it to phase three where you got more time in the common room and more access to the yard. Now you spend ninety to a hundred and twenty days on assessment which is pretty much like being in the hole and then you go to what used to be phase three where you've got gym, you've got exercise, you've got everything else. There has also been some changes in the security. On the first two trips here, they had this policy where you have to be in cuffs every time you come off the range. For most guys they don't have that policy anymore but from my point of view that hasn't made much difference to what this place is all about. It's always been a psychological more than a physical thing. I mean, you don't have to have the cuffs on but you're still facing the same amount of guards watching you every moment and they're not asking you to come out in the yard and play bridge with them.

In the interview in 1995, Mr. Camphaug's focus was not so much on the changes which had occurred in the relationship between prisoners and the guards or in the loosening up of the regime but rather in the loosening and broadening of the criteria for admission to the Special Handling Unit:

I was sent here the first time for taking three guards hostage and shooting one. I understand that. Lock the man up, find out where his head's at and then release him back to population. The second time I was sent here for suspicion. I was having sex with a secretary in Kent. Not a guard or a person in charge of security, but a secretary who unbeknownst to me used to be the deputy warden's secretary at one time. Because she used to be the deputy warden's secretary they suspected me of having access to blueprints, keys, but they never found any and I was never charged. I came here and I spent exactly three years here the second time. I asked them "What do you do with a man for suspicion? How do you treat a man for suspicion? How do you cure suspicion?" Their idea, this whole SHU procedure, is do as you're told and like it. It's basically just do as you're told and we'll get along better and anybody who jumps through the hoops gets out of here. You could literally stab another con in front of a guard and be out of here in nine months to a year. I've seen it happen. But if you're here for suspicion and you don't go through the programs, God help you.

The third time I was sent here in 1992 was for suspicion of assault on another inmate. He was found in his cell beaten about the head. I was never charged. I was never taken to inside court or outside court. This happened August 6, 1991 and I was grabbed that night, put into seg and spent seven months in seg before I came here on February 18, 1992. After I got here, here's what they first said. I've got to go to cognitive skills, I've got to see the psychologist on a regular basis and remain charge free. They didn't have cognitive skills here for over two years so I was writing grievances saying it's on my correctional plan that I attend cognitive skills but it's not my fault they don't have the program, so why am I still here?

They tell me that they don't like my attitude. But what attitude would you have if you were sent here for no charge? I mean, the laws of this country are supposed to be for the benefit of the innocent. That's the way I grew up. Now if I'm guilty, fine, I'll suffer the consequences, but if I'm not charged with anything and yet I'm still being held under the same constraints and regime as anyone else who commits a crime, then something's fucked up. I've been here three years now and I don't want to mention names but there's people that came here for killing people in population and spent less than a year here because they go through all the programs. They call it playing the game and administration will admit it's a game because they have to justify it to get me out of here.

The worst thing about this place which hasn't changed is not knowing when you're going to be released and what they expect of you next. Like I said, they put on my correctional plan to take cognitive skills, remain charge free and see a psychologist. Well finally after two years they start a cognitive skills program and I take it. Then my correctional officer tells me that they're starting up an anger management program and I've got to take that as well. It doesn't start until after I finish cognitive skills but it's taught by the same CO-II and not by a psychologist. If I get through that they'll probably tell me that I'm slated for another program. So where does it end? They write a correctional program telling me that to get out I have to go through a particular program which they don't even have. When they get it, and I go through it they then come up with another plan so it gets pretty frustrating and then when I show my frustration, they turn around and tell me I've got a bad attitude so I'd better stay here a bit longer.

They also put on my correctional plan that I should be involved in psychological counselling. But I ran into an attitude problem there as well. The first two times I was here, any interviews with a psychologist took place behind a glass screen and were by telephone just like any other visit. A couple of years ago they changed the visiting booth we're in right now so that instead of the solid glass you've got this steel grill with this slot in the middle to pass papers through. Just after they put the grill in, I was supposed to go and have a meeting with the psychologist. They asked me, "there won't be any spitting going on, will there?" I said, "why would the psychologist want to spit on me?" They said, "do you want to see the psychologist?" I said, "well, if he needs help I'll see him but there's not much I can do." See, it's that type of thing. They don't like my attitude. I just had a sense of humour and I see their programs for what they are. But they can't relate to it.

When I did see the psychologist, he gave me a test, the MMPI. He went over it with me and said that I tried to show everything in a favourable light towards myself. I asked him what was wrong with that. Isn't that what lawyers and psychologists try and do? He didn't appreciate that. There was another question in another test which asked me what I hated most and I put down "asparagus for lunch." They told me I was making fun of their program.

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