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Mr. Blanshard described life in the Millhaven SHU on the protective custody range as one of "complete craziness":

We had guys start fires. We had floods going on. We had people hollering and screaming. There was a number of prisoners on our range who had completely flipped out. The guy I stabbed was one of these crazies. He was doing something like forty years for bank robbery. He just went off side. He would take his excrement, roll it up in balls and sit it on top of his ventilating system to let it dry. At my trial he told my lawyer that the reason he did this was that he had seen John Wayne in a Western, out in the desert starving, acting in this way. He would holler and scream all night and eventually I had just had enough and I stabbed him a whole bunch of times. I could have killed him but I made it so he was wounded enough so that administration would have to take him off the range. We told them "Look, don't bring these people on to the range. It's hard enough to try and do time." But they didn't listen. They brought another guy like that on to our range and he would taunt us behind the cell door. Eventually the rest of us had had enough and we made a plan to kill him. But the guy shouldn't have got it. I knew in my heart that I shouldn't do it. I regret killing this guy but the atmosphere was so crazy. We had something like thirty or forty stabbings going on for close to a year after the killing. (Interview with Lance Blanshard, Prince Albert SHU, February 14, 1995)

In 1985 Mr Blanshard was transferred from Millhaven to the Prince Albert SHU. While this brought some closure to the violence amongst the prisoners, it was exchanged for violence between the guards and the prisoners:

When we first came here the guards were abusive, I mean really abusive. We had a lot of fights where they would come in with the sticks and chain you down and hog-tie you.

Like Mr. Somerton, Lance Blanshard told me that in the last number of years the violence between staff and prisoners had died down so that it was now "basically next to nil. There is a few instances but you've really got to push them in order to have a problem. You get the odd guard that power trips when he first comes here but then he slows down."

Mr. Blanshard told me how that during his years in the SHU he had learned to read and write and upgraded his education so that he was able to do university courses. He had also become computer literate and had recently purchased a computer. I asked him how someone who was clearly articulate, self-educated and able to understand what drove men to do the things they did in places like the SHU, had managed to survive all these years without breaking down. He gave me this very candid answer:

To be honest, I've already broke. You get to the point where you just break and then you heal and you become hard. That's what the biggest problem is, once you become hard you're screwed. The worst thing that I've lost was the right to be human. The act of feeling, emotional feeling, is basically gone. Now I watch somebody being hurt and I don't have an emotion anymore. Before there used to be love, there used to be pain, sadness, joy. Now there's no emotion.

Pat Pirozzi, serving an indefinite sentence as a Dangerous Offender, had been in the Special Handling Units more or less continuously since 1982. He had therefore experienced regimes in both the Millhaven and the Prince Albert SHU's. He, like Lance Blanshard and Terry Somerton, remembered the physical confrontations and the hog-tying that went on in the mid-1980's and while he agreed that physical confrontations were no longer part of the daily ritual, it was because the pervasive element of control had moved to a different plane:

Rather than tie the prisoners down physically to get them to stop doing things, they just tangle them up in programs like a dolphin in a tuna fish net. (Interview with Pat Pirozzi, Prince Albert SHU, February 14, 1995)

Pat Pirozzi offered me another image to explain how he saw the Special Handling Units. It was for a cartoon which would feature a ball and chain reflecting the SHU as the psychological version of the old physical apparatus of control. The programs which prisoners were required to complete for release from the SHU were the modern versions of the metal ball. The prisoner would take one program and then be told that there was another program which he must now take. The programs became links in a chain and over time the prisoner would be weighted down with programs just as surely as in the past he had been weighted down by steel and iron. Once a prisoner admitted the need to take programs, he was on a path from which he could never escape and he would be forever bound by his ball and chain. This was a path that Pirozzi was not prepared to begin.

Just a few hours after I interviewed Mr. Pirozzi, I went over to the main administration building in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary to meet warden. In the foyer of the building there was a mantelpiece surrounded by historical photographs of the early days of the Penitentiary. On that mantelpiece was an old iron ball and chain flanked by the "Oregon Boot" (a high ankled boot loaded with lead), both of which were simultaneously the means of physical control on a prisoner's movement and the symbols of his degradation. For Pat Pirozzi, participation in programs facilitated by correctional officers, designed to change who he was, were the contemporary means and symbols of psychological control and degradation of his distinctive personality. Whereas a century ago the prison could have physically imposed these symbols on him, he now had the power to reject them, even if it meant prolonging indefinitely his imprisonment in the Special Handling Unit.

To many readers (and most correctional staff), Mr Pirozzi's repudiation of the programs will be seen as irrational and ultimately self-defeating. However, there is a rationality to his position that is linked to what prisoners like him see as being the ultimate purpose of places like the Special Handling Unit. If a prisoner sees that purpose to be the breaking of men's spirits, to make them bend and submit and through submission move to obedience and change, then not bending, not submitting becomes a life purpose to maintain who you are in the face of who they want you to be. Pat Pirozzi saw it this way and in describing it for me, called up a mythological reference point not to be expected from a man whom the correctional authorities believed to be either on the edge or outside the pale of civilisation:

I'm afraid that if they succeed in breaking me, I won't be me anymore. I'm like a centaur in chains. I have the sensitivities of a horse, I've got the stubbornness of a mule and they're asking me to pull a cart that's much too big to get through a small opening.

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