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Rage and Resistance

Gary Weaver was born on December 1, 1968, in Peterborough, Ontario, and adopted at nine weeks of age. Early on in his schooling he displayed symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, and in Grade 4 he was put on the medication Ritalin. By the time he was fourteen, Gary had become a social misfit, rebellious and resistant to authority. From 1983, when he first experienced detention in training school, his life consisted of increasingly long periods of secure custody in juvenile institutions. Eventually he graduated to the penitentiary on a variety of charges, including breaking and entering and possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking. In 1989 he pleaded guilty to the charge of second-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of an elderly man he believed to be a sex offender. He was high on cocaine at the time. He received a life sentence without eligibility for parole for ten years.

Mr. Justice Mason, in imposing the sentence, had this to say about Gary Weaver:

One could class [Mr. Weaver] as a complete addict to cocaine and other drugs of that nature. My appreciation of Mr. Weaver from his appearance as a witness in this case is that of an angry and confused young man, ruthless, without direction, addicted to drugs, and bordering on self-destruction.

The character of this offence was a brutal killing, sudden and violent, but mercifully according to the evidence, Mr. Marsh died quickly. The offender was at the time a drug addict acting under a personality disorder and a misguided sense of values fuelled by the drug abuse. (Reasons for Judgement of Mr. Justice Mason, Queen's Bench of Alberta, November 3, 1989)

Almost a decade later, in a treatment program, Gary Weaver for the first time acknowledged that as a young boy he had been sexually abused by an older cousin. While not excusing his offence, this admission went some way in explaining the rage that had been unleashed in the stabbing of his victim.

When I met Gary Weaver, he had been in segregation at Kent for two months. During our first interview, I mentioned that I had written a book about solitary confinement. He was keen to read it, so I brought a copy out to Kent on my next visit. He devoured it in twenty-four hours. When Prisoners of Isolation was published in 1983, Gary was fourteen years old. He had not experienced solitary confinement in a federal prison, but was already familiar with the degradation of "the hole":

I was in the digger in training school when I was fourteen . . . Every place I've been, I've been in seg. We had a riot in the Young Offender Unit in Peterborough Jail and they shipped a bunch of us out. Some guys went to the Toronto East Detention Centre, some of us got sent to the Detention Centre in Napanee. They ran out of shackles so they used our pants. They yanked our pants and underwear down to our ankles, and tied our hands behind our backs with those garbage bag ties. They told us to get face down on the floor, and I'd never seen these sticks and shields to that degree. I'd seen the sticks and the shields in Peterborough during that riot, because I got a few whacks, and I thought that wasn't so bad, but these guys looked dead serious. I was thinking, how serious can they be? We're just kids. We were face down on the floor, bang, bang, bang. Now I know how serious it gets. My face is kicked in. We get to the hole. You've got to walk through these big, long hallways. I've got my pants at my ankles, garbage bags on my hands, those hard ties, so we go down and all the nurses are standing there, female nurses, female guards. They are laughing that they are bringing kids down like that. We had no clothes so they gave me a dress. (Interview with Gary Weaver, Kent Institution, August 23, 1994)

Gary also described for me his experience of "the hole" in Peterborough when he was sixteen:

They only had one cell for the hole, and I'm just a kid with an attitude in the Young Offenders' Section. They kept putting me in this box until it would work to break down this attitude. I was wearing just a pair of boxer shorts. They take the mattress from you first thing in the morning until night and I'm basically conditioning myself to hole-time. Maybe deep down inside I know I'm going to see plenty more of this twenty-three-hour lock-up. I remember it got to the point where I strengthened myself in seg. At first I'd cry at night and think, "Why are they doing this to me?" I'm really emotional and fucked up thinking I'm being tortured here. Why? What did I do that was so bad? . . . There was a toilet in the cell so I'd use that to sit on. The only other thing was the steel bed frame, and that gets really uncomfortable. It's all rivets, the whole thing. I used to count these things. It goes right up in the thousands. I was thinking, "What the fuck did I do?"

Now when they come with the mattress at night I said, "Shove the mattress. Look, you paid to see this, now you've got it." They are having physical beefs with me to get the mattress in the cell and I'm having physical beefs with them throwing it back out first thing in the morning. I wouldn't use it all night. Now I've conditioned myself to sleep on rivets and you get these little bruises and welts on your skin from the lack of circulation. The more I rebelled the better I felt. (August 23, 1994)

Gary Weaver's experiences years later in the Special Handling Unit in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary would parallel these early ones: the more oppressive his treatment was, the more rebellious he became.

Gary confided that what had most affected him in Prisoners of Isolation were the quotations from prisoners in the first generation of Special Handling Units -- "I read that and it was like I wrote it myself." What he particularly picked up on were statements made by Edgar Roussel:

The system aims to reduce the criminal to nothing, restrain the slightest initiative, and in one word, assassinate his personality to make him conform to a microcosm in which he is forced to develop. When the prisoner has become sufficiently conniving, hypercritical and lying that he can pretend to acknowledge the assassination to his executioners, then he is eligible for a transfer. (cited in Jackson, Prisoners of Isolation at 176)

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