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Wrapping Your Mind around Fairness

Following his return to Kent, Gary Weaver began a determined and focussed effort to place himself on a path leading to the street rather than to segregation and the Special Handling Unit. He dug deep within, questioning the directions his life had taken.

I've been basically challenging all my lifestyles from the past. Like it used to be real appealing to wind up downtown. You know, the flashy lights and the women and the bars and the action. There was a real draw for that. I think of that stuff and it's with disgust. I question how did I ever get attracted to that in the first place. I saw my whole world as just a mission to score drugs and rock 'n' roll. The image is you're going to have a great time, but then you see people doing dirty moves all the time over dope. It takes away all their class and respect. They sell it for dope. I've come to question all that.

My values are changing these days towards positive things, because I've got a perspective toward the future now, whereas when I was sitting in the SHU you can't possibly hope for the future. You might be dead the next day. It's as simple as that. (Interview with Gary Weaver, Kent Institution, March 27, 1996)

Gary completed Kent's Substance Abuse Treatment Program in December 1995. The following April he graduated from the Anger and Emotions Management Program, and in July he finished Cognitive Skills Training. He received excellent evaluations, and his instructors were impressed with both his commitment to change and his ability to take concrete steps to demonstrate it. According to one report:

[He] challenged thoughts and beliefs which he had lived by for years only to realize that in some cases, they actually create or escalate emotions. Mr. Weaver explored this area with amazing sincerity in exercises. His input during the sessions was also beneficial to other group members. (Program Performance Report, Kent Institution, April 30, 1996)

I asked Gary how realistic it was to expect that two or three programs could change such long-entrenched attitudes. This was his answer:

It's not realistic in itself. But it's not just the programs that elicited change. I was sick of living my life the way I was living it, and I recognized a need to change that. If I kept going the way I have been going, I was just going to bury myself. I'd be better off dead. But there's a level of fairness that I've experienced here since I came back [from the SHU] that's opened a lot of doors for change. . .My mind has been helped a lot over the past year to be wrapped around the idea of fairness. I feel that I've been treated fairly on a pretty consistent basis in my interactions with staff. The drug counsellor is a good example. I got to know him as a person and I told him that his group was just incredible, although I didn't expect much out of eighty-three hours of training on substance abuse and pre-release programming. When I first went in there I thought, he's a former guard teaching a course and he probably doesn't know his head from his asshole. When I went for my first day I was expecting him to be standing up there reading stuff out of a textbook and trying to help us identify and deal with problems that he couldn't possibly grasp. When was he ever in the street shooting coke out of mud puddles, and when was he in the sleazy, seedy neighbourhoods and motels with the whores, the bikers, the weirdos and everything? I went in and this guy, he knew this program like the back of his hand. He was well organized. When you asked a question he could give you an answer, and if he couldn't give you an answer he didn't bullshit you. He shared a little bit about himself on pretty much a daily basis. I like this guy. I regard him as good people, and I didn't see him as a guard teaching a program because, for the first time in my life, here's a guy that's talking about what's going on at his home, how he's dealing with situations with his wife and his kids and how a lot of this program helps him in his day-to-day living.

I find that when you help guys wrap their minds around fairness, changes occur. For the years when I felt that I was being dealt a bad hand, I thought, "Fuck 'em. I'll get out of this someday. I'll get out and do whatever I want, like I did before I came in." They're supposed to be the law. They're supposed to be role models. They're supposed to be upstanding. They're supposed to be people that didn't do to their lives what we did to ours. Yet here they are in their roles committing assault causing bodily harm, extortion, threatening, on a daily basis. It's just the regime itself, just the way it operates. To grab you and forcibly confine you and give you very little, if any, reason at all as to why you're in seg, and then even more far-fetched reasoning for why you're not getting out of seg. You just think "fuck 'em." With me, all of that seems to be over, this going to segregation and fucking up and getting charged and being in their faces and their being in mine. (March 17 and 27, 1996)

Gary Weaver's concept of fairness went beyond the conventional legal definition. He emphasized that the staff members in his programs showed respect for him as a person, not as a prisoner. In turn, he was able to extend a reciprocal respect to them as "good people" rather than as guards. Part of this respect came from honesty: "There was a strong level of honesty there, and I never saw honesty before in any situation with a guard and a prisoner, since I came to the pen" (March 27, 1996).

Respect is a concept many prisoners have talked about in my interviews with them. Respect can mean many different things. It can refer to what those who live outside of prison might think to be a corrupted courage to maintain the self-respect of a career criminal. Many older prisoners use the term to differentiate themselves from a younger generation of prisoners who do not understand the "traditional" values of convicts. This concept of respect requires maintaining a division between prisoners and guards. Although it can tolerate a level of day-to-day informality in communication, beneath the surface the lines are clearly drawn. It was to this version of respect Gary Weaver had subscribed for most of his life as a prisoner. It was an important part of both how he saw himself and how he believed maximum and super maximum security must be survived. He had now come to a concept of respect large enough to include staff as part of the prison community, provided -- and it is a big proviso -- that they saw him as a person with strengths, with a capacity to learn and grow, and not as a prisoner to be written off as incorrigible.

Gary Weaver's wider concept of respect is, in essence, humanistic, and as such, places great value on respect for human rights. He was in the Quebec Special Handling Unit when he saw the shocking images of the strip searches at the Prison for Women on television. Gary Weaver's girlfriend was in the P4W at the time, although she was not among the prisoners strip searched. "I saw that as nothing but a mass sexual assault," he told me in a later interview. "It was sick and twisted. Just seeing that I wanted to smash my cell up." For Gary Weaver, as for many other prisoners, the events at the P4W were seen not as an aberration but as the expected result of a system which had no respect for legal rights.

The guards will do as they're told. Rights don't have anything to do with it. If his boss tells him to do that, he's going to do it because he doesn't know what rights are. He doesn't know how to enforce peoples' rights. It's not a concern. (Interview with Gary Weaver, April 19, 1995)

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