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Back to the SHU -- An Opening Salvo in the War on Drugs

A common theme in my interviews with prisoners who have undergone extended imprisonment in segregation or Special Handling Units is that their experiences from these periods have a long afterlife. Often it is difficult to outdistance the attitudes and survival strategies they develop in these alien environments. One of Gary Weaver's coping strategies precipitated his return to the Special Handling Unit. Gary was placed in segregation following his visit with Ms. S.R. on February 17, 1994. His case was being considered by the Warden for transfer to the SHU based on allegations that he was actively involved in the drug trade and was prepared to use violence against other prisoners. The conversations during his February 17 visit had been monitored due to information obtained at an earlier monitored visit that Mr. Weaver had asked Ms. S.R. to bring drugs into the institution. On February 17, Ms. S.R. had gone to the washroom to remove an internally concealed package. She was confronted as she left the washroom and 15.3 grams of marijuana was found in her bra. The RCMP were called and Ms. S.R. was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking. At his five- and thirty-day segregation reviews, Mr. Weaver was informed that:

You are segregated because of alleged involvement in the institutional drug trade. You have not yet been charged with anything. You are currently being reviewed for transfer to H.M.S.U. [High Maximum Seciruty Unit] and the investigation is ongoing. Your segregation will be maintained pending this review and investigation. (Review of Inmate Segregated Status, Kent Institution, March 14, 1993).

On May 5, 1994, seventy-eight days after he was first placed in segregation, Gary Weaver was served with a notice of Warden Lusk's recommendation for a transfer to the Quebec Special Handling Unit. The recommendation was explicitly tied to the "War on Drugs," which became a significant part of correctional policy in 1994-95.

1) On 94-02-17 your visitor was arrested at Kent Institution for attempting to introduce contraband narcotics into the institution. She has been charged with possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking.

2) The seizure of the narcotics was a direct result of monitored conversations that took place on 94-01-20 and 94-02-17 in the V&C area of Kent Institution. These conversations, particularly the one that occurred on 94-01-20, demonstrated quite clearly, that you intended to introduce a variety of illegal drugs into Kent Institution, that you intended to introduce as large a quantity of drugs as you could obtain, that you viewed yourself becoming an important drug dealer within the institution and that you would not hesitate to engage in violent acts, including murder, in order to further your objectives.

3) You have a lengthy well-documented history of institutional violence including a stabbing, assaults, threatening, muscling and robbing other inmates. This past history clearly shows your propensity to commit serious violent acts. It is your past history that leads one to conclude your threats to kill, as recorded in your 94-01-20 conversation, must be taken very seriously.

4) The traffic of narcotics within correctional facilities is a leading cause of violence. If this violence is to be controlled, the dealers and those responsible for the introduction of the narcotics must be placed in a very controlled, restricted environment to severely limit their activities. I believe these requirements can best be met in a Special Handling Unit. (Annex A to Notice of Involuntary Transfer Recommendation, Kent Institution, May 5, 1994)

Supporting the recommendation was a progress summary prepared by Barry Owen, Mr. Weaver's case management officer, which cited extracts from the monitored conversation of January 20. One group of extracts is cited to demonstrate Mr. Weaver's willingness to use violence in pursuit of his planned drug trade activities. In one passage, he states, "Nobody burns me. I'd fuckin' cut their throat in a second." A second group of extracts is cited to demonstrate "the depths of [Mr. Weaver's] obsession with violence and abject coldness":

I could sit here and torture a cop for a week in a garage . . . see what I could do with a cop. I could give him some fucking tranquillizers so he can't go into shock and some local anaesthetic, like I can freeze his legs up, and I can tie his head and I could clip his eyes open and I could hack his fucking legs off and he's gotta watch and he can't go unconscious and he can't go into shock because the tranquillizers stop him from going into shock and with the anaesthetic you can't feel a fucking thing.

Gary Weaver provided me with the copy of the transcript of his conversation with Ms. S.R. After reading the document, I put it to him that the language seemed to paint a picture of a violent, hateful man, justifying Mr. Owen's characterization. I asked him why the Warden should not conclude that these conversations did reveal "the depths of his obsession with violence and abject coldness." He responded:

It is not an obsession with violence; I would say that it is more an admission of my being desensitized to talking about violence and hearing about violence. You hear so much about it you could put together any scenario in your head, and it's no different than creative writing. If you read a poem like--who would be a good example--Jim Carroll, The Basketball Diaries. He is a heroin addict who wrote a really good book of poems. It's vivid. Who else? William Blake, he's written some pretty serious stuff. Jim Morrison, now there's some heavy shit. Now if society were to buy into all that, they would have grabbed all the poets and the musicians and thrown them in prison.

I picked up all kinds of wild stuff in the SHU. I pick up all kinds of wild stuff in books and in movies. When you're sitting in the SHU you're listening to talk about heads going off or people eating the wildest poisons, guards getting sliced and people licking knives. I've got a million horror stories in my head and I can articulate them and tell them to anybody. Why do people go see the Terminator II: Judgement Day movie? It's a turn-on to some degree, or it wouldn't sell millions of tickets and people wouldn't go and see it two, three or four times and then buy the video and add it to their collection. It's not reality. That day I ran down the scenarios in a couple of movies I had seen, including True Romance with Christian Slater and Dennis Hopper, which is a pretty violent film. The other stuff with the cop was another movie that nobody has made yet. (Interview with Gary Weaver, Kent Institution, May 3, 1994).

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