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The Values of a "Barbarian Prince"

During the course of my work at Kent, I spent many hours with Jason Gallant, tracing his long and tumultuous career as a prisoner. He began his first life sentence in 1977, following his conviction for a killing that took place in a bar in British Columbia. In 1982, following a riot at Archambault in which three officers died, he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. He spent three years in the Special Handling Unit. Following that he was at Kent until 1988, when he was readmitted to the SHU following an allegation of involvement in extorting funds from prisoners and their families. After five years there he was transferred back to Kent in 1993 and had been there ever since, apart from a four-month stay at Matsqui in 1996-97. He was one of the "barbarian princes" referred to in the 1988 judgement of Mr. Justice Muldoon. In one of my early interviews with Mr. Gallant, I asked whether the judge's comments were a fair characterization of his values and orientation to life in prison. That question became a trigger for a wide-ranging discussion of his experiences.

The unofficial punishment inflicted upon Mr. Gallant in the aftermath of his conviction for the murder of three prison guards was etched deep in his body and psyche. He had pleaded guilty to those murders; however, it was generally accepted in the prison population that he was not the perpetrator but had agreed to accept responsibility for the killings to save another prisoner from the fate to which he was already assigned -- twenty-five years before parole eligibility. That interpretation was not shared by prison guards, however, and Mr. Gallant described to me the painful retribution he had suffered over and above his lawfully imposed sentence: how correctional officers had come into his cell and beaten him; how he had been scalded with hot water and hit so hard with a billy club that his intestine was driven up to his diaphragm, perforating it and causing a reversal in his digestive process, with the result that he was bringing up his bodily wastes. He also described how he was made to feel the guards' hatred and contempt.

I don't know what the hell they did to me but I see these red bikini briefs and urine in my face and I can hear it. My mouth's open, I can't close it. When I was in the shower and they were fire-hosing me, they'd throw some type of bleach, Javex bleach, on me. So when they were doing what they were doing to me, I could hear the powder fizzing in my hair.

It was during this time that my eyes were open to a depth of hatred, and I know hatred. I'm well acquainted with the bitch because I've lived on it. You can live on it like food. Because of the torture trips I went through I had difficulty allowing anyone to come near to me. I could not bear anyone's touch. Because of what went down, I cannot sit down with a guard and discuss my private life, my history, and open up and reveal confidences, which is required in this new way of doing things in programs. (Interviews with Jason Gallant, Kent Institution, February - May 1994)

Because Mr. Gallant had been brought up by foster parents who were deeply religious, he was able to relate this period in his life to some scriptural teachings.

The scriptures tell us to stand diligently at the door of your heart; that out of it comes the issues of life. From the time that these incidents happened until the time that I was able to forgive, I didn't guard diligently at the door to my heart because a lot of bad stuff got in and it was watered with my hatred. I have struggled to allow that to flow out of me.

That struggle was intensified in the context of the Special Handling Unit.

It was the mindless compliance to something I believe violates a person's right to control their own lives. Every time you leave your cell there is the handcuffs, the pat-down searches. Even in your own cell there is no place to hide because every two or three days they come down and they strip search you, take your clothes off, put you in handcuffs again or put you in that little interview booth and then go through your cell. There's a constant sense of bombardment. A lot of guys can't handle the pain any more so they comply, and after a while they don't need to be told anything. It just becomes routine and they put their hands up, down, out, in, whatever is required. They become conditioned to it. I could not let myself do that. I said, "Somebody's got to stand up and say this is wrong." I did it head on by resisting.

The intrusion of unwanted hands and what it symbolized were things Jason Gallant still struggled with at Kent.

I go to a social and they're skinning me down afterwards and asking me, "Did you have a nice social?" The social was pleasant enough, but I'm standing in front of them, naked, and I'm expected to relate to them like they care about how I feel. They're trying to be civil and I have a hard time relating to that. I could if I believed they cared, but I don't believe that. So I say to them, "You're trying to bust me, I'm standing here before you naked and you want social interaction? Give your fucking head a shake."

Jason Gallant had never read Dostoyevsky's House of the Dead, based on the Russian novelist's experiences in a Siberian labour camp in the 1840s. Dostoyevsky wrote:

Everyone, whoever he is and however lowly the circumstances into which he has been pushed, demands, albeit instinctively and unconsciously, that respect be shown for his human dignity. The convict knows he is a convict, an outcast, and he knows his place vis--vis his superior officer; but no brands, no fetters will ever be able to make him forget that he is a human being. And since he really is a human being, it is necessary to treat him as one. (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead, Trans. David McDuff [London: Penguin, 1985] at 145)

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